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Sector News, 03 - 07 August 2009

Universities told to lower their offers for poor students.  Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2009.

MPs have recommended that the regulatory standards in university should be replaced by Ofsted-style inspections.   They have also said that universities should be forced to include a contextual factor in their admissions process to ensure fair access, possibly reducing the entry requirements for some underprivileged students.   A spokesperson for the Russell Group of universities said that the suggestion that a one size fits all approach for university entrance would be ineffective.  

This story is also covered in The Times newspaper under the headline "Tory Government would create library of exams to show decline".

The report " Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee - Eleventh Report" can be viewed using the link.

So many years and so little help up the stairs.  Education Guardian, 4 August 2009.

David Willetts, shadow secretary of state for Innovation, Universities and Skills, is of the opinion that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not lack inspiration, rather they lack information.   He believes that Lord Mandelson’s speech on “The damage that can be done by low expectations” is misguided.   As evidence for his claim he cites the study of Neets by Rathbone and the Nuffield Foundation which discovered that disengaged young people had similar aspirations to their peers.

 Standards issue can’t be evaded.  THE, 6 August 2009.

Commenting on the report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, this week’s THE leader expresses doubt that such a small sample, as used by the committee, is good enough to clarify the issues surrounding university standards.  Adding to the frustration is the vice-chancellor’s refusal to accept that there is an issue at all.  

After the grillings, MPs serve a critical dish to the sector.  THE, 6 August 2009.

Here the THE summarises the detail of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee’s 11th report (see first story above).  The article covers six main themes:

  • the QAA and externals,
  • whistleblowers,
  • tuition fees,
  • research and teaching,
  • unfairness,
  • government interference.

Under the headline there are also articles on the newspapers and readers’ reaction to the report.

The following links may be useful:

·         The Observer, "Dumbing down row over value of degrees",

·         Sunday Times, "Universities 'ignore' fears over standards",

Social work degrees difficult to fail, MPs toldTHE, 6 August 2009.

A failure rate of just under 3 per cent is giving social work degrees an unacceptable reputation that the degrees are difficult to fail.  Witnesses to the Children, Schools and Families Committee, have said that students are often given the benefit of the doubt over their suitability to practice.

 'Crash' looms as graduate supply overtakes demandTHE, 6 August 2009.

It is highly likely that this year’s graduates will face an employment market where graduate numbers are greater than the jobs available.   Professor Campbell, director of research and policy at the UK Commission on Employment and Skills (UKCES), says that the issue is not simply one of applicants outstripping demand.  There are sectors where there is a shortage of supply of those with relevant skills.  Universities and Government should focus there attentions onto these areas of future possible employment for graduates.

 I think critically, therefore I am.  THE, 6 August 2009.

In this major article, Linda Elder, an educational psychologist, investigates the role of critical thinking in developing the intellect.  Linda argues that it is important to develop an ability to be a critical thinker both as a student and a teacher.  As an example she cites student’s inability to read and understand text and what could be done to improve their understanding.

 Other major article in this week’s THE are:

A gift that would mean so much; the growing importance of donations in a world where state funding is declining.

'Hide thy life', a look at the major influences on Shakespeare’s work.

 Top grades for student progress.  TES, FE Focus, 07 August 2009.

According to the results of the latest Framework for Excellence survey, more than 95 per cent of colleges and training providers have been rated good or outstanding.  Qualification results remain questionable, with 20 per cent of providers rated as inadequate.   There was cautious acceptance of the results by the AoC who say that learner’s views need to be interpreted with care.

 Colleges key to HE expansion.  TES, FE Focus, 07 August 2009.

The Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee has said that colleges of FE are at the centre of widening participation.  The committee argues for the credit system used by US community colleges to be adopted in England.  Along with the good work being done by colleges this could greatly strengthen the opportunities for adults to obtain degrees.

 16-19 funding transfer lacks clarity, says report.  TES, FE Focus, 07 August 2009.

A report by the National Foundation for Educational Research has highlighted serious problems with the transfer of funding from the LSC to local authorities.  Next year all under 19 educational funding will be transferred to local authorities.  However, colleges are concerned that local authorities do not understand the complexities of modern FE colleges.  The report comments that too few FE colleges are aiding the transition and many authorities are too busy and have too few staff to engage with the sub-regional groups set up to liaise with learning organisations.