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Sector News, 18-22 October 2010

What will universities be like 10 years from now?  Education Guardian, 19 October 2010.

The opinions of seven academics on the shape of universities to come in the light of the Browne review and financial cuts. 

·         Gillian Evans, emeritus professor of medieval theology and intellectual history, University of Cambridge is concerned at the loss of funding for non science and technology subjects as well the effect on libraries if in future only books on priority subjects are purchased.  Additionally, Gillian does not like the look of a future which is overly controlled by government.

·         Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield, believes that we are heading for a market driven HE sector which might suit the Americans but one which the Europeans believe is wrong.  Danny also believes that universities will be forced to close.

·         David Colquhoun, research professor of pharmacology, University College London is of the opinion that government moves will put us fairly and squarely in the third division of HE providers and that academics will move out of the country.  Widening the already existing class divide will also be a consequence of rising fee levels.

·         Deian Hopkin, former vice-chancellor of London South Bank University fears that a geographical divide is about to emerge where universities will not necessarily be able to support institutions in parts of the country where they are needed.  A consequence of recent events is likely to be mergers, the creation of more private universities and a diminishing number of students studying for full time expensive degrees.

·         Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, the UK's only independent university, is generally in favour of the changes.  He feels that current provision is too vacuous and that some subjects are not worthy of degree rating.  Alan also believes that there are vulnerable establishments, especially those that were colleges of education and technical colleges which he believes will refocus their efforts towards what communities demand of them.

·         Claire Callender, professor of higher education at Birkbeck and the Institute of Education, London sees a future where calculating the costs of courses (accurately) will become paramount.  Claire also believes that universities outside of the top ten will struggle to attract as many students as they have in the past.

·         Susan Bassnett, professor of comparative literature, University of Warwick, says that we will see a radical shake up of teaching in the next ten years driven by complaints that for £10,000 a year students ought to get more than 18 hours teaching.  In addition, it will exacerbate the problems that universities already have in subjects such as modern languages which are dominated by people from the private rather than public sector.

Who can afford to be an apprentice? Education Guardian, 19 October 2010.

The government has promised £150 million to create 50,000 more adult apprenticeships. However, the suggestion that apprentices should receive the minimum wage has met with a lukewarm response if only because there are those who believe that there are more pressing issues. The Labour government’s attempt to increase the number of university students has led to many possible apprentices not seeing the value of the apprenticeship system.  It is believed that lifting the cap on tuition fees will bring about a greater demand for apprenticeships.  Nevertheless, it will become increasingly important that apprentices can afford to live on the wage they are given if only to cut what is seen as a high drop our rate.

Where is the mandate to change the world of higher education?  Education Guardian, 19 October 2010.

Comment: Steve Smith, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of Exeter University.

Steve Smith says that cuts will mean “The state is abandoning its role in funding universities”.  Lord Browne’s review is being overshadowed by the government’s desire for cuts which will change the face of UK higher education.  According to Professor Smith the government does not have a mandate to do this.

A medical emergency.  Education Guardian, 19 October 2010.

For the first time the number of places for medical students on the two-year foundation programme required before graduates can become doctors, will have fewer places than the number of students graduating.  An estimated 10 per cent, some 700 students, are at risk of not getting a place on the foundation course.

Fears made flesh: only STEM teaching grants spared CSR scythe.  THE, 20 October 2010.

The government is to cut the higher education budget by 40 per cent over the next four years.  Following the suggestions made in Lord Browne’s review, funding will be found for teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) but other subjects were conspicuous by their absence.  Chancellor George Osborne said that better off graduates would have to pay more for their tuition. He also said that the science research budgets would stay the same.  Follow link for a summary.

The Browne Review. THE, 21 October 2010.

Following on from last week’s coverage of the Browne Review, there is more opinion given in this week’s THE.

Freedom – but only over fees”, is this week’s leader in which Phil Baty makes the argument that whilst universities may have greater freedom over fees, Lord Browne’s plan could result in a state controlled and regulated industry.  David Palfreyman, director of the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, believes that Browne’s review means that the less money universities obtain from the taxpayer, the more hoops they may have to jump through.  Much of the concern revolves around the formation of the mega-quango, the Higher Education council. There is disquiet that putting the Quality Assurance Agency into the council will result in a conflict of interest.

Market what market? V-Cs set for race to the top on fees”, suggest a theme that many believe, in so far as it is expected that (particularly the elite) universities will charge as much as they can in student fees. 

Recruitment conundrum, as A-level tariff threatens ‘academic autonomy’.  Echoing in part the leader of today’s THE, Rebecca Attwood says that putting a minimum standard of entry for university would put the government in control of academic judgment.  The Browne Review proposes a system under which the government would set a minimum tariff each year in order to predict what entry standard will match the money available.

“Regulator could act on failing universities” is an article suggesting that the Higher Education Council could gain powers to oust ineffective vice-chancellors. 

Critics of Lord Browne’s Review have said that whilst the review was supposedly independent, it appears to have been well informed of impending government cuts.  Focus on cuts undermines value of Browne’ report, critics contend reports that thare are vice chancellors who are convinced that Lord Browne has wielded George Osborne’s knife for him.

US informality encourages rudeness in the classroom.  THE, 21 October 2010.

Professor Heike Alberts of Wisconsin University has published a paper entitled “Classroom Incivilities” in which he contends that whilst informality has many positives it has encouraged bad behaviour amongst students in US education.   Professor Alberts maintains that there is more bad behaviour in US schools than anywhere else in the world.

Sorry, non comprendo, I’m British.  THE, 21 October 2010.


Why students shun foreign languages is exercising the mind of many academics.  The case for studying modern languages as an aid to national credibility and economic well being has been thoroughly discussed.  However, the numbers of modern language courses at university are falling and the government is unlikely to reverse its decision making languages in schools optional.  There are exceptions to this trend; Aston University reports that there are more people wanting to learn Arabic than there are places available. 

Michael Worton, vice-provost of University College London, reported his research in “Review of Modern Foreign Languages provision in Higher Education in England”. Under the headline “We need to put the case for languages, and universities should lead the way”, Michael Worton says, that a year on, things have got worse since he pointed out how badly we were doing as a nation learning foreign languages.   He points to the worrying aspect of French dropping out of the top ten subjects studies at GCSE for as long as anyone can remember and that German is doing just as badly.   

Glyn Hambrook catalogues the benefits of mastering a foreign language under “Britain trumpets diversity yet persists in its campaign of cultural ring fencing”.  He argues that translations only give you a perspective of what anglophiles say and that by learning a new language you can understand better the world from another nation's point of view.   Glyn also comments on the international contacts and networks he has access to because he can speak language different to his mother tongue.

Glyn Hambrook is senior lecturer in European literature at the University of Wolverhampton.

The other feature in this week’s THE:

World crisis in humanities, not many hurt, features a discussion by Martha Nussbaum who believes that “Our critical culture, inculcated by a liberal arts education, is under attack, with democracy itself coming under threat”.   

The Arts, THE, 21 October 2010.

Still continuing with its season on the arts this week the THE looks at gay men through digital spaces under the headline “Under the Gaydar”.

Duncan Wu reports on the film “Never Let Me Go”, directed by Mark Romanek.  “Human resources” is the heading for the article in which Duncan applauds the approach to a tale set in an inhumane world.

Cheese or branes?” Brings next week’s Horizon programme top our attention.  “What happened before the big bang” will see scientists discussing the big bang theory and what was there before.

Adult skills loses £1bn in spending review.  TES, FE Focus, 22 October 2010.

The loss of £1bn of funding for adult education will mean that the over 25s taking GCSE and A level equivalents for the first time will lose government funding and be forced to apply for a university-style subsidised loan.  Train to Gain will be abolished, and whilst a quarter of the saving will go towards providing apprenticeships, the expected figure of 75,000 extra apprenticeships is short of the Conservative promise of 100,000.

Maintenance allowance axed in £500m budget raid. TES, FE Focus, 22 October 2010.

In order to fund a raising of the compulsory age for education and training to eighteen, the government has removed the education maintenance grant (EMA). An Institute for Fiscal Studies report said that EMA was significant in improving stay on rates, a comment refuted by the Department of Education who say that much of the grant was for students who would have attended anyway.