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Sector News, 19 - 23 January

Dumbing down disguised.  Education Guardian, 20 January 2009. 

“Exam chiefs are today being accused of a sleight of hand over last year’s A level results”.  Whilst the exam boards are claiming that schools were improving at different rates, the Guardian has discovered that the improvements are more even.  The claim by exam boards is that if different schools improve at different rates then there can be no systematic dumbing down.  However, if the results are more evenly distributed then this is evidence of grade inflation (suggests the Guardian).

See also: "Exam boards accused of spin to hide A-level grade inflation".

Foundations of a crisis.  Education Guardian, 20 January 2009.

Without warning, just before Christmas, the LSC told that their building projects were to be “put on ice”.  This, according to some colleges, risked putting them into financial difficulty.  Hence, the prime minister’s pledge to continue with public building projects came as a surprise. Delays in building projects create costs which colleges with building plans will find difficult to recoup.

Wikipedia founder's scholarly web venture plays host to a war of words.  THE, 22 January 2009.

The popular Wikipedia web encyclopedia, created in 2001, has for some time had a competitor called Citizendium (CZ). The latter is an on line user-generated encyclopedia designed to be more academically rigorous than Wikipedia.  However, CZ has run into troubled waters with the resignation of at least two academics and complaints about the standard of scrutiny given to the inputs made by clients. 

Innovation policy ignores the arts and humanities, study finds.  THE, 22 January 2009.

Research funded by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) is to report that the Government’s policy on innovation ignores huge parts of the UK economy.  The innovation ‘agenda’ focuses too much on science and technology despite the large proportion of the UK’s economy contributed by the arts and humanities.

MPs’ report accuses DIUS of failing to find its feet.  THE, 22 January 2009.

A critical report released this week by the IUSS*claims that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills' first departmental report is substandard. The committee had concerns about the DIUS financial report, about the transfer of funding from FE, about the ability of DIUS to meet its efficiency savings and its overuse of jargon.

*IUSS – Innovation Universities and Skills Select Committee.

Focus on basic skills training not HE, say MPs.  THE, 22 January 2009.

IUSS has said that the Government will not meet its targets to ensure that adult workers gain higher education qualifications by 2020.  The funding it suggests, would be better utilised on re-skilling rather than up-skilling.  Phil Willis, chair of the committee, expresses disappointment that the HE sector is almost totally absent from the re-skilling agenda.

Fees do not harm access, says architect of policy.  THE, 22 January 2009.

Broadening participation in HE is an issue that should be tackled before the age of 16. Nick Bart is convinced that poor GCSE results are the reason that many children fail to get access to universities and that access is not merely an issue concerning fees.  Whilst Professor Bart is clear that students from low income backgrounds needed continuity of financial assistance he disagrees with the argument that HE education is a basic right and therefore should be free.

Nick Bart is professor of public economics at the London School of Economics and one of the architects of student tuition fees in the UK.

Everyone is talking the talk.  THE, 22 January 2009.

English is accepted world wide as the lingua franca of business.  This has forced many universities across the globe (including the French) to offer courses taught in English.

This week's leader in the THE discusses the growing number of establishments delivering courses in English and asks whether we are losing one of our major assets.

The main story introduced by the above leader is “The language of competition” offers examples of universities where English is a major feature.  For example, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology offers 38 masters programmes of which 26 are taught in English.  The effect on student applications to UK universities could be serious, doubly so when many foreign universities are cheaper to attend than an equivalent UK university.

Get wise to the product.  THE, 22 January 2009. Opinion – Gary Day, principal lecturer in English, De Montfort University.

Gary Day deplores the approach that insists universities should only be tolerated as long as they contribute to business and the economy.  However, he feels that the “learning for its own sake” brigade does little to help challenge economy led learning.  His arguments focus on the need for knowledge to be in context and that whilst particular ‘chunks’ of knowledge for some may seem irrelevant, for others it is vitally important.  He also argues that whilst some knowledge (using science as an example) may not have an immediate use, it is nevertheless worth pursuing.

Lift-off for new grade as first 50 A*s are awarded. TES, 23 January 2009.

Fifty pupils have been awarded A* grades out of the 373 entrants for the new AQA and City & Guilds extended project qualifications (EPQ). EPQs are part of the awarding body’s baccalaureate but can be taken as free standing level three qualifications accounting for half an A level. The project is designed to foster independent learning and to develop the skills required by universities.

Updated SEN rules may cut red tape. TES, 23 January 2009.

"A government consultation plans to update legislation has been welcomed by agencies that support SEN pupils". Currently if a child is educated outside its area the home council is responsible for all special needs involvement including drawing up the statement, costs have to be recouped by the [new] authority from the home authority. The new legislation should make cost recovery easier and less bureaucratic.

Concern as building plans are stalled. TES, FE Focus, 23 January 2009.

The press reported earlier this month that FE colleges were facing difficulty with planned re-building. The TES now reports that requests have been made to the government for colleges to receive a share of the £10bn recession pot set aside to keep the construction industry afloat. Number 10 is looking for projects which can stimulate the construction industry, college re­building ought to be part of this.

New curriculum needed for longer retirement, says study. TES, FE Focus, 23 January 2009.

A report commissioned by Niace as part of the Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning has concluded that a new curriculum in required which will cater for the growing number of retirees. The Government's focus on under 25s has ignored those who will spend a third of their lives beyond work. In addition to popular courses, the report suggests that there is a need for:

  • financial literacy to help people cope with the complexity of funding a long retirement,
  • citizenship to harness life experience,
  • time for volunteering,
  • caring courses for those having to look after those with little support. 

Also recommended is provision for the more elderly who may struggle to reach the locations for adult learning.

Brave new world of business acumen. TES, FE Focus, 23 January 2009.

The CBI says that colleges need to learn the language of employers and engage them in meeting training needs, in short a major cultural shift for colleges. Amongst examples of issues is the habit of colleges asking employers how many NVQs they would like when the employer is not interested in qualifications, only staff who can do a job. Also, there is need for colleges to understand that employers want a good return on their training investment.

Pupils need more access to vocational expertise. TES, FE Focus, 23 January 2009.

Edge is a charity that has part of a manifesto to improve vocational education. The charity argues that pupils should have an individual mix of theoretical and practical learning from the age of 14. It acknowledges that colleges are probably better placed to offer experiences in vocational education than are most schools. Edge suggests six steps to improve vocational education and comments that whilst the UK is far behind its European counterparts it is possible to reduce the split between academic and vocational study with a lot of hard work.