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Sector News, 02 - 06 November 2009

A step too soon? Education Guardian, 03 November 2009.

Whilst the Association of Colleges (AoC) sees having 14-16 year old pupils in FE as a good idea, the National Association of Head Teachers (Naht) is not so sure.  The AoC extol the virtues of college life for 14-16 year olds as one in which disenchanted young people can be brought back into main stream education and that colleges capture the imagination of less academic students.   AoC also insist that able and ambitious students can also prosper in a college environment.  The AoC point to the truancy rate and wonder if school life is so good why the rate is so high.  In opposition to this thinking, the Naht are concerned about what they perceive as lack of pastoral care in colleges and they are worried that children are being asked to grow up too fast.

No going back.  Education Guardian, 03 November 2009.

Second degrees are becoming too expensive for most people to have a career change.  New rules, covering equivalent or lower qualifications, mean that those who already possess a degree have to pay more than those who do not have such prior qualifications.  Courses which could have cost between £3,000 and £5,000 can cost between £9,000 and £13,000.

Mandelson to announce plans to modernise 'ivory tower' universities.  Education Guardian, 03 November 2009.

A new framework for higher education will set out a 10-15 year strategy affecting every aspect of university life and will force universities to become more competitive.  In an interview on Radio 4, Lord Mandelson said that the framework would cover three key areas: giving students more consumer-style information about universities, improving social mobility and aiding the recovery of the economy.

Business firmly woven into the fabric of new framework.  THE, 05 November 2009.

In, Higher Ambitions: The Future of Universities in a Knowledge Economy”, the Government has outlined its plans to align universities with the needs of the economy.   Within the document there are demands to see:

·   a strengthened Quality Assurance Agency, to combat what the Government sees as an apparent complacency concerning standards,  

·   research become more concentrated across the sector, (not all universities should feel that success in research needs be central to its mission),

·   widening access, by increasing the number of adults and students from poorer backgrounds who attend university,

·   improved advice and guidance to include a new admissions system,

·   competition between universities and the private sector to provide on line education abroad

·   encouragement for students to study a foreign language.

A summary of the document can be found using the link to the document above.

Managers and scholars divided as resistance grows to impact agenda.  THE, 05 November 2009.

The growing demands of the Government to fund research on the basis of how it impacts on society and the economy, is creating a major split within universities and between universities and the Higher Education Funding Authority.  More than 2,300 academics have signed a petition to the Prime Minister requesting a reversal of the funding authority’s and research council’s policies. 

 Major features in this week’s THE:

Oasis in the Desert”; describes a visit to Saudi Arabia to see how its vision of top class research in a liberal environment is taking root.

The failure of history”; how the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the removal of the Soviet Union changed the historical ideas that accompanied it.

Taking flight”; why the vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth relaxes by flying.

Top pupils shun physics A-level.  TES, 06 November 2009.

Research carried out by academics at Cambridge Assessment suggests that fewer of the best GCSE candidates go on to study A level physics than any other subject.  Unlike Chemistry and Biology, which have seen small increases in pass rates, physics pass rates have steadily declined since the early 1990s.  Results from the research indicate that more boys than girls opt for physics and that girls from independent and grammar schools were more likely to take physics than their state counterparts, whilst the opposite appears to be the case for boys.

‘College success rates distorted’.  TES, FE Focus, 06 November 2009.

After examining data from colleges, the Learning and Skills Council have accused colleges of inflating their success rates, some colleges by as much as 40 per cent.  A variety of methods have been adopted, including recruiting above target and deciding at the end of the year which places are unfunded thus removing them from the individual learning record, to manipulating end dates to turn successful short courses into long courses and vice-versa.  Nick Linford, a funding and performance consultant says that he warned the LSC of this issue four years ago.  Nick Linford’s opinion is that not all the blame lies at the door of FE, saying that the system used by the LSC is complicated and there is a lack, or at the least conflicting, levels of information.

Wide-ranging white paper promises new script for FE.  TES, FE Focus, 06 November 2009.

A white paper, due to be published next week, will outline the Government’s proposals to prioritise learners aged 18-25, increase the numbers of level 3 apprentices, treat students as customers and reduce the regulations for colleges.   Whilst public funding priority will be given to the 18-25 age range, adults may be expected to pay more for their education and employers may also be asked raise their contributions.   

University mergers fail to fire up troubled colleges. TES, FE Focus, 06 November 2009.

Inspectors who examined four further education colleges that had merged with a university have concluded that mergers of higher education institutions with satisfactory or failing FE colleges, has not led to significant improvements in the quality of the FE programmes.  The inspection was part of a larger study of FE in HE.  Inspectors were critical of HE approaches to FE, where FE was just a small component of their work.

‘Reform Stalinist FE and save £2bn a year’.  TES,  FE Focus, 06 November 2009.

Alison Wolf, the Sir Roy Griffiths professor of public management at King’s College London, believes that England’s further education system has been devastated by “Soviet style” central planning which wastes about £2 billion a year.  £2 billion is approximately one third of the public funding for post 18 education outside the university sector.  Alison comments that FE systems respond well to what individuals want to study and not what Whitehall thinks they should study, or one in which employers decided how much of taxpayers' money should be used to subsidise them.   In her article she suggests the removal of a whole host of administrative projects and quangos along with the scrapping of Train to Gain.

‘LSIS must give better value’.  TES, FE Focus, 06 November 2009.

Of the £97 million given to the Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS), 80 per cent will be given to colleges and training providers next year.  This is the aim of the service in a move seen as an attempt to pre-empt the Government’s response to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) who have said that further education’s quality agencies should be phased out over three years.  UKCES have called for the LSIS to be abolished along with other agencies such as the technology agency Becta. Dr. Collins, chief executive of LSIS, has said that the danger is that if money is taken from LSIS there is no guarantee that it will stay in the sector.