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Sector News, 12 - 13 July 2010

Michael Gove faces criticism from Tory and Labour MPs over school cuts.  Education Guardian, 12 July 2010.

Michael Gove has come under fire from both Labour and Conservative MPs over his announcements about the schools' re-building project.  Mr Gove, the education minister, has decided to attack what he argues is Labour’s mismanagement of the project.  The fifth list published in a week has revised the number of schools losing out to 735.

Women stick to traditional subjects.  Education Guardian, 13 July 2010.

Years of effort have gone into trying to persuade girls to study maths or engineering at university.  According to new statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, all the effort has had little effect with girls still opting for what are seen as female professions.  Although there has been a marginal improvement in girls studying engineering and mathematics since 1998 (a rise of just 1 per cent in each subject), subjects such as medicine, veterinary science and education remain at the top of the female subject list.  Jenifer Burden, director of the new National STEM Centre, says that many schools have been doing good work to change the gender balance in STEM subjects “but, it takes time to work, we will just have to wait and see”.  There are those who are not happy about the wait and see approach believing that more needs to be done to attract female scientist and engineers into teaching and they express scepticism at the last government’s approach which they say risked moving away from traditional subjects.

Role of college governors may change following report.   Education Guardian, 13 July 2010.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) is about to relay its thoughts on college governance to the Department for Innovation, Business and Skills (BIS).  It is likely to comment on what it sees as too much control from central government.  In terms of payment for Governors, who currently have to do the job free of charge, the AoC wonders if the time is right to consider this as an option.  However, there are those who question how a multi million pound business, which many colleges are, can be continued to be run by amateurs.

Why do universities reject students?  Education Guardian, 13 July 2010.

An 18-year-old comprehensive student with expected straight As at A level and with all his GCSE at A and  A*, has been rejected by the five universities he has applied to.  His teachers cannot understand why a student who they describe as a ‘nice bloke’ and one of the cleverest they have ever taught has failed to obtain a place.   Not only does this student do well at school but he also writes plays and musicals and organises concerts.   Part of the problem is undoubtedly a rise in applications this year but, also the fact that not all universities play the same admissions game.  The systems are too complex, the information inadequate and it is leaving many school teachers guessing what the best move is for their students. 

Cable sets out radical plan for academies' future. THE, 15 July 2010.

Vince Cable has said that he wants to make radical changes in the structure and funding of UK higher education.  He statement issued today says he wishes to see:

·         bigger graduate contributions for high earners,

·         an end of the distinction between further and higher education

·         removal of the funding distinctions between full and part-time provision,

·         creation of technical apprenticeships in FE rather than degrees,

·         state money for private providers

·         cash to reward teaching excellence.

Vince Cable was particularly critical of what he sees as the current ‘poll tax’ system of recouping student loans saying that high earners should contribute more to their education.

See also Education Guardian report "Graduate tax will force students to pay back more for their degrees".

Recipe for a firm student favourite.  THE, 15 July 2010.

Mark Russell and Helen Barefoot of Hertfordshire’s Learning and Teaching Institution believe that they have come up with a definitive list which states what students most like in a lecture.  Surprisingly assessment and feedback come low on the list but not unsurprisingly good teaching is ranked highly.  Mark and Helen drew the conclusion from a survey of 400 student submissions to the institution’s Tutor of the Year award.  The list is supported by Mark Israel, Winthrop professor of law and criminology at the University of Western Australia, who says that students rarely talk about assessment and feedback.  The study also highlights the emerging importance of what it calls the ‘edutainer’ a mixture of teacher and entertainer.

V-cs criticise government call for private provision of ‘prestigious’ degrees.  THE, 15 July 2010.

David Willetts, with expected support from Vince Cable, has put forward the idea of local providers teaching degrees which are examined by prestigious universities.  Needless to say vice chancellors are critical of the idea.  V-cs argue that employers would distinguish between a degree obtained at Oxford from one taught locally and examined by Oxford.  The government argues that their idea could improve student employability.

‘Threshold standards’ to be upheld when inspectors call.  THE, 15 July 2010.

QAA will call for a more transparent and proactive inspection regime from 2011-12.  They are expected to put in place systems that will assure the public of standards and not simply inspect processes used by universities.

Sceptics start to see the other side of Second life.  THE, 15 July 2010.

Despite evidence that universities are slowly embracing virtual environments, hostility between those for and against is being blamed for holding back progress.  Those in favour of argue (amongst other things) that the cost of travelling to conferences and meetings will make virtual reality a necessity in future. Those against argue that people spend more time dressing up their screen alter ego than concentrating on what is important.

Encourage lifetime learning with a flexible, integrated loan system.  THE, 15 July 2010.

Opinion: Don Nutbeam, vice chancellor of the University of Southampton.

Don Nutbeam makes the argument for post-graduate support.  He accepts that it is understandable that Lord Browne of Madingley’s review of UK higher education funding focuses on undergraduates but, makes the point that post graduate schemes are having to be supported by employers or by the students.  Yet post graduate qualifications are likely to play an increasing role in a student’s career entry and future prospects.  Don cites the Australian system which employs an integrated postgraduate and undergraduate loan-support system as one which the British government would do well to study.

Features in this week’s THE:

Style points”, Matthew Reisz argues academic writing needs to be more accessible.

How to pass the sight test”:  Peter Hill, adjunct professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne, puts forward the argument that Arts PhDs should be more about visual impact and less about text.

Voices of experience”: as the recession bites business schools need to deliver research which is more relevant to the real-world.  Tracey Hudson wonders whether universities can find the right academics to deliver this.

Key skills frameworks win reprieve until 2011.  TES, FE Focus, 16 July 2010.

John Hayes, further education minister, has said that whilst functional skills were to replace key skill in apprenticeships he believes that functional skills need further study. 

Hence, he has decided to extend the use of key skills until March 2011.

Spending cuts put 34,000 jobs at risk, warns union.  TES, FE Focus, 16 July 2010.

The University and College Union (UCU) estimates that nearly 34,000 jobs are at risk in colleges if the threatened cuts are carried out.  They also believe that the actual figure may be higher because FTE figures obscure part time employees.   Paul Lawrence of KPMG says that many colleges have told them that they are actively considering merger and that without merger they may not survive.

As the cuts bear down, colleges seek to pair up and reinvent themselves.  TES, FE Focus, 16 July 2010.

As reported in the above story (“Spending cuts..”), KPMG say that colleges are actively seeking mergers.  KPMG puts the figure of about a third of colleges (34 out of 100 analysed) who are considering the move, many of which are colleges who are operating on small financial margins.  It is thought that the Skills Funding Agency is prepared to let at least one college (if not more) close altogether.  David Croll, principal of Derby College, says that it is important that colleges start talking now rather than leaving it late in the day.   Derby College has enjoyed rapid growth propelled by taking over weaker institutions.  However, it is likely that strong colleges will be talking about mergers with other strong colleges, a move which has more in common with the private sector.

Plan for Extension College to become OU’s vocational feeder.  TES, FE Focus, 16 July 2010.

The National Extension College (NEC) was founded in 1963 as a prototype for the OU.  Now the NEC is hoping that through its links with the Learning Skills Network (LSN) it will eventually become a feed for the OU.  Faced with financial difficulties the NEC decided to merge with the LSN rather than sell its Cambridge site, which is what a number of trustees would have preferred.  The 14 signatories to a letter sent to FE Focus say that they fear that the merger with LSN will lead to a loss of identity for the NEC.