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Sector News, 08 - 12 March 2010

Abolish Labour target of sending 50% to university, report urges.  Education Guardian, 09 March 2010.

The Associattion of Graduate Recruiters which represents 750 employers, has asked the government to remove its target of 50% of young people attending university. The Association says that the target has driven down standards and devalued degrees.

Budget cuts hit students training to be youth workers.  Education Guardian, 09 March 2010.

Times are hard for would-be youth workers and the colleges that support them.  Many trainee youth workers would be sponsored by local authorities, but as the credit crunch bites this sponsorship is drying up.  Many FE colleges are finding it hard to keep recruits and Ruskin College Oxford, has not taken anyone sponsored by the council for years.  Oxford's programme co-ordinator for youth and community work comments that many students are worried about job prospects and many have turned to other degrees.

Universities need the government to show some commitment in the budget.  Education Guardian, 09 March 2010.

Comment: Professor Steve Smith, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor, University of Exeter.

Steve Smith is unhappy about the government’s lack of commitment to university budgets.  Whilst accepting that difficult decisions need to be made, he is fearful that universities risk losing their international status and that fewer students will be able to obtain places at university in the future.  He asks the government not to merely consider universities as a major public service but also as a major sector of the UK economy and a major contributor to our “diplomatic and business advantages around the world”.

Qualifications rated over quality in course guides.  THE, 11 March 2010.

Respondents in a University Lifestyle Survey have rated information from the Quality Assurance Agency amongst the least important pieces of information they need when choosing a course.  Students expressed most interest in what the course would qualify them to do, followed closely by the views of past students and the number of contact hours with staff.  Relatively few wanted to know whether the course accessed external experts and even less wanted more information about learning facilities.  Whilst ministers might want more UK students to study abroad, this was one of the areas of least interest.   The questions were set around the government's "Higher Ambitions" document.

 Students with disabilities opt for arts, not IT.  THE, 11 march 2010.

An analysis conducted by Danielle Farrel, a research assistant at the University of the West of Scotland, suggests that students with disabilities are more likely to opt for arts courses than IT.   Across the UK 4.6 per cent of students with disabilities are studying IT compared with 9.5 per cent studying creative arts and design.

Social scientists aim to save ‘fragile flower’ from retrenchment frost.  THE, 11 March 2010.

Social scientists are to tell the government that their disciplines are under serious threat.  At a forthcoming meeting with David Willetts, shadow universities minister, social scientists are likely to point again to the economic benefits of their subjects and highlight recent developments that promise a great deal.

From where I sit: Their profits, our loss.  THE, 11 March 2010.

Opinion: Chronis Polychroniou, member of the founding scholars advisory board,  Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy, McGill University, Canada.

Chronis fears that the internationalisation of higher education could produce serious disadvantages counterbalancing the advantages often stated by supporters of the move.  He sees internationalisation as a route to profit for private organisations and argues that education is too precious to be left to the world of trade and commerce.

Neets need our help.  THE, 11 March 2010.

Opinion: David Green, professor of economics, University of Worcester.

As many as 150,000 well qualified young people will fail to obtain a place at a university this year.  The answer, according to David Green, is to keep increasing university places whether they are fully funded or not.  David says that these young people need all the support and encouragement they can get.  He further suggests that there are ways of increasing funding without putting the public purse at risk.   One of his targets is the earlier repayment of student loans which amount to £2.5b and another to abolish the fine of £3,700 per extra student pointing to the £2,500 a year saving in Jobseekers Allowance and lot more in reduced crime.

Feature in this week’s THE:

"The academy trek: a transformative journey into a world of potential Professor Sir Patrick Stewart, chancellor and professor of performing art, University of Huddersfield,  explains how the lure of higher education brought him back to Huddersfield from the US.

A big step into the grown-up world”, an amusing, yet highly informative look at children’s views about universities.  Some examples of the comments are; “Why do universities exist?”  “To bore people to death and make people have lots of headaches” (year 6).  “I want to go [to university] because I don’t want to be a failure in life” (year 6). In answer to “How would studying be different from school” one pupil commented “You don’t get spoon fed like you do here” (years 9 – 13).

Thinking outside the box”, Laurie Taylor explains how he escaped the behavioural theories of many of his  psychology contemporaries.”, a feature explaining the fears about the US universities' requirements to be more open about fees and retention rates.

SEN pupils locked out of prison project.  TES, 12 March 2010.

The Mary Rose School in Portsmouth had a successful relationship with a local prison, a relationship which both the prison and the school valued highly.  Inmates were taught by school staff, as a part of the prisoners' vocational training programme, how to deal with SEN students and learn Makaton.  In return the prisoners trained the SEN pupils within the prison as a component of their coaching qualification.  Now, for reasons which are a mystery to both the school and the prison, contact between schools and prisons has been banned.  The headmistress says that it is a great loss of experience for her students and that the prisoners were doing well on their course.

1.7m staff lack skills to do the job. TES, FE Focus, 12 March 2010.

A recent survey has suggested that a growing number of employees lack the skill they need to perform their duties at work.  Nearly one in five of the 80,000 employers surveyed said they had staff who were not fully proficient. 

Further education ‘needs HE makeover’.  TES, FE Focus, 12 March 2010.

According to a paper by Alison Wolf of King’s College London, FE should be reformed so that it operates more like universities. Students should have the opportunity to obtain loans, FE should be able to set its own qualifications and be required to provide more information about itself and its practices.

See also, comment,Sector that is in charge of its own destiny”.

Private training providers fear ignorance will cost them contracts.  TES, FE Focus, 12 March 2010.

Ignorance on the part of local authorities is likely to threaten the future of private training agencies.  Almost two thirds of local private training providers have no confidence in their local authority’s knowledge of what they can provide.  Eighty eight percent of providers say that despite concerns that local authorities know little about the sector there was no evidence that local authorities were attempting to get more information.

Topping up: colleges look for fees to hand back what cuts have taken way. TES, FE Focus, 12 March 2010.

Chris Humphries, director general of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, has said that colleges need to get over the cuts in funding and look for ways to earn more income. However, charging more may not be the answer.  The Federation of Small Businesses has said that the commercial sector is unlikely to raise the amount it pays for training whilst dealing with the recession.  Colleges have already suffered loss of income for adult education, and argue that Train to Gain stopped fee charging and that has generated a culture that expects free training.  In addition the government’s rule about not funding people for same level retraining has left employers confused.