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Sector News, 09 - 13 November 2009

What did the Romans ever teach us?  Education Guardian, 10 November 2009.

Last week Lord Mandelson called for a labelling system for degrees based upon drop out rate, earning potential and career success.  Published in this week’s Guardian are responses to that suggestion by some academics, who are generally unhappy about the idea, in particular the effect it may have on arts and humanities.


Hoods down, looking up.  Education Guardian, 10 November 2009.

Many colleges are facing issues with gang related violence and anti-social behaviour.  Lewisham College, in one of London’s most deprived areas, has more than its fair share of problems.  The college has tried to make its campus safe for its students as well as attracting those who would not normally enter a college of FE.  Lewisham College has security guards, CCTV cameras and electronic entrances, all of which sound very draconian, but the alternative to these measures is anything but good.  As well as the security measures, the college has introduced an ethos which supports disenchanted learners and works with the police, particularly through a police initiative known as Trinity Plus that works with gangs or those young people likely to become involved in gangs.


Can online learning aid economic recovery?  Education Guardian, 10 November 2009.

The Internet is becoming ‘big business’ for education, especially for higher education.  However, there remain many questions about harnessing the power of the web.  The Guardian has sponsored a round table discussion in association with Learndirect  in which eleven representatives from the media, government and industry put their views on what is required to use on line learning as an aid to economic recovery.  The group agreed six points, which in brief, are:

  • government capitalise on the current appetite for social learning,
  • comprehensive, all age, career system is needed,
  • the split between DWP and BIS is unhelpful, a single group would be better,
  • a demand led system is desirable, albeit difficult to fund,
  • a long-term approach to unemployment is better than quick-fix solutions,
  • government needs to learn from the private sector about creating successful IT projects.

Young people need to get the right skills for the job.  Education Guardian, 10 November 2009.

Opinion, David Willetts shadow minister for university and skills.

David Willetts supports the arguments for having careers advice on line.  He includes in his demands the need for more information concerning HE and FE opportunities and adds that on-line advice should not replace the one-to-one advice given by careers officers.


Learning should be ongoing.  Education Guardian, 10 November 2009.

Opinion, Stephen Williams, Liberal Democrat spokesman for innovation, universities and skills.

Another opposition minister supporting the need for an all age careers service and internet access to careers advice.  Putting the proposition that for some time adults have not been able to guarantee that they will stay in the same job for life, David believes that careers advice for everybody is vital.  It is his view that the Learning and Skills Council’s online vacancy matching scheme is a step in the right direction but the provision should be widened.  Job Centre Plus should be contributing to online services.


Any student, any subject, anywhere.  Education Guardian, 10 November 2009.

Almost 80 per cent of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) courses are now available free on the web.  There are already examples of students who have obtained degrees solely through the media of the Internet.  It is clear that this type of open learning is set to become both an opportunity for universities and a threat.  The government is funding a £5.7m  programme to look at how universities can put their course material online and another to ensure that supplying free material becomes the norm.  Should this movement to online services continue, then traditional university education is under threat and it will change the structure of many universities.  The ‘down-side’ of all this is that it costs a lot of money to put materials on line and the experience of US universities is that this can only be done with corporate sponsorship.  During this recent economic down turn corporate sponsorship has become harder to obtain and this has forced Utah State University to put its Opencourseware project on ice.


Students to pay more after review of university tuition fees.  The Times, 10 November 2009.

Leading universities are hopeful that they will be able to increase tuition fees, after Lord Browne of Madingley, the ex chairman of BP, opened a review of tuition fees, yesterday.  Lord Browne is on record (in 2002) as saying that a four-fold increase in tuition fees would not be unreasonable. 

This story is also covered in The Guardian, uder the headline "Former BP head to run tuition fees review".


Tories likely to stick with framework if they take over.  THE, 12 November 2009.

David Willetts, Conservative Shadow Universities Secretary, has said that the Tory party is likely to continue (in the main) with Labour’s 10-15 year HE strategy published last week.  The shadow secretary does have some misgivings about components of the strategy, for example, he is not sure how the mechanics of concentrating research in fewer areas of the sector will work within the research excellence framework.   He is also unconvinced about the arguments for giving QAA the responsibility to release course information.  Although generally in favour of the strategy David Willetts has warned the Government about allowing business involvement to lead to a narrowing of student choices and to be careful to take students' backgrounds into consideration in any system adopted.


Pilot aims to stop students leaving without a word.  THE, 12 November 2009.

“In a poll of 460 students who had dropped out or were considering doing so, nearly half who had left claimed that their institutions had done nothing to persuade them to stay”. The OU, who carried out the survey, is leading an initiative called “Back on Course”, which is designed to give independent advice to those who have recently left and those who are seriously thinking about leaving university.


Misguided philistines in a relationship that is doomed to failure.  THE, 12 November 2009.

Opinion Vernon Bogdanor, professor of government, University of Oxford.

Vernon Bogdanor agrees with the majority of the Government’s strategy document “Higher Ambitions”.  There is evidence to suggest that students from comprehensive schools perform better than their counterparts from the private sector and that A levels may not be the most appropriate way of assessing a student’s ability.  However, he disagrees with the Government’s stance that universities are central to the economy, giving Japan and Germany as examples of successful economies who are two countries that do not have the most distinguished universities.


‘Giving it away’ a textbook argument.  THE, 12 November 2009.

“Matthew Reisz assesses what open access means for book authors”.  The possibility of losing sales in printed books is a concern for authors as books become more available on the internet.  There are others who do not subscribe to the loss of sales concern, believing that access for free on the net can raise demand for books.  Richard G. Baraniuk, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University, Texas, has been an early enthusiast for open-access textbooks.  He observes that if he had published his textbooks through a publisher they would have perhaps obtained 2,000 sales but the net has produced over 5 million users.  He argues that it is less than 1 per cent of authors who make more than 99 per cent of the money.  A more sceptical view is held by one British academic who says that people cannot be persuaded to write text books even when approached by a publisher, “So it is hard to see how in the long term the internet can be a threat to business”.


 Other features in this week’s THE:

Learning to share”.  More on the open-access debate, this time concentrating on access to research information.

Telling tales”.  A feature on why it is important for historians not take so-called facts at face value.


NHS nurses must have degree under new rules.  The Times, 12 November 2009.

The Government will announce today that nurses must have a degree and that the rule will be enforceable by 2013.  Standards developed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, have been adopted by the Government in an attempt to raise the status of nursing.  Critics claim that the changes will create an elitist profession and that some nurses would be “too clever to care” and refuse to carry out the caring aspects of their duties.  There is also a belief that the cost of the education demanded will be too much for many.  The Government believes that the cost of a degree will be no greater than the Diploma they are already required to hold.  A spokesperson form the Nursing and Midwifery Council said that a degree is required to ensure that nurses can meet the challenges of 21st century nursing. 


Skills white paper sets out new era for training.  TES, FE Focus, 13 November 2009.

The Government has set ambitious targets in its latest skills strategy White Paper.  In Skills for Growth”, it states that three quarters of people should have participated in HE or have completed an advanced apprenticeship or equivalent qualification.  The White Paper goes on to state that the Government will:

  • “Create a modern class of technicians, through a dramatic expansion of advanced apprenticeships, creating 35,000 new places over the next two years;
  • Give every adult a personal skills account, empowering learners to shop around for training with new information on how well different courses and colleges can meet their needs;
  • Radically simplify the way in which skills policy is delivered – working with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to reduce the number of public bodies by more than 30.
  • Work with business to focus funding on the areas of the economy that can do most to drive growth and jobs, deploying around £100m to support around 160,000 training places in areas such as life sciences, digital media and technology, advanced manufacturing, engineering, construction and low carbon energy;
  • Offering 1,000 new scholarships worth £1,000 each, to encourage the best apprentices to progress into higher education; and
  • Give more employers the chance to drive and shape training provision through launching a fifth competitive bidding round of the National Skills Academies programme”.

 (Quotes directly from White Paper)

See also "White Paper offers wealth of opportunity", Opinion by Alan Thomson, Editor FE Focus.


Colleges face threat of further £200m cutback.  TES, FE Focus, 13 November 2009.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has issued an internal memo suggesting that further savings are required from the skills and universities budget.  BIS has also admitted that the £340 million efficiency savings announced earlier this year would hit front line services.   Staff costs are expected to be reduced by pay freezes, redundancies and a potential reduction in the volume of learners.  Ministers have been told that if the cuts were applied to FE budgets then 133,000 learners would lose their places.   There are savings to be made, according to BIS, through cuts to FE quangos, removing Train to Gain provision that does not meet minimum requirements and delaying the full roll out of the Adult Advancement and Career Service.


Slash funding for ‘non-essential’ courses, say CBI.  TES, FE Focus, 13 November 2009.

The CBI is demanding a more market led approach to funding further education.  They have proposed that course that have no “economically valuable output” should have their public funding cut by half.  CBI demands are laid out in their report Reforming skills funding: delivering productive results”.


Ofsted finds Train to Gain peps up business but still lacks fizz.  TES, FE Focus, 13 November 2009.

Ofsted have released the report “The Impact of Train to Gain on Skills in Employment for 2008/09”.  Their opinion is, whilst Train to Gain has been generally successful in meeting its aims, it has done little to increase employers’ willingness to pay for their own training.  There is a tendency to see Train to Gain as a discrete self-contained provision in the sense that employers do not see it as part of a regional plan for provision.  Whilst Train to Gain does appear to have raised qualification levels in the workforce, most completions were at a grade 2 vocational qualification. There is evidence that only a few progress to level 3.  It was also noted that most employers who take part in Train to Gain are those with a legislative or established industry requirement for training.


Capital funding fiasco brings campus closure.  TES, FE Focus, 13 February 2009.

Brooklands College, in Surrey, has announced that it will close its Ashford campus after it was left with debts of £11 million created by its bid for new facilities worth £96 million.   Peter Martin, Surrey County Council’s cabinet member for children and learning, said that “Over 1,000 students in an area with higher that average Neets [..] have now lost the opportunity for modern vocational learning facilities”.


Colleges at the heart of our skills-centric future.  TES, FE Focus, 13 November 2009.

Comment: Kevin Brennan, minister for further education, apprenticeships, skills and consumer affairs.

Kevin Brennan, points to the UK Commission for Employment and Skills figures which state that in the next ten years, the UK will need more than 650,000 people who are skilled at intermediate technician, associate professional and skilled occupational level.  This, Kevin Brennan says, means that we need to create a new technical class.  The minister comments that further education colleges will play a key role in creating this technical class.


Skills ‘failure is too strong. TES, FE Focus, 13 November 2009.

Opinion, Angela O’Donoghue, Principal City of Sunderland College.

Angela O’Donoghue disagrees strongly with the sentiments stated in “Why skills will not get you up and over”, published in the FE Focus of October 30th.   She sees the Skills for Life strategy as one the most successful educational campaigns of all time.  The report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills did not look at the issues surrounding people becoming literate and numerate in terms of their improved self esteem and quality of life.