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Sector News, 04 - 08 May 2009

All skilled up, and nowhere to go  Education Guardian, 05 May 2009.

The Government wants one in five young people to take up apprenticeships by the year 2020.  Government officials paint a rosy picture of take up, saying that employers are looking to apprentices to help them through the downturn.  However, the latest participation figures contradict that optimism.  Whilst apprenticeships were increasing in the first half of 2008/09, there has been an 8.3% drop in the numbers of 16-18 year olds taking up apprenticeship schemes.  The difficulties faced by the staff of Gloucestershire College, who are currently helping laid off apprentices when they should be recruiting, is testimony to the downturn in apprentice take up.   Not all is doom and gloom, the opening of a new centre for the National Skills Academy for Construction has gone ahead.

Student life: one long holiday?  Education Guardian, 05 May 2009.

There are universities who are openly ignoring religious beliefs, for example, when Qasim Rafiq asked his lecturer if a weekly chemistry module could be rescheduled because it clashed with Muslim Friday prayers he was told no.  Joel Ravid, an orthodox Jew, threatened his university with legal action because his university had insisted he took one of his finals on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.  The equality bill, now going through parliament, will place a legal requirement on universities to actively consult with and address the concerns of students and staff from all religions and none.

Marching to a better tune.  Education Guardian, 05 May 2009.

A new postgraduate diploma in instrumental teaching, especially tailored for military purposes, is being launched by the Royal Northern College of Music.   There will be just 20 enrolled on the course starting in September, initially available to the five bands of the Foot Guards regiment and the Household Cavalry bands.

 A personal level must be retained.  THE, 07 May 2009

There are complaints about university student’s standards of literacy, but there is no doubting their ability on the web.   Despite this predilection to electronic information, students still value the old fashioned face-to-face contact with their lecturers.   However, the face-to-face relationship is under threat as staff student ratios continue to climb, the wrong way.   Peculiarly, lecturers who use the web are finding that they are having greater contact with their students and that discussions in cyberspace do not have to go on without them.

Internet is fostering a ‘want it now’ culture among students.  THE, 07 May 2009.

The Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience will publish its final report on 12 May.  In the report the committee will state that students are not critically examining information that they receive from the web.  Of particular concern is Web 2.0. The inquiry found that students only dimly perceive the potential of Web 2.0 and whilst its use in learning and teaching is considerable it is nevertheless patchy.  The committee also expressed concerns about the growing divide between students and lecturers in the use of web technology.

Small-group teaching and private study on the rise, Hepi study indicates. THE, 07 May 2009.

‘Hepi’ is the Higher Education Policy Institute, who comment that there has been no significant increase in teaching hours since 2007, despite English students having fewer hours of study than elsewhere in Europe.  Hefce also reported last week, that English students work less than their European counterparts and that English degrees are less burdensome.  However, the amount of private study does “appear to have risen from 12.6 to 14.4 hours and the teaching given in small groups from 6.4% to 10.3%”.

Work-based learning must be embraced.  THE, 07 May 2009.

Derek Longhurst, chief executive of Foundation Degree Forward, will argue that universities must lose their snobbery over work based learning when he addresses the THE’s employment engagement conference next week.  Derek will further argue, “that universities can no longer be regarded as the primary context for learning and knowledge production in the 21st century”.

 There is room for improvement, but no sign of systemic failure.  THE, 07 May 2009.

There has been an almost non-stop attack on academic standards over the past year or so.  Whilst it is important to see if the accusations of dumbing down are correct, what is particularly worrying is that the steady drip of comment can cause loss of confidence making perceptions seem real even if they are not.  Distinguishing between quality and standards is not always that easy, although quality assurance experts seem have no problem.  Quality refers to the policies and practices used by HE institutions and standards to the levels of achievement in student degrees.  The article goes on to discuss the distinction and why we should be wary of a quality assurance system that attempts to police standards.

The personal touch.  THE, 07 May 2009.

Senior figures in the HE sector believe that the personal interactions between students and teachers are in jeopardy as they become more strained by the dramatic growth in student numbers.  There are lots of reports which cite the reaction between students and teachers as being of the utmost importance.  Paul Ramsden, head of the Higher Education Academy, reported to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills that the pedagogical relationship was what separated UK higher education from its continental counterparts.  A study by the Financial Sustainability Strategy Group (FSSG) and JM Consulting supported the above argument stating that “to lose this competitive feature would be damaging to the economy [.]”.  Both Lord Dearing and Graham Gibbs, honorary professor at the University of Winchester both accepted that large classes have an adverse effect on student performance.  Whilst British higher education is well known for its personal tutor system, sadly many students feel that they are not known by staff.

This is a major five page article accompanied by “We want personalised learning”, “It’s important to feel supported” and “A special relationship is being lost”, all found at the end of the text.

£200m spent to woo graduate teachers.  TES, 08 May 2009.

Despite golden hellos and £200 million spent trying to attract graduates to teach maths, science and IT, the Government is falling short of its target.  Maths, science and IT are subjects which traditionally struggle to recruit staff.  Figures from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry show that only 71% of maths posts and 58% of ICT places have graduate applicants.

Ofqual chief backs diploma timetable. TES, 08 May 2009.

Kathleen Tattersall, chair of Ofqual, has rejected exam board claims that ministers are risking the success of the 14-19 diplomas by introducing them too quickly.  However, Kathleen believes that the diplomas should not be introduced without being first fully piloted.

Campaign to protect college title from fakes.  TES, FE Focus, 08 May 2009.

Further Education colleges want a ban on the term college being used by bogus organisations.  Christopher Waldron, director of public affairs at the Association of Colleges, believes that it is time that the word college was protected by law. 

Adult learning slump hits Labour heartland hardest.  TES, FE Focus, 08 May 2009.

Niace says that adult learning is at its lowest since Labour took power, with the poor and manual workers hardest hit.  Participation among adults at 18% is at its lowest level since 1997.  A Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills spokeswoman said: “There may well be fewer people participating but what they are doing will have much more value”.

Capital projects to shrink to pass five-point scrutiny.  TES, FE Focus, 08 May 2009.

Although the Learning Skills Council (LSC) has obtained an additional £300 million for capital funding in 2009-11, they say that colleges will have to shrink or even abandon their capital projects.  The LSC are looking to spread the new funding across as many colleges as they can. Geoff Russell, chief executive, LSC confirmed that: “The smaller each project can become, the more likely the number of projects we can fund will become higher”.