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Sector News, 15 - 19 March 2010

Slumdog reveals learning treasures.  Education Guardian, 16 March 2010.

This story is a break from our normal reporting in that it involves 8 to 12 year olds at school.  Professor Sugata Mitra is professor of educational technology at Newcastle University.  He is also, the man responsible for the “Hole in the Wall” learning project in which he installed computers with internet access across the slums of Delhi in India.  He discovered that the children began to teach themselves English, computing and maths in an area where schooling is almost non existent.  The project inspired the movie “Slumdog Millionaire “, and the project has now been extended across India and Africa.  Mitra is now turning his attention to UK schools in Tyneside to help children use computers to carry out “self activated learning” in the classroom.  Mitra argues that children, who have access to the internet, have a large body of knowledge at their fingertips and are not motivated by the need to ‘learn for later in life’, an approach that many teachers adopt.

Punitive cuts.  Education Guardian, 16 March 2010.

The contracts to deliver education in around 60 per cent of England’s prisons are run by Manchester College.  Manchester College now want to save £5m across the service, saying that redundancies will be necessary.   The effect on staff morale has been devastating and many are saying that they do not see why they should plan for long term curriculum development if they are likely to be made redundant in the near future.  Prison service representatives want to know how Manchester has been allowed such a dominant position in the market and why the contracting arrangements have collapsed so quickly.

Universities face going to the wall.  Education Guardian, 16 March 2010.

Policy Exchange, a free-market think tank, has suggested that the time when a government would stop a university becoming bankrupt has passed.  A university spokesperson said that it is unlikely that a university will become bankrupt but many small institutions are going to have a hard time in the future.

Delivering more with less.  Education Guardian, 16 March 2010.

A report on the Guardian’s conference on higher education held last week in London.  Contributors to the debate included David Lammy, higher education minister and David Willetts, Conservative spokesman for universities.  Both David Lammy and David Willetts insisted that it was wrong to call for the 50 per cent target to be abolished.  Lammy insisting that there would be no retreat on the 50 per cent target but he savaged the Conservative plan to fund 10,000 extra places by offering discounts.  Willetts defended his scheme, saying that “we cannot afford to waste [.] talent”.

Teaching and research escape 9% grant cut.  THE, 18 March 2010.

For those interested in financial affairs the THE this week published the funding allocations for universities, by university.  The THE explains that the recurrent grants for teaching and learning will rise by 0.4 per cent compared with last year.

See also Leader: After good time, resolve”.

Unreliable measures: following students and market will cause quality to fall, says union.  THE, 18 March 2010.

Privatising our Universities”, an analysis by the University and College Union, asserts that both the government and the Conservative party are wrong to cast students as arbiters of quality.  The UCU argues moves by the Tory party to ask whether ‘well crafted students’ and graduate employment rates could replace QAA and the Labour partu's call for more information on the quality of teaching programmes and graduate job prospects will inevitably lead to competition for students and loss of quality.

Hard work, money worries... and hopes for a bright future.  THE, 18 March 2010.

A survey of 2,000 full time undergraduates has been published in the THE today.  The survey shows that 10 per cent of students have changed their course or career plan as a result of the economic downturn.  Amongst the results, almost three quarters of students say that they go to university to improve job opportunities, nearly 60 per cent say they have had to make changes in their lifestyles and with the exception of medicine almost half of students in all the subjects surveyed say that they are worried about finding a job.

Process report: Bologna lacks coherent Europe-wide focus.  THE, 18 March 2010.

The Bologna Process aimed to offer students “mobility with smooth and fair recognition for their qualifications”.  However, it is now seen as a missed opportunity by the Authors of Trends 2010”, a report for the European University Association (EUA).  There is evidence of strong opposition by students across Europe.  Both German and Austrian university students are angry about the process cramming their Magister degrees which can take up to five years, into a three year package. The report by the EUA accuses countries of adopting a national approach to Bologna rather than the European wide approach that is required.

Our focus must be on aiming for the best, not preparing for the worst.  THE, 18 March 2010.

Opinion, Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive Higher Education Funding Council.

Sir Alan Langlands points to the successes of universities over the past ten years.  He says that there are now 398,000 new full-time undergraduates, that there has been a 30 per cent increase in the proportion of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds attending university and that UK universities have kept their place amongst the world’s elite institutions.  The economic advantages of university activity are also lauded, and he comments that 12 per cent of the world’s scientific citations stem from UK universities.  It would be unacceptable, in Sir Alan’s view, if universities forgot this progress and prepared for the worst that the financial situation might bring instead of focussing on the best that universities can offer.

Features in this week’s THE:

‘As I have a better understanding. I have more respect for others’ work’”, Tinchy Stryder, rap artist and graduate of the University of East London, recommends university life to young people.

Ready for the storm?”, Melanie Newman uses an analysis of institutions' financial statements to assess the sector’s fitness to ride out the storm.

An eye for the birds”, Joe Moran, reader in cultural history, Liverpool John Moores University, notes how bird watching mirrors academic life.

Boring’ maths could ‘kill Diploma stone dead’.  TES, 19 March 2010.

Teachers are warning that the maths element of the Diploma, a key functional skill, could deter pupils from taking Diploma courses.  They say that, whilst the maths is generally simple, the paper the pupils sit requires them to perform repetitive tedious tasks which many, including good GCSE pupils, are not equipped to do. 

There is a general cry to simplify the structure of Diplomas.

14-19 qualification wins only 16% teacher backing.  TES, 19 March 2010.

An Ipsos Mori poll suggests that that most teachers do not believe that Diplomas have the same standing as A levels.  What is just as worrying for the government is that 37 per cent of teachers and 70 per cent of parents know very little or nothing about Diplomas.  Amongst the poll's other findings are:

  • 72 per cent of schools expect few students to opt for Diplomas,
  • too much travel in rural areas,
  • parents not wanting to see their children as guinea pigs,
  • teacher expectation that Diplomas will have little credibility with universities.

A survey taken by the Examination Officers’ Association (EOA), supports the views highlighted above.  Of the 400 state schools and 62 independent schools surveyed, 356 said they would offer the Diploma next year but only 19 expect the take up to be high.

School opportunities expand colleges’ horizons.   TES, FE Focus, 19 March 2010.

Barnfield College, Luton, is the centre of a hub of education which includes two academies run by the college and a studio school offering 14 year olds a vocational and enterprise curriculum.  Further expansion may include primary schools and even a fee paying school.  The Principal of Barnfield, Pete Birkett, says that whilst it has not been easy turning around schools in deprived areas, the educational and financial benefits make the arrangements worthwhile.  There are other examples around the country where FE colleges have won approval to run state schools.  Hull College has opened the Sirius Academy, Bradford College has accredited school status and Sussex Coast College has taken over the sixth from duties of three sixth forms that were closed following a strategic area review.