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Sector News, 06 - 10 December 2010

Oxbridge elitism, how many black and poor students go to Oxford and Cambridge.  Education Guardian, 7 December 2010.

Oxford's social profile is 89 per cent upper and middle-class, whilst for Cambridge it is 87.6 per cent, comparing poorly with the national average of 64.5 per cent.  However the most alarming statistic to come from a Freedom of Information Act request made by David Lammy, is that over 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years.

David Willetts: Tuition fees will be 'fair and affordable'.  Education Guardian, 7 December 2010.

David Willetts insists that the government is committed to the principle that going to university should depend on ability – not the ability to pay and that the coalition’s plan is for a system of graduate contributions that is fair for all.  He reiterated the government statements that the graduated structure would ensure that the poorest-paid graduates would pay less than those earning more.

Immigration minister infuriates FE college leaders.  Education Guardian, 7 December 2010.

Damian Green’s comments that overseas students applying for FE course places weren't necessarily 'the brightest and the best' has infuriated college leaders.  The Guardian has asked some college leaders how they will respond during the eight-week consultation over the immigration bill due to start this month.

·    Lynne Sedgemore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, believes the situation is outrageous and that putting bogus colleges in the same frame as publicly- funded colleges is insulting and inaccurate.

·    Angela O'Donoghue, principal at City of Sunderland College, can understand the minister’s concerns about bogus colleges and visa applications but objects to other colleges being labeled as the same.  Angela points out that the minister is wrong to assume that students come to the UK, get a visa and then disappear.

·   John Stone, chief executive, the Learning and Skills Network, ponders the conflicting views of a secretary of state who says that immigration should target highly-skilled workers whilst removing the possibility of training for them.

·    Catherine Vines, Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College, points to the detailed records of attendance that colleges keep for the purposes of Ofsted as evidence that overseas students come to study. 

·     Shelagh Legrave, principal of Chichester College, says that the college stands to lose about £5 million of its income and that if some of these students do not come to colleges they will not enter university

·     Steve Caley, vice-principal of Cambridge Regional College, believes that the government’s contention that overseas students come here to work rather than attend college is rubbish as most of the college students do not have the level of English required to get a job.

See also Cross-party MPs voice 'profound concern' to Theresa May over plans to bar foreign students”.

Student Loans Company faces ongoing risks, MPs warn.  Education Guardian, 7 December 2010.

The Commons cross-party public accounts committee said “it was uncertain whether the Student Loans Company (SLC) could deliver and maintain value for money”.  They added that they see the company facing on-going risks.  Last year the SLC failed to process 209,000 student grants and loans by the start of the university term.

Willetts: our plan will ease student fears.  THE, 09 December 2010.

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, called the system to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 a year while cutting annual public funding for higher education by £2.9 billion "a deliberate decision to smooth the costs out across people's working lives”. Mr. Willetts argues that the alternative to the plan would have been to cut student numbers or the value of the grant.  He added that he did not want to see the opportunities for young people to enter university “go into reverse”.

Part-time pain: only one third of students will be eligible for loans support.  THE, 09 December 2010.

An impact assessment published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills shows that only a third of part-time students would be eligible for loans.  Part-time students will only have access to loans to cover their fees if they are taking first degrees and the result is that 300,000 students will have to meet the increased fees themselves.

Come and study...then go home.  THE, 09 December 2010.

Several universities have pointed out to the UK Border Agency that many countries like Canada offer overseas students a limited opportunity to work.  The comment was made in response to a government official's warning to universities that foreign students must come here to study and then go home and that working in the UK is not an option.  Universities fear that this move will stop foreign students applying to UK universities because they will not be able to take advantage of any work experience provision.

Eastwood takes aim at conspiracy theorists.  THE, 09 December 2010.

David Eastwood is vice chancellor of Birmingham University and was a member of the Browne Review.  HE is unhappy about criticism that the Browne Review was biased in favour of STEM subjects when he says that the majority of members did not have that background.  Davie Eastwood points to his commitment to the arts and humanities and accuses the detractors of “the crassest form of reductionism”.

Wrong direction.  THE, 09 December 2010.

Opinion: Aaron Porter, presidents of the National Union of Students.

Steve Smith, the out going president of Universities UK, has failed in his bid to get universities and MPs to accept the government’s proposals for tuition fees.  Aaron Smith believes that whilst Steve Smith may have achieved his aim of raising tuition fees he has unwittingly placed himself in a position where he has had no choice but to support a deeply unpopular policy.

See also: “A single voice is not enough for a sector singing different tunes” in which William Evans states that in his opinion the Universities UK response to the tuition fees row has been muted.  He comments that such a response was to be expected when fronting universities with widely ranging views.

 Features in this week’s THE:

Appetite for education”: is John Morgan’s report on South Korea’s driving ambition to compete globally (in HE).

Reversing into trouble”:  looks at how the coalition plans to make HE more market aware.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

How to get Bach”: Roger Brown, professor of higher education policy in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development at Liverpool University, explains how listening to, reading and reflecting on classical music, is the way to true appreciation.

The Arts.  THE, 09 December 2010.

Rita, Stand and Ken, too”, looks at how Coronation Street’s fifty years have redefined commercial TV.  Duncan Wu’s contribution this week is “A hell of a week” in which he comments on “127 hours”, Danny Boyle’s film in which the main actor plays the role in the true story of a mountaineer who falls and traps his arm against a canyon wall.   In “Daytime TV”, Gary Day, under the headline “Larger than life”, discusses the BBC one film about Freddie Flintoff. 

Comp pupils gain better degrees.  TES, 10 December 2010.

According to research published in today’s TES, comprehensive school pupils with similar A level and GCSE results to their counterparts from private and grammar schools obtain a better class of degree.

‘Spoonfed’ students lack confidence at Oxbridge.  TES, 10 December 2010.

Teaching to the test in schools is creating highly-successful students who obtain as many as five high grade A levels but, who lack confidence.  Oxbridge counsellors say that the number of students needing help is rising year on year because schools are ‘spoonfeeding’ their students and not giving them the chance to develop the abilities required to be a success at university.

Marks system could replace ‘misleading’ A-level grades.  TES, 10 December 2010.

Cambridge Assessment is suggesting that university admission officers should use the actual marks from a pupils' A level result rather than the grade.  It would, according to the organisation, address the charge that A levels are an inaccurate predictor of pupils' performance in HE.

Examiners ‘benefit of doubt’ blamed for inflation.  TES, 10 December 2010.

When an A level entrant’s marks place them on the borderline between two grades, say B to A, then the examiners tend to give the student the benefit of the doubt and award an A.  However, according to Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, the examination boards use that reference point in the following year’s examinations unwittingly lowering the standard for future grades.

College budgets at risk if students fail to get jobs.  TES, FE Focus, 10 December 2010.

The Skills Funding Agency has set aside £80 million to be shared between colleges to help students who were previously claiming benefit into employment, and hence colleges will lose funding if they fail.  College leaders are unhappy about the risk of losing some of their budget through factors over which they have no control.  A Skills Funding Agency official has said “The intention is to give an extra incentive to colleges to respond to their local economy and community and help people into work”.

Establish yourselves at the heart of community, colleges told. TES, FE Focus, 10 December 2010.

Mark Ravenhall is director of operations at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (Niace) and he believes that colleges are more than just service providers.  He calls for colleges to establish themselves at the heart of the community and copy overseas practice.  An inquiry launched by Niace and the 157 Group of colleges is to look at the community role played by colleges and study good practice from other countries, including the US, Canada and Australia.

Student visa shake-up could affect funding, sector warns. TES, FE Focus, 10 December 2010.

In a bid to tackle ‘bogus colleges’ the Home Office will generally restrict visas to university and school-based qualifications.  Colleges fear that they will lose millions of pounds of funding under the plans.

EMA fury gains pace amid fears of student drop-out.  TES, FE Focus, 10 December 2010.

The government has been accused of breaking their contract with students who have started a further education course on the understanding that they will obtain an education maintenance allowance (EMA).  According to college leaders many students will now find themselves part way through their course having the EMA removed from them. The consequence of the loss of income for many students is likely to ensure that they will leave their course of study early.  This concern is in addition to the fury that the removal of EMA has caused in the FE sector at student, teacher and managerial level.  A snap surveys points to difficulty in facing the costs of attending college, including travel, for those who receive an EMA.  A Department for Education spokesman has said that supporting the most disadvantaged students to stay in education is their priority, adding that a more targeted approach to support is necessary.