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Sector News, 13 - 17 September 2010

Shortage of university places leaves students disappointed.  Education Guardian, 14 September 2010.

With an estimated 150,000 university applicants failing to obtain a place, the Guardian is wondering what they will do now and who will they blame?  The paper asks whether schools have badly advised teenagers or been cheated by the government.  According to the head of student recruitment at St George’s, University of London, it has been down to a mismatch of supply and demand created by the government and university efforts to get more people interested in university education.  Amy Halsall, 18, was offered a place at three universities on the understanding she got three As. She failed to get her third A by one point.  Believing that she might still get a place, she called her first and second universities to be told that they would not accept anything less than three As.  Now she has no offer at all.  Her biggest complaint is that when she rang round other universities she was told that unless she was a foreign student she would not get a place, something that has not gone down well with Amy.  The general opinion amongst universities and school is that students need better guidance to ensure that they have more opportunities available to them. However, this will not remove the growing demand for places which currently cannot be met.

See also “Pressurised universities letting students down on accommodation”  a story about the difficulty faced by universities trying to accommodate an ever-growing population of students.

Does skill-based learning face a lean future?  Education Guardian, 14 September 2010.

Opinion: Roger White, chief executive for the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN).

ASDAN is a charitable organisation offering skill-based qualifications and courses for all levels of education from the disadvantaged to those bound for Oxbridge. Roger is sceptical about Michael Goves's idea of reviewing vocational education which he sees as a ploy to end Diplomas.  He is concerned that the government’s predilection to academic rigour will do nothing to ensure that even the brightest young students develop the fuill range of skills they need.  

World university rankings.  THE, 16 September 2010.

The THE is full of its own world university rankings this week, in which the top universities are dominated by those in the USA.  Of the top twenty universities, fifteen are US universities, three are UK, one Swiss and one Canadian.  Needless to say that in the THE’s ranking by country, the USA comes out on top with the UK second (but only just).  The three top UK universities are Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London, all three appearing in the top ten list.  The rankings are brought about by considering, teaching, research, citations, industry income and international mix.  The paper gives a full definition of how it has achieved its conclusions as well as ranking universities by subjects, for example, Engineering and Technology and Physical Sciences.

See also leader “Failure is not an option”, where the paper discusses the need for resources to keep the UK as a global power in HE.  The argument is that part of the US success story is based on the fact that it invests 3.1 per cent of its gross domestic product in HE whilst the UK averages only 1.3 per cent, which is below the OECD average of 1.5 per cent. 

Other stories covering this subject are “’Reality check’: the UK clings on to second place in global league, but experts warn of limits to doing more with less” and “New weights and measures throw up a few surprises”.

Sir Menzies admits graduates may have to start paying more. THE, 16 September 2010.

Sir Menzies Campbell, a staunch opponent of tuition fees, has admitted that he cannot see any possibility of tuition fees being reduced under the present economic climate.  The Lib Dems had a manifesto pledge to oppose a rise in fees.  However, a rise is likely to be recommended next month by the Lord Browne of Madingley review.  Sir Menzies said that he could support a rise providing that a new progressive system of payment was introduced which did away with the current regime of loans and fees.

More, faster, face-to face: NUS demands on feedback.  THE, 18 September 2010.

The NUS has suggested that students should be able to choose how they obtain their feedback, whether it be verbally, written or electronic.  A three-week turn around for feedback on work is also demanded by the union.  However, university teachers say that giving feedback verbally to all students is impractical as would be allowing students to choose their preferred method.

Goodbye Roberts, hello Hobson as skills training cash comes to an end.  THE, 18 September 2010.

Government cash for universities to provide transferable skills  and professional development to graduates (known as Roberts funding) is likely to end next year.  Universities see little chance that the pot of money will be replenished.  Whatever the outcome of future spending reviews universities will be left with a quandary, how to keep the training going without overstretching the demands for payment from students?

Features in this week’s THE:

Fantastic voyager:  “Sir Terry Pratchett talks [.] about auto-didacticism, the tyranny of higher education and whether writers are born, not made.”

The myth of endless summer: Christopher Bode talks about his love of the Beach Boys.

Dan the don in real life: Dan Ariely explains why he wants people to become more like social scientists in their real lives.

Exam system is ‘diseased’ and ‘almost corrupt’, says Waters.  TES, 17 September 2010.

A senior member of the former Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has accused Ofqual of lacking the nerve to ask difficult questions.  Mick Waters believes that Ofqual should immediately stop examiners writing textbooks on examinations, a practice he sees as insider dealing.  Furthermore, Mick Waters adds “We’ve got a set of awarding bodies who are in the market place.  I have seen people from awarding bodies talk to head teachers implying that their examinations are easier”.

Caught red-handed: IB boss plagiarising. TES, 17 September 2010.

It seems that plagiarism is not just the prerogative of students.  Unfortunately, Jeffrey Beard, the head of the International Baccalaureate has been caught passing off someone else’s work as his own.

Minister: legislation may be needed on ‘complex’ SEN.  TES, 17 September 2010.

Teachers feel that parents have to battle for every bit of support that they need for their child with special educational needs.  The new Government thinks that too many children are being failed by the complex nature of the systems used to obtain support and it is willing to consider legislating to improve matters.

LSC’s £200 million capital hoard faces axe.  TES, FE Focus, 17 September 2010.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is suggesting that the £200 million left over by the LSC for Building Colleges for the Future could be used elsewhere.  The money was kept by the LSC as a buffer against compensation claims over its handling of the original £2.7 billion fund.  However, a judicial review which has cleared the organisation has left the door open for the funds to be re-routed for other use in FE.

Ofsted ticks off colleges over time spent teaching SEN students.  TES, FE Focus, 17 September 2010.

Ofsted is concerned that SEN students on college course get too little teaching time.  The average is 16 hours in FE but 25 hours outside.  A report has stated that “Where young people are protected by the Disability Discrimination Act, their rights to additional provision should not depend on where they are being taught”.  In part Ofsted blames the funders of education for the issue saying that full-time college courses are normally defined as 15 hours per week.  Additionally, work-based training providers are paid on the completion of courses in time scales which do not always suit SEN students.

Colleges hit back at ‘not the best’ immigration slight.  TES, FE Focus, 17 September 2010.

Colleges were left far from amused by Damian Green. The Immigration Minister’s comments suggested that FE colleges were not attracting the brightest and the best.  Damian Green proposed a tightening of restrictions on FE colleges recruiting immigrant students and he said that student visas should focus on people attending elite university courses. 

Colleges worse at careers advice than outside agents, slams report.  TES, FE Focus, 17 September 2010.

Advice given in colleges is worse than that given by external providers like Connexions, states a report by the Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) service.  Deirdre Hughes, the president  of the Institute of Careers Guidance, commented that the advice given in schools and colleges was patchy and that advice could be improved if schools and colleges formalised their arrangements with Connexions.