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Sector News, 10 - 14 August 2009

Lessons learned all round?  Education Guardian, 11 August 2009.

Hefce is writing to universities this week to explain that it is to strengthen its auditing work in light of the London Metropolitan University’s claim for excess investment of £30m.  The university had, between 2002 and 2008, mistakenly claimed for students who did not complete their course.  KPMG, author of the report “Lessons learned”, places most of the blame on to the university and specifically on the university’s designated officer.  However, in previous inspections, Hefce had failed to spot the errors.

 I’m afraid it’s very bad news.  THE, 13 August 2009.

The spectre of some universities facing financial ruin is very real.  There could be as many as thirty institutions at risk next year, a figure some authorities believe is an underestimation.   In this leader, the blame is focussed on the Government for a number of edicts that universities say has made life intolerable.  This bleak outlook is expanded under the headline “Storm warning: change now or perish, institutions told”.  Here four Government financial hurdles are outlined:

  • cuts to government funding,
  • the growing burden of debt repayment,
  • pension and pay commitments,
  • a potential drop in international and domestic student numbers.

SFC refuses to relax over-recruitment rules.  THE, 13 August 2009.

Echoing the threat within the English system of university funding, the Scottish Funding Council has refused to relax its rules on over recruitment.    Many Scottish universities fear financial penalties if they over-recruit, a possibility in light of the Scottish Higher results.

‘No student has ever been unfairly graded by me’.  THE, 13 August 2009.

The professor at the centre of a row at the University of Manchester has spoken out over the criticisms aimed at her that she did not properly assess 80 undergraduate life science final exam papers.   Professor Annmarie Surprenant believes that she is an easy target because of her ‘outspoken’ nature.

UHI’s Gaelic-language strategy sets standard.  THE, 13 August 2009.

Following the language strategy of Welsh universities, the UHI Millennium Institute is to offer a variety of degrees using Gaelic as the language of choice.  It is an idea that is likely ‘to catch on’ with other Scottish universities.

Make parity a priority.  THE, 13 August 2009.

Paul Ramsden, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, is pleased to hear Lord Mandelson’s comments that universities need to look for ways to increase excellence in teaching.  In a submission put to John Denham last year, Paul Ramsden said “We have a long way to go in recognising and rewarding good teaching in universities”.   He believes that there is still a level of cynicism amongst academics who believe that universities are more interested in research.

Degrees of freedom.  THE, 13 August 2009.

There are further education colleges in England whose higher education budget is larger than some of the smaller universities.  The reason for this is volume. FE colleges now offer a large range of higher education courses many of which are vocational in nature.  Vocational education is seen as a strength of colleges and one in which they have an edge over universities, supported by their relationships with employers.  All this helps the government meet its widening participation targets and whilst further education is quite happy to do this, there are those with doubts.  The University and College Union (UCU) is worried that the government is getting higher education on the cheap.  UCU argues that staff in FE are less well paid than their counterparts in HE and have little opportunity to upgrade their skills on a regular basis.   Other concerns expressed include the lack of government policy for this sector of its HE delivery system and a lack of clarity over a steadily evolving and complex growing higher education sector.

The article gives examples of the higher education work done at some FE colleges.

The two other major articles in this weeks THE are:

Paper chase”; a discussion on academic journals and the threat they might impose on the advancement of science.

The King and I”: an autobiographical journey looking at the songs of Elvis Presley.

Oxbridge squeeze on triple-A students. The Independent, 13 August 2009.

A surge in the numbers of expected high level grades at A-level will mean that Oxford and Cambridge will have to refuse entry to large numbers of well qualified applicants.   It is estimated that as many as 12,000 applicants will be disappointed.

 Mandelson to empower RDAs.  TES, FE Focus, 14 August 2009.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) is to take over the funding of post-16 education and training.   Under the latest plans, the FSA would implement skills investment plans devised by RDAs (Regional Development Agencies).   The idea is to make the identification of skills a regional issue.   However, the LSC has criticised the move through the Public and Commercial Services Union.  Ruth Serwotka, LSC group president, says that “There will be little or no meaningful public consultation increasing the risk of unintended consequences”.

See also “Is Mandelson creating magic or mayhem?

Performance regime must focus on the learners’ journey not their destination.  TES, FE Focus, 14 August 2009.

Nick Linford, director of planning and performance at Lewisham College, makes a plea to end the reliance on qualifications as a measure of success.  He comments that there are students who are hugely successful in other ways, for example acquiring skills for a specific job or progressing to university.   A new performance monitoring regime should record progression and destination for all learners and he also suggests that proof of an employer’s raised productivity could be a component of the regime.