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Sector news, 11 - 15 February 2013

Government ‘accepts principle’ of Lord Heseltine’s single funding pot FE Week, 12 February 2013

Lord Heseltine has told MPs that the government “accepted the principle” of a single funding pot idea for Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). Member of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee asked Lord Heseltine about his proposals to hand over the entire skills budget to LEPs. He said there would be a statement about the scale and breadth of the plan around the time of the budget. FE Week had already revealed the government had launched informal talks on the single funding pot idea with the Association of Colleges and the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP). Both bodies have expressed opposition to Lord Heseltine’s proposals.

GCSE English students lose court battleGuardian, 13 February 2013

Hopes that tens of thousands of GCSE English students might have their grades raised have been dashed after the high court ruled that moves by exam authorities last summer to combat grade inflation were lawful. The alliance of 167 pupils, six professional bodies including unions, 150 schools and 42 councils had alleged that the government’s exam regulator Ofqual and the exam boards Edexcel and AQA had unfairly moved the boundary between a C and a D grade in English exams in June. The bar was raised higher than for pupils who submitted papers in the January marking round. The judges ruled it was the structure of the qualification itself which was the source of unfairness and not any unlawful action. The chief regulator of Ofqual Glenys Stacey said the court agreed with Ofqual’s conclusion that the root of the problem was the poor design of the GCSE qualification.

Cash-strapped BIS tests the water on 19-24 loansTES, 15 February 2013

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has carried out market research into the effect of introducing loans for 19- to 24-year-olds as it faces sharp cuts to its budget in the next spending review. BIS could face £1 billion of cuts, a loss of 7 per cent of its budget. BIS says the research suggests that younger learners are more likely to say they would take out a loan than over 24s, but they do not indicate specific plans for extending the programme. Colleges say they will urge the government to look at other options.

Apprenticeships cancelled as funding boost backfiresTES, 15 February 2013

Thousands of apprenticeship places have been scrapped as a result of changes to how basic skills qualifications are funded, leaving independent learning providers millions of pounds out of pocket. The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) said that its members could be forced to make staff redundant in order to stay in business as a result of the unintended consequences of funding rates being increased. Providers had long complained about the low rate of funding for functional skills courses in English and maths so welcomed the announcement in November that the amount paid was to be more than doubled. But the move was backdated to last August and the values of contracts between providers and the Skills Funding Agency were unchanged. Providers are getting paid more but reaching their SFA allocation months sooner than expected. Many are having to cut plans for apprenticeships.

A quarter have no qualifications in corners of the UKTES, 15 February 2013

More than a quarter of people in some pockets of the UK have no qualifications at all, according to research by the University and College -Union (UCU). The areas of lowest educational attainment are in the Midlands, the north and Scotland. Glasgow North East has the highest proportion of unqualified residents (27.5 per cent), and the Midlands constituencies of Birmingham Hodge Hill (27.2 per cent) and Wolverhampton North East (25.6 per cent) are close behind. Of the 50 constituencies with the highest percentage of people with at least one qualification, 44 are in the South of England. The places with the fewest unskilled workers are Buckingham (2.2 per cent); Devizes in Wiltshire (2.4 per cent); and Worthing West in West Sussex (2.8 per cent). The UCU blamed the figures on the increase in the cost of education and cuts to financial support in recent years. David Hughes, chief executive of adult learning body Niace, said the areas with more unqualified people tended to be in more deprived parts of the country.

Surge in students studying for UK degrees abroad 15 February, 2013 Guardian, 15 February 2013

International offshoots of UK universities, partnerships with foreign institutions and online study mean there are now more students on UK university courses abroad than there are international and EU students coming to the UK to study. The number of students studying for UK degrees in overseas countries increased 13 per cent last year. Some 571,000 students studied abroad in 2011-12, a third more than in 2009-10, with universities enrolling most students in Malaysia, Singapore and Pakistan. Oxford Brookes, which offers students training with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (Acca) the option to also study for a degree in applied accounting, recruited the most by far, 251,990 or 44 per cent of those studying UK degrees abroad. Coventry University comes ninth in the list of those with most students enrolled abroad, with 10,715. Most of those studying abroad are on distance learning courses, 51.2 per cent, or collaborative programmes, 42 per cent, run with local partners. Many UK universities validate the degree and have a joint say in the course curriculum but the local partner oversees recruitment, teaching and marketing. Others franchise which gives the UK university greater control of teaching and assessment.