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Sector News, 14 - 18 June 2010

Student complaints about universities rise steeply.  Education Guardian, 15 June 2010.

The Guardian uses the plight of Shelley Maxwell as an example of how students are becoming more assertive.  Shelley, a mature student who suffers from narcolepsy, complained to the University of Salford that she had not had the support she needed to complete her degree successfully.  Although an unusual case it highlights a growing trend amongst students who, faced with high tuition fees and more competition for jobs, are demanding more for their money.  Student complaints have risen by 37 per cent in two years and although this only amounts to 1 in every 2,000 students the real number of dissatisfied students is likely to be much higher.

Engineering apprenticeships get a boost from Essex county council.  Education Guardian, 15 June 2010.

Essex county council has in effect become a training agency by deciding to pay the salaries of 140 new engineering apprentices.  It has managed to do this by obtaining matched ESF (European Social Funding) of over £600,000 and the creation of a partnership with three local educational establishments.  The council said that it is not prepared to wait to see if the Government will support long term apprentice training.  Currently companies can only get the cost of training, not wages, for apprentices who are aged 16 – 18.  Essex, no doubt like many national areas, has seen the number of engineering apprenticeships fall because of the economic climate.

Plagiarism tariff:  let the punishment fit the demerit points.  THE 17 June 2010.

Studies of plagiarism by students have found inconsistency in the penalties universities employ to punish students.  A penalty system, described as “evidence based consultative and realistic” by an Oxford Brookes member of staff, has been designed to act as a sector wide benchmark.  Researchers from the advisory service sets out a series of penalties ranging from informal warnings to expulsion.

Former Lib Dem leader’s example on fees may encourage MPs to break coalition ranks.  THE, 17 June 2010.

Sir Menzies Campbell has told his Lib Dem colleagues that the party will lose all credibility if it reneges on a pre-election promise not to raise HE tuition fees.  The comment could lead to a number of Lib Dem MPs voting against any move to raise fees.  The coalition agreement states that Lib Dems can abstain through such a vote, but it is likely that some at least will vote against any rise.

Value judgements and bottom lines.  THE, 17 June 2010.

More on the on going argument about STEM subjects and the effect policy is having on the humanities.  A report, launched today by the British Academy, sets out the returns to the country in its investment in humanities and social sciences.  The British Academy says that social sciences and humanities can play a part in “advancing international understanding, tracking social issues and recognising cultural values”.  Researchers call attention to the links between childhood poverty, family disruption and contact with the police along with devastating consequences in adulthood which led the Labour Government to create the Sure Start scheme.

Full speed ahead for new degrees to suit business.  THE, 17 June 2010.

Academics at Bucks New University have been asked to respond to the needs of local businesses by designing degrees which will plug local skills gaps.  The degree programmes should be ready within a couple of months.  One day taster modules are designed to attract interest from prospective students.  Modules are then created, working with a local further education college.  Businesses are willing to pay for staff to give up time to help teach the courses.

Abandon comfort all ye who enter this arena of challenge and renewal.  THE, 17 June 2010.

Opinion: Dominic Shellard, vice chancellor De Montfort University. 

Dominic Shellard argues for a more united front for HE.  He says that antagonism between vested interest groups such Russell and Million+ are counterproductive at best and at worst turn people away from the good work done by universities.  Outsiders see universities as the embodiment of the class system, snobbish and with distinctions that would be absurd in any other setting.  It is time, says Dominic, for universities to accept that the days of the university as a citadel are numbered and HE should start to look to the future in more imaginative ways.

See also Leader:Stop with the gloom and doomwhere the THE comment that simply moaning about the cuts will not do any good.  As with the above story the Leader calls upon vice-chancellors to devise realistic strategies for the future.

Features in this week’s THE:

Two features look at the growing success story that is Asian higher education Tigers burning brightandEnter the dragons? Not so fast”.  (NB single link for both articles).

A French revolutionarydiscusses the reforms that Richard Descoings, the head of Sciences Po, is introducing at Sciences Po in an attempt to fashion a modern, outward looking institution with a diverse student body.

Exams for boys, exams for girls.  TES, 18 June 2010.

The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) is developing gender specific GCSEs.  AQA's idea is a response to the IGCSE offered by the other exam boards.  However, they say that girls tend to do better with coursework and boys with end exams and they want to try the idea out in science.  One teaching union has responded by stating that it is extremely dangerous to fall into old sexist stereotypes.

Ofqual: try again on new science GCSE.  TES, 18 June 2010.

Ofqual has told exam boards that the content of the new Science GCSE is too basic, requires too little maths and does not stretch pupils enough.  Problems with the GCSE go back to summer 2008 when Ofqual demanded that AQA lower its marks for obtaining a grade C to bring it in line with other boards.  AQA were unhappy about the decision saying that other boards had made the exam too easy, an allegation that the other boards refute.

LSC cash fiasco ‘an abuse of power’.  TES, FE Focus, 18 June 2010.

Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education has applied for a judicial review of the LSCs refusal to reimburse £3.7 million of costs they incurred developing a project that was approved by the LSC before the money ran out.  Peter Knox, QC for the college, says that if the initial project had been turned down then that would have been disappointing but acceptable, but the college spent the development money with the encouragement of the LSC.

Minister pledges freedoms.  TES, FE Focus, 18 June 2010.

Outstanding colleges will no longer be inspected as long as their performance is maintained.  Colleges will also be able to switch funding between budget headings to help them react swiftly to local demands.  These were the promises made by John Hayes, the skills minister, as he set out a range of measures to give colleges and training providers greater flexibility in their day-to-day management.  In addition Mr Hayes also promised to remove the requirement for all providers to complete summary statements and for principals to complete the Principals’ Qualifying Programme.