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Sector News, 17 - 21 May 2010

Let universities set their own fees, Russell Group demands.  The Guardian, 17 May 2010

In a move widely condemned as elitist, the Russell Group has demanded that their universities are allowed to set their own fees.  Their argument is that without proper funding UK universities will not be able to keep their place amongst the top world class establishments.  They further argue that subjects such as law should receive less government funding than subjects of more direct use to the economy such as science and engineering.

Colleges face job cuts and disputes.  Education Guardian, 18 May 2010.

Faced with £340 million cuts the further education sector is facing an unprecedented rise in redundancies.   Redundancy is now a nationwide issue, for example, eleven London colleges are due to strike today, West Midland colleges have warned that redundancies are almost a certainty and at Somerset College, Taunton, 44 FTE job cuts are imminent.

Why is Middlesex University philosphy department closing?  Education Guardian, 18 May 2010.

Jonathan Wolf, Professor of philosophy at University College London, looks at the proposal to end the teaching of philosophy at Middlesex University.  This closure might be seen as a local rather than national affair until you look at the details.   The Hefce banding system places courses such as philosophy in Band D and such funding is less than that for subjects like Science placed at higher bands.  Band D funding has been severely curtailed of late with the effect that philosophy departments have struggled to keep their house in order. 

Willetts: I come not to impose, but to distil.  THE, 20 May 2010.

David Willetts is not sure that universities will receive the £270 million allocated by Labour to fund 20,000 additional student places.  He is not convinced by the argument that somehow universities, who were to get the funding for one year only, could pay for the remaining two or three years of the student courses.  The Conservative commitment was to pay for extra 10,000 places by encouraging early payment of student loans and this still stands.  The new universities minister has said that he want to meet university people to discuss rather than impose.  However, he could not give a pledge that universities would be exempt from public spending imperatives.

See also, Leader, "Is he our man in a pinch?

Participation is widening, just not at the elite end.  THE, 20 May 2010.

Whilst the latest data shows an improvement in the proportion of disadvantaged students attending university, the improvement doe not extend to the country’s elite universities.   Sir Martin Harris, who reports to the Government on widening participation in HE, says that the elite universities have tried hard to increased the number of disadvantaged students attending but the initiatives have stalled.  Sir Martin makes a number of recommendations to improve the situation for example:

  • continued use of summer schools,
  • use of contextual information in the application process,
  • the publishing of data by school and universities showing the destination of pupils aged 18,
  • the identification of talented pupils no later than year 9.

Con-lib show promises the academy thrills, chills and bellyaches.  THE, 20 May 2010.

Opinion, Ana Fazackerley, head of education at Policy Exchange.

Ana Fazackerley is convinced that the need to improve the quality of teaching will be part of any discussion on funding with the new Con-Lib government.  In addition the need to examine social mobility, student debt and widening access will also feature large in discussions.  There was a possibility of a split in the coalition caused by the Liberal Democrats' policy of removing student fees within six years, a move which not even all of the Liberal Democrats were convinced was possible.  Now this has been put aside with an agreement that the Lib Dems will abstain if Lord Browne's Review calls for an increase in fees. 

Features in this week’s THE:

Soul searching, not soul stirring”,  Matthew Reisz asks whether the time and money spent on creating mission statements is worth it.

Getting up to speed”,  Hannah Fearn reports on politicians' expectations for Welsh higher education.

Braving the elements”,  Barbara Oakley is associate professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science at Oakland University, Michigan.  Barbara ponders the effects on her challenges of accepted dogma. 

Here come the cuts.  TES, 21 May 2010.

Becta and the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency are thought to be amongst the first casualties of the impending cuts.  The Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) is also under threat and the newly-formed Department of Education is aware that its schools budget is not ring fenced under the new regime.  Budgets for academies and apprenticeships for 16-19s are controlled by the YPLA, so new arrangements will have to be found if the Tories are to see their desire to expand academies.

FE students lack skills for work, say firms.  TES, FE Focus, 21 May 2010.

A CBI report suggests that colleges are less responsive to employers’ needs than private training providers and universities.  Concerns remain over basic skills and there is a challenge to find employees with intermediate and higher skills.  Despite the economic outlook, over half of the emloyers surveyed said that they wanted to keep training at or near the current level.

Colleges must lead local skills planning, says 157 Group. TES, FE Focus, 21 May 2010.

A policy paper on local leadership from the 157 Group of colleges says that further education colleges should be given a formal role in leading local and regional planning on education and skills.  157 argue that the recent Machinery of Government (MoG) changes that led to the creation of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Young People’s Learning Agency restrict colleges’ ability to respond to local education and training needs. In addition, the group comments that responding to local needs cannot be done efficiently by national organisations.

Learner’s week proves FE’s power to change lives.  TES, FE Focus, 21 May 2010.

Adult Learner’s week organised by Niace has culminated in the Adult Learner’s Awards which are the final act in a celebration of adult success stories.  The winners of the awards are shown at

Au revoir languages.  TES, FE Focus, 21 May, 2010

It seems that the disenchantment with foreign languages is still growing as this week Greenwich Community College decided to end its provision of A-level and GCSE modern languages.  The college blames funding cuts but says that it will run non-qualification language courses as part of its adult and community learning programme.