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Sector News, 08 - 12 December 2008

Credit crunch bears down on FE sector.  Education Guardian, 9 December 2008.

The public accounts committee are concerned about 19 FE colleges who have long term borrowing of more than 40% of income.  In addition, last year the number of colleges assessed as financially weak rose from 61 in 2005-06 to 89.   The Learning & Skills Council has well established routines to support colleges through a financial recovery plan, so ‘collapse’ is unlikely.  However, the college re-building plan is only part complete and now finds itself in a difficult financial climate.

Students must broaden their horizons – and soon.  Education Guardian, 9 December 2008.

Comment, Malcolm McVicar, Vice-Chancellor, University of Central Lancashire.

A long term recession will mean a difficult job market for graduates for the foreseeable future.  Added to which is the likelihood that the balance of economic power is likely to shift from the west to the east.  This is the view of Malcolm McVicar, who suggests that it will become increasingly important for graduates to consider working abroad.  Finding employment abroad makes different demands to working in the UK, not least the need for foreign language skills.

Building blocks.  Education Guardian, 9 December 2008.

Application for engineering and technology degrees, have risen by 7%, but the overall picture is not good.  Up to 40% of all engineering degrees in the UK are not accredited by a professional body such as the Institute of Mechanical Engineering.   The general opinion is many universities are offering ‘one size fits all’ degrees rather than catering around a specialism.

Lecturer admonished to ‘find the excellence’ and lift marks. THE, 11 December 2008.

Stuart Derbyshire, a lecturer at the University of Birmingham, has told the THE how an inspector increased the marks he gave to a student.  Despite Stuart’s comments that the work was “fatally flawed”, the student was given a grade D.  Derbyshire claims this as an example of grade inflation and says that this is a phenomenon which is occurring nationally.

Sector split over lowering bar for pupils in bad schools. THE, 11 December 2008.

An idea to allow some students into university with lower grades because of their educational background has divided the university sector.  A recent review has reported that when asked the question concerning lowering grades, 38% of admissions managers said yes, 30% said no and 25% remain undecided.  Amongst comments for and against, one manager agreed that to achieve diversity the policy was acceptable, whilst another argued that social engineering is not part of a university’s remit.

Aston to open specialist engineering academy.  THE, 11 December 2008.

Aston University and Birmingham City Council want to establish the first university led 14-19 year old academy.  The academy will concentrate on vocational diplomas and apprenticeships.

In a further article (in the THE), A timely technical advance, Lord Dearing comments upon the proposed academy, which he supports.   He cites England’s lack of quality technical schools and his and previous government’s attempts to bring about a change in technical education for 14 to 16 year olds.

Aimhigher’s success unevenly distributed. THE, 11 December 2008.

A government drive to encourage more disadvantaged students to go to university may have been set up to fail.  So says a report to be presented this week to the Society for Research into Higher Education.  Analysis of the South West of England found that three quarters of the regions poorest families were excluded from the initiative.

A matter of opinions.  THE, 11 December 2008.

A major article in this week’s THE looks at the ‘for and against’ of student-centred learning. Arguments range from the need to accept that each student has an individual background and requires different strategies to learn, to opinions are one thing but if they are not backed up facts then they are not valuable.  Additionally, there is an argument that suggests whilst student-centred learning is valuable, many (particularly managers) do not understand the concept well enough and hence do it a disservice.  

Rules of engagement. THE, 11 December 2008.

The second major article this week expresses views on ‘the art of teaching’.  Dale Salwak, professor of English at Southern California’s Citrus College, argues that serious teachers are “the ones who open our eyes, maybe our hearts, to things we might never know without them”.  He further comments that teaching is more than just giving information.

High fliers drop out after GCSEs.  TES, 12 December 2008.

A report compiled by the Higher Education Policy Institute,  shows that a large number of pupils who do well at GCSE do not progress beyond sixteen.  There is a North/South divide apparent,  the South East doing considerably better then the North East and fewer girls drop out at this stage.  The reasons are unclear but it is suggested that the need to earn income may well force some youngsters away from education and into the world of work.  It is hoped that the Government’s initiative to raise the school leaving age to eighteen will encourage more pupils to take post-sixteen qualifications.

Fischer data under growing scrutiny. TES, 12 December 2008.

Doubts have been expressed over the accuracy of predications of pupils' examination performance.  Whilst the data in the Fischer system is enthusiastically received by some teachers there are others who are concerned that the predicted grades are wildly inaccurate.

See also Trust predicted D grade for pupil who won scholarship to drama school”.

Firms plan to cut training budgets. TES, FE Focus, 12 December 2008.

The oft heard statement “when finances get tough, the training budget is the first to go”, has some credibility today as one in eight businesses have reported to the CBI that they are to cut their training budgets.   “Workers who want training may have to rely on colleges rather than on their employers”. However, 6% of employers have said that they will increase their training budgets.

See also, “Training needs to bring good returns”.

Apprenticeships move forward. TES, FE Focus, 12 December 2008. Comment: Simon Waugh, chief executive of NAS (National Apprenticeship Service).

By April next year NAS will control all aspects of apprenticeships and Mr Waugh is the first chief exec of that body.  Much of the article is concerned with Mr Waugh’s background but there is comment concerning a possible shortage of skilled people. Also reported is the criticism expressed by two House of Commons select committees who fear that not enough is being done to ensure quality amid apprenticeship expansion.

Consultancy role for colleges. TES, FE Focus, 12 December 2008.

A call for further education colleges to engage more with business has been made by a Scottish group.  Whilst the group accepts that vocational training is vital to the economy, success in business demands better use of staff and technology as well as training staff in better management techniques.  The Goodison Group say that colleges should be well placed to provide consultation on these issues.