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Sector News, 18 - 22 January 2010

Universities will benefit from tighter budgets in the long term.  Education Guardian, 19 January 2010.

Comment: Peter Mandelson, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills.

Peter Mandelson says that despite the furore over impending Government cuts to higher education, the cuts will amount to no more than 5 per cent over the next three years.  Far from believing that the cuts will bring British higher education to its knees, Lord Mandelson states that the Government has no intention of allowing the reputation of British universities to deteriorate.  He points to the 25 per cent increase in funding that universities have received since 1997.  Lord Mandelson argues that by developing alternatives to the existing systems of teaching and research, savings can be made without loss of status or quality of teaching.  Examples given are home study for degrees and employer contributions towards course costs.

English language schools fear for new visa rules.  Education Guardian, 19 January 2010.

English language schools may be at risk because of the new visa rules.  The rules, initially aimed at closing bogus colleges, may well reduce the number of foreign students (currently around 600,000) who come to England to learn English.  A rise in the number of applications from China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh has led to suspicions that visas are being obtained illegally.  At the core of the proposals are the requirements to raise the level of study for which students can enter the country along with the level of English required.

Technological gizmos to revolutionise study.  THE, 21 January 2010.

According to the New Medium Consortium (NMC) in the USA, e-books and “augmented reality” technology will play a major part in university education in the future.  In the 2010 Horizon Report”, published by NMC there are claims that providers of on-line higher education are eroding the university gold standard.  New technologies are also changing universities’ role in the preparation of students for work.

The people’s view on degrees most likely to lead to work. THE, 21 January 2010.

The public see degrees in law, mathematics and English as the degrees most likely to lead to employment.  “Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, asked abut 500 people how they believed 20 university degree subjects affected students’ career prospects”.  The least useful subjects were perceived to be fine arts, anthropology and theology.

We must go the distance.  THE, 21 January 2010.

Helen Lentell, director of distance learning developments at the University of Leicester, argues that we must maintain the UK’s position in distance learning by focussing on the education not the technology.   Over the years millions have been spent creating distance learning systems, many having little effect.  The problem being that money is too focussed on the technology and not enough thought is being given to why some systems work better than others.  Helen says that robust administrative systems are as indispensable as high quality student support and that you cannot ‘drop’ existing systems designed for on-site students straight into distance learning packages.

You can lecture, but can you teach?  THE, 21 January 2010.

There has been considerable resistance amongst university lecturers to the idea that they might have to learn how to teach.  Despite the resistance, many newly appointed lecturers are now required to undertake a training course for teaching.  Eric Sotto, author of “When Teaching Becomes Learning”, argues against what he sees as unfounded cynicism on the part of university lecturers towards teacher training courses.  Amongst many points made, Eric says that:

  • there is a wide held belief that complex undertakings must be studied, but this does not seem to apply to teaching,
  • being a subject specialist does not necessarily make you a good teacher,
  • it is argued that any work which affects the well being of other must possess a qualification, e.g. medicine and gas fitting but not apparently teaching.

Other features in this week’s THE:

Get happy, and get on with it”, Melanie Newman reports on projects to boost staff wellbeing.

Fabulous baker’s joys”, Theresa Huston discusses her lifelong passion for baking.

 System blamed as fewer pupils than ever study languages at GCSE.  TES, 22 January 2010.

Despite the innovative work being done to promote languages in schools the number of pupils taking a foreign language has fallen since last year.  A desire by pupils to obtain As and A*s at GCSE and changing school policies on languages have been blamed for the demise.

Texting aids literacy: study confounds popular prejudice.  TES, 22 January 2010.

Academics from Coventry University, say that contrary to popular belief, pupils who send large numbers of texts do well in literacy tests.  They argue that being able to write abbreviations such as “l8r”, “plz” and “hav” displays an understanding of how the English language works.

MPs attack Train to Gain broker service.  TES, FE Focus, 22 January 2010.

A report by the commons public accounts committee, has found that broker’s engagement with employers which does not lead to recruitment can cost nearly as much as training students for a qualification.  They say that the £112 million spent by the broker system, cannot be justified and the money should be spent elsewhere.

Meeting employer demands has ‘debased’ FE says union.  TES, FE Focus, 22 January 2010.

The University and College Union (UCU) has attacked Government policy over the past two decades.  It condemns the market driven philosophy and the union is likely to demand a return to local or regional authority control.  Funding for all FE institutions should be returned to what the union sees as local democratic control.  In its manifesto, soon to be published, it is expected that the union will also attack the Government attitude towards adult education which has seen some 1.5 million adults removed from the FE scene.

Call for choice over curriculum, not just chips and car parks.  TES, FE Focus, 22 January 2010.

The CfBT learning trust and the Campaign for Learning has said that students should be given more of a say on the curriculum and that student representation should not be limited to cafeteria consultation.   A Learning and Skill Council evaluation found that 40 per cent of colleges and trainers did not involve students in developing course content. 

FE-friendly funding strategy may come with strings attached.  TES, FE Focus, 22 January 2010.

Alan Thomson investigates the Government investment plan for FE giving details of what he describes as a financial box of tricks.  Whilst funding for 16 to 19 education looks like it will be standing still when inflation is taken into account, funding for post19 will be cut.

Disabled student aspirations ‘capped’ by colleges’ attitudes, claims union.  TES, FE Focus, 22 January 2010.

A report by the National Union of Students has severely criticised colleges for failing to fully support students with disabilities.  The report states that too many disabled students are on level 1 courses.  The union further reports that there are far too many disabled students who do not progress to either higher level courses or work.  They blame lack of physical access to colleges, access often being confined to the entrance to the site and a lack of financial support and good quality guidance and support.