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Sector News, 18 - 22 May 2009

Universities' crackdown on cheating sparks record number of student complaints. Education Guardian, 18 May 2009.

There have been 900 complaints to the adjudicator for HE in England and Wales in 2008 compared with 734 the year before.  There is a feeling that the rise in complaints is to do with a crackdown on plagiarism by universities.   Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, the umbrella group for vice-chancellors, said the complaints had to be seen in the context of the 1.9 million students in England and Wales. "This is 900 complaints too many," she said. "Universities seek to learn from complaints and will look carefully at the areas where the report recommends room for improvements."

Colleges set to bear brunt of cuts.  Education Guardian, 19 May 2009.

Colleges could be set to take deeper financial cuts than universities next year.  This will hardly help the mood in colleges and private training organisations who saw their underspend in Train to Gain used to prop up HE establishments.  Claims have been made that Dius will ask for larger cuts than the Treasury require because of the need to cover an expected £160m overspend in financial support for university students. However, a Government spokesperson has said that there will be no cut in FE funding next year, and there will be a 4% rise.

Savings drive hits teaching and places.  THE, 21 May 2009.

John Denham, the Universities Secretary, has requested that universities save £180 million by 2010/11.  £164 million of this will come from teaching funds, a loss of funding made worse by an expected loss of additional student numbers.

Bottom line: universities are still not completely engaged.  THE, 21 May 2009.

The Times Higher Education’s Employer Engagement Conference last week highlighted some of the different opinions held by academics over the role of universities' engagement with industry and commerce.  Those for further engagement with employers see the role as important for securing economic prosperity; those against are concerned that too much employer engagement will erode university independence and will create a single model of a university.

Denham rejects calls to turn QAA into universities’ Ofsted.  THE, 21 May 2009.

Mr Denham, the Universities Secretary, told the final meeting of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee that the higher education sector does not have a systemic problem with quality and standards.  Accepting that mistakes happen, John Denham commented that QAA could do more to inform the public about its role and that the organisation should take the lead in examining persistent issues, for example those issues surrounding external examiners.

Exam gamble: State school replaces A-levels with the International Baccalaureate.  The Independent, 21 May 2009.

Two years ago Barton Court Grammar Schools in Canterbury, scrapped its A levels and went over to the International Baccalaureate.  Despite severe doubts expressed by other schools and Sixth Forms in the area, the gamble has been a huge success attracting not only local but overseas students.  The head comments that despite Barton Court having the ninth-best results in the country at the time, a change was required because “ A-levels are a poor and limited preparation for life, they are unrelated, unbalanced and isolated and there's nothing non-academic in them".

Fewer teenagers studying A-level alternative at school. Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2009.

In contrast to the above story, the Daily Telegraph published an article on Tuesday 19 May, stating that there has been a fall of 11% of pupils taking the International Baccalaureate.   However, the Daily Telegraph claims that this is due to cuts in Government funding.

Tories slam £100m rise in exam costs as drain on school budgets.  TES, 22 May 2009.

Examination costs have risen by more than £100 million over five years.  In 2002/03, £155 million would have covered the costs of GCSE, AS/A-levels and GNVQs. Last year these costs rose to £265 million.  The Conservative party see this rise as a justification for a major overhaul of the exam system.  The Association for School and College Leaders said that the continuing rise in costs is an issue that they have been fighting for many years.

Young prisoners say studies are a write-off.  TES, 22 May 2009.

Teenage prisoners are not receiving the support they require to continue education and the system does not support them in returning to their studies on release.  Far from being the stereotypical educational drop outs, many prisoners are well educated and in further or higher education when they are arrested. Prison education cannot guarantee the continuation of courses and prison education lacks relevance for more able teenagers because they are set up to cater for educational drop-outs.

LSC failed to minute capital cash crisis.  TES, FE Focus, 22 May 2009.

David Willetts, shadow Skills Secretary has said that the minute taking in the LSC was deceitful in that it was not willing to accept the capital problem.   The accusation came after it was realised that the LSC’s November council meeting claimed that decisions on capital had to be postponed because of lack of time.  At the next meeting, the council asked for a correction explaining that the real reason was over long-term affordability.

Tories could foil hopes for vocational degree.  TES, FE Focus, 22 May 2009.

Colleges have set plans to gain approval for a Bachelor of Vocational Studies to be offered by 2012, a degree intended to be offered without partnering universities.  David Willetts, shadow skills secretary, has said that the Conservative party had not supported even foundation degree awarding powers for colleges.  Any extension of degree awarding powers is unlikely to gain Conservative support.

Success rates will be affected by changes to scoring system.  TES, FE Focus, 22 May 2009.

Changes in the key performance targets emerging from the "Framework for Excellence", has raised fears in colleges that their reputations will be damaged.   The points awarded for the successful completion of long qualifications at levels 1 – 3 have almost halved.  An Association of Colleges spokesperson says that this means some colleges will drop from good to satisfactory or from satisfactory to poor. Exacerbating the situation is that the information was only made available last week when the LSC allowed colleges to log onto the "Provider Gateway".

See also: “Carrots and sticks for better performance”.