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Sector News, 06 - 10 April 2009

Is Vince Cable right – are we sending too many youngsters to university? The Guardian. 06 April 2009.

Michael White reports on Vince Cable’s comments that achieving the target of 50% of young people going to university is expensive and unaffordable.


More students + less money = no diplomas.  Education Guardian, 07 April 2009.

Last Monday, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) sent a letter to schools and colleges informing them that the budget for post-16 education in schools was being cut by 3.71% and in colleges by 2%.  This despite the LSC stating as late as 13 March that there would be no cut in funding and that schools and colleges would have the same amount of funding for the same number of students.  The result of this cut is likely to be rising class sizes and possibly the loss of diploma courses (because these are expensive to run).

The Daily Telegraph covers this story under "Colleges forced to take 'drastic measures' after £60 million Learning and Skills Council shortfall".


‘It’s the capital programme all over again’. Education Guardian, 07 April 2009.

Last year Train to Gain places were not taken up to the extent the Government expected.  This led, to the anger of colleges, £200m set aside for the Train to Gain programme being transferred to higher education.   This year the opposite is likely, in that demand for Train to Gain places is likely to outstrip the funding allocated.


DIUS promises to ditch the jargon but defends its use of ‘customer.  THE, 09 April 2009.

DIUS jargon is impenetrable, according to according to the select committee for Innovation, Universities and Skills.  The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) is said to have ‘taken on board’ the criticism but refuses to ‘ditch’ the word customer arguing that the term signals a desire “to consider that we are here to best meet the needs of students rather than deliver at our convenience”.


Recruitment problems kill off CAM courses.  THE, 09 April 2009.

The demise of complementary medicine courses in higher education has been well documented over the past months.  Central Lancaster and Westminster universities have become the latest to announce that they will close their BScs in complementary medicine blaming low student interest for the move.


Collaboration, not difference, is key to survival.  THE, 09 April 2009.

Distinctiveness and difference as terms to describe universities futures is not correct according to Ewan Wooldridge, chief exec. of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. He warns that 160 establishments across the UK cannot be totally different and that collaboration and rationalisation should lie at the heart of the sector’s future.


Font of all wisdom, or not?  THE, 09 April 2009. Opinion: Martin Cohen, researcher in philosophy.

Wikipedia is attracting bad press for inaccuracies and poor quality information.  Larry Sanger, Wikipedia’s co-founder left the project, has created an alternative online collaborative encyclopaedia to be written by experts.   Citizendium is small but its articles are approved and scholarly and operate on the theory that academics will be more tempted to create their own ‘wiki’ on their own subjects.


Can’t beat the real thing.  THE, 09 April 2009. Opinion: Tim Birkhead, professor of behavioural ecology, University of Sheffield.

Tim argues that like young songbirds which learn their songs from parents, undergraduates need individual attention and social interaction in their learning.  The undergraduate tutorial experience varies wildly, yet when run properly they offer first class support.


Balls delays masters start date amid quality fears.  TES, 10 April 2009.

Ed Balls, the schools secretary, has said that the start of the new masters level course in teaching and learning will be delayed until 2010.  The decision has been made amid fears that a September start date was rushed and risked undermining the quality of the qualification.


Threat to cut special needs allowance by nearly half.  TES, 10 April 2009.

Teachers who work predominantly with special needs pupils could have their special allowances cut to £1,000 (from over £1,900) if the Government approves new regulations.  Martin Freedman, head of pay and conditions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, described the move as deplorable.


More 16-18s face training crisis.  TES. FE Focus, 10 April 2009.

Another 16-19 funding shortfall is forcing some training providers to consider turning teenagers away from training.  A budget of £185 million this year was intended to fund 70,000 teenagers on Entry to Employment.  This is a scheme which covers basic skills and vocational development for those not yet ready to enter employment.  Whilst 17% of providers state that their £637 million budget  this year is underspent, the Learning and Skills Council seem reluctant to make this funding available for Entry to Employment.


£30m Train to Gain fund may be redirected.  TES, FE Focus, 10 April 2009.

A £30 million package of funding designed to help colleges to build capacity for Train to Gain may be transferred to employer based programmes to meet a sudden rise in demand.  The Association of Colleges (AoC) have stated that the reallocation of money risked being unfair on institutions who had applied for funding in good faith.

See also “Cuts to courses could lead to permanent scars”. (Comment ).


IT problems highlight skills shortages among workforce. TES, FE Focus, 10 April 2009.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) comments in its annual survey that 40% of employers are worried about their staffs lack of basic literacy, numeracy and IT skills.  IT skills come out top of companies concerns, with 57% of the companies surveyed saying that the level of IT skills is too low.


Skills for Life database gives lecturers ideas to try.  TES, FE Focus, 10 April 2009.

The Excellence Gateway site has added the Skills for Life core curriculum.  Margaret Bennett, Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS) communications and research director, has said “This gives practitioners both what to teach and the how to teach it”.

Useful links:  Excellence Gateway, Skills for Life (through Excellence Gateway).