Skip to main content

Sector News, 08 - 12 June 2009

Under New Management.  Education Guardian, 9 June 2009.

Under the heading “The end of DIUS”, this week's Guardian looks at what has and has not worked for the Government along with the challenges facing Lord Mandelson’s business department.  The article focuses upon universities, skills, 14-19, schools and children’s services.  Comments run from the success of packages to improve student funding for those who struggle to afford it, to the difficulties faced by Train to Gain and the Diploma.

Block of ages.  Education Guardian, 9 June 2009.

Educational ageism begins at 25, and after this age most people are left to find their own way with little support.  So argues Professor John Field, co-director of the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning at Stirling University.  Despite the well proven benefits to people of continued learning, Government initiatives focus on the under-25 age group and many opportunities for older learners have been lost.

Pressure Point. Education Guardian, secondary supplement, 9 June 2009. (No links to Guardian)

In a time of further changes to who administrates and manages education, this week's supplement looks at the concerns expressed by colleges of Further Education.  It was barely 16 years ago that colleges were given their independence from local authorities - now they are being handed back, at least as far as teenage education goes.  Clearly colleges are nervous about the implications of removing the LSC and replacing it with local authorities and two new quangos, the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). 

NB the two links in the above paragraph go to a document outlining the operation of the Young People's Learing Agency and a Business, Innovation and Skills web site giving the latest information on the Skills Funding Agency

"College futures up in the air."

Business leaders may have little time to concern themselves over organisations like colleges who are generally protected form the economic slump.  However, colleges will have to make efficiency savings, they are currently grappling with the capital fund debacle and increased student numbers next year may not draw down all the funding colleges would like.

Fears mount as councils set to take over” and “All for one and one for all?

While some councils see the new arrangements of funding 14-19 through them as a means of forming partnerships, there are other councils who make it quite clear that they will decide where and when to spend any funding.  This is despite protocols being agreed with the Local Government Association, protocols it seems, that are open to some interpretation.  A major worry is how authorities will operate with establishments who have for years drawn students from across authority boundaries.  The principle that funding should follow the learner ought to be kept as a foil against boundary protectionism but even this principle has its drawbacks.  How for example, do colleges who enrol students on a national basis negotiate with the multitude of authorities holding the funding for their students?  Should local authorities decide that colleges should only look after local needs then the result could be an impoverished curriculum and a loss of current opportunities?

"Education is more important then ever."

Outline of interviews with Stephen Williams and David Willetts.  Stephen Williams and David Willetts are the Liberal Democrat spokesman and Conservative shadow spokesman responsible for innovation, universities and skills.  Stephen Williams believes that  adult education needs more support and that apprenticeships should be fully funded so that employers do not have to pay “off the job” costs.  David Willetts believes that the Government is wrong to scrap the LSC in times of crisis, that more funding is required for science, training and apprenticeships, and more work based learning is required along with less bureaucracy.

"Will students benefit from a new line bureaucracy?" And “Principals asked: better the quango you know?

Echoing David Willetts's words in the above paragraph, many college principals believe that scrapping the LSC at this time is a mistake. The SFA and YPLA will overlap giving rise to complexities and removing the simplicity (?) of the current system.

‘Universities’ out as DIUS is succeeded by business ministry.  THE, 11 June 2009.

Being placed in a department that does not carry the title university has led to interpretations of a snub to universities, that universities are to be viewed as an arm of business and that the Business, Innovation and Skills Department is little more than a way of building the empire of Lord Mandelson rather than benefiting higher education.  There is little comfort for the Government in this article, the contributors considering the move dangerous, a waste of public money along with the concerns that higher education will lose its ability to educate people for anything other than business and enterprise.

See also: the leader “Into the arms of Mammon”; "BIS ministerial team announced" and "Universities 'delighted' not horrified, by new ministry, Mandelson claims".

Make the intellectual capital work.  THE, 11 June 2009.

At a recent conference organised by Auril (Association for University and Industry), many speakers pointed to the importance that universities have in helping the economy to recover.  Higher education should be “the engine of recovery”, should “drive the post-recession economy”, should be at “the heart of the innovation ecosystem” and “needs a front door to business” are examples of the enthusiasm the speakers gave for the partnership between universities and business.  There are, however, those who are sceptical about the claims that universities should be “in bed” with business or that universities have ever been establishments which can pull the country out of recession.  Peter Howlett, Senior Lecturer in Economic History at the London School of Economics, points out that before the 1980s the university sector was small and it is highly unlikely that they had any part to play in combating earlier recessions.  Now universities are a much larger sector and maybe they can play a part if the world at large accepts that we are here to ensure that graduates with the key skills of problem solving and flexibility are produced, argues Pam Tatlow chief exec. of Million +.  She adds that politicians' vain attempts to second guess what skills will be needed in future is not as effective as producing graduates with the aforementioned skills.  There are others who argue that as large employers, universities can make an impact by spending their money on projects such as the construction of new buildings and campuses at a time of severe recession for the construction industry.  The conclusion is that universities can play an important role in national recovery by developing a high calibre work force, fostering innovation and research, forging tighter links with business, feeding new ideas into policy making and keeping local mini-economies busy. 

Coming to a screen near you.  THE, 11 June 2009.

Dani McKinney of the State University of New York, carried out an experiment with a group of students to see what results she would get if half watched a lecture on podcast and half watched the same lecture in a traditional setting.  The result of a test showed that those who had used the podcast had learned more than those sitting in the actual lecture.  Whilst new evidence emerges that electronic tuition is becoming popular, and successful, it remains the case that the pace of change can make it difficult to keep up.  The article goes on to give many examples of the use of websites for distance learning.

Audit process fails to allay standards fears.  THE, 11 June 2009.

Philip Jones, Vice Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, believes that whilst there is wealth of evidence to suggest that there are few real issues with quality and standards in higher education, it is difficult to use the QAA’s work to defend the system.  QAA reports are too technical to answer the questions asked by the public.  The QAA’s system which is designed to look at the management of academic standards and the quality of teaching rather than looking at people's teaching further adds to the difficulty.

Spending review could drive the OU to shut doors of its regional centres.  THE, 11 June 2009.

Cuts to the university’s funding of second degrees could mean reducing the OU’s centres from 13 to 5.  This is one of a number of options being considered by the OU who, like other universities, are facing funding issues.

Monoglot threat to historical dominance.  THE, 11 June 2009.

The loss of foreign language courses could affect the UK’s ability to keep its lead in European history.  According to Richard Evans, Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, language learning in Britain has entered a period of perhaps terminal decline.  In the UK, 44 per cent of historians work exclusively on foreign, mainly European, topics. It is hard to see how this can continue with following generations of historians if they do not have the option to learn foreign languages.

‘Activity profiles’ give full exposure.  THE, 11 June 2009.

The University of Leeds is planning to draw up “activity profiles” of all its academics to benchmark their work.   “The profiles would include research and teaching data such as grant income, student feedback scores and information on third stream activities”.

Dropouts blamed on poor teaching.  THE, 11 June 2009.

John Denham astonished the University and College Union (UCU) last week by commenting that university dropouts may have poor teaching and poor student experience as important components of figures recently published.  Official figures on retention and access in universities were published recently (extracts within article).  UCU says that there is no foundation for John Denham’s comments.

Giving diploma results on time will be a ‘challenge’, says Ofqual. TES, 12 June 2009.

Putting together the results for a student’s diploma is a complex affair.  Four of the six components are formally assessed and they can be taken separately with at least 25 exam boards.  Adding to the complications is the use of overseas marking centres in the Philippines, China, India and Australia.  Bringing all these systems together is clearly something of a headache for Ofqual.  However challenging the systems appear to be, Ofqual is confident that it will publish the results on time.

Report calls for boost to kudos and funding. TES, FE Focus, 12 June 2009.

The Nuffield Review of 14-19 education has called for more recognition for further education and a reduction in the difference between funding for schools and the FE sector.  There is criticism of the large number of different providers in the 14-19 field.  It is also critical of the assumption that any school that wants a sixth form should be given one.  Nuffield say that there should be the creation of collaborative networks for local learning systems.

Trainers cut jobs and courses as fears over funding grows.  TES, FE Focus, 12 June 2009.

Fears over funding for Train to Gain are forcing training companies to cut courses and make staff redundant.   There is frustration that whilst providers have been encouraged to deliver more, the funding has not followed the provision they have created.  The LSC has responded by saying that it will take action to agree contracts with colleges and training providers to enable growth in Train to Gain, but within the level of investment it has available.

See also: “Training providers ‘facing meltdown’ as cash box is locked”. Letter from Debbie Gardiner, managing director, Qube Qualifications and Development.

Parties go into battle over how high to push the bar for skills.  TES, FE Focus, 12 June 2009.

If they win the next election, the Conservative party intend to overhaul Train to Gain.  The party see Level 2 qualifications as a waste of time and intend to re-direct funding to apprenticeships.  The current Labour government believe that research has shown that Train to Gain has demonstrated benefits for more people than was first thought possible.  The arguments centre around research that suggests progression from intermediate NVQs is negligible.  In contrast, the apprenticeship system appears to deliver more overall gains (wage benefits) than other vocational qualifications.