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Sector News, 19 - 23 October 2009

Gap in educational success between rich and poor areas widening, says report.  The Times, 19 October 2009.

A report by the University and College Union (UCU) states that the gap between rich and poor obtaining degrees has widened over the past four years.  The report gives a number of examples of rich and poor areas of cities where there is a large disparity between those having a degree and those not.  For example, in Sheffield, Hallam, a wealthy area of the city, 60 per cent of residents are graduates. In Brightside, the figure is four times less.  UCU claim that in wealthy areas the number of graduates has increased between 1995 and 1998 by nearly 9 per cent, whereas in poorer areas this figure has decreased by 0.5 per cent (from an already existing low level).

The story is also reported in The Independent under “Postcode lottery still determines degree achievement”.

Half a billion well spent?  Education Guardian, 20 October 2009.

Five years after it started, the education maintenance grant (EMA) is looking vulnerable.  Whilst there are many FE students who will admit that it has persuaded them to attend college, in times of large national debt its continued provision must be questionable.  Scrapping EMA is an option.  Children are expected to stay on at school until they are 18 (by 2015) and there is little evidence to show that it has had any impact on overall educational attainment.  However, there are arguments for keeping EMA and changing it slightly and there are challenges to the statement about lack of educational achievement, supporters arguing that EMA students’ A level performances have improved by 4.5 per cent.  No political party expects 100 per cent success in keeping the 16-18 year olds on at school and a measure of voluntary participation will be required and the EMA should continue to support poor students.

First-class battle.  Education Guardian, 20 October 2009.

Geoffrey Alderman (University of Buckingham) and Roger Brown (Liverpool Hope University) have condemned the Hefce report in to standards as a whitewash.  Alderman effectively started the debate on ‘dumbing down’ in a speech he made last year, as the Guardian reports “[He] lit the touchpaper and watched it ignite”.  Hefce’s response that whilst there are areas of concern there is no evidence of systematic failure has infuriated both Alderman and Hope but not it seems the National Union of Students who insist that 82 per cent of students rate their course as either good or excellent.

Language courses are being 'dumbed down', report finds.  Education Guardian, 20 October 2009.

A review, published by the Higher Education Council for England (Hefce), continues the debate that England is rapidly becoming a monolingual country.  Michael Worton, vice-provost of University College London, argues that universities should do more to promote languages.  There is, professor Worton says, already a considerable investment in languages but universities are not doing enough to promote the value of languages.  The number of students taking languages in HE has dropped by 5 per cent in the last five years, while a third of departments have closed in the last seven years.  “A survey of universities conducted for the review reveals that there has been a shift from pure language degrees to cultural studies. There has also been an increase in courses teaching foreign language texts in translation, something that was "generally perceived as a form of 'dumbing down' or even a betrayal of the nature and aims of a modern foreign language curriculum”, it says.

The story is also reported in THE, 22 October 2009, Speak up to keep languages alive, review says.

Thin air and cocktail parties:  Lammy and Willetts exchange blows.  THE, 22 October 2009.

David Lammy, Minister for Higher Education, accused the Conservative party of wanting to cut the higher education budget by £610 million and planning to charge 8 per cent interest on student loans.  He further suggested that Conservative policy to fund an extra 20,000 places would cost £240 million.  David Willetts, Shadow Universities Secretary, denied all this, describing the allegations as extraordinary. He attacked the Government’s record in HE.

Student protest saves Sheffield biblical studies.  THE, 22 October 209.

Students and the University College Union are toasting success today, after they lobbied to stop the closure of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield.  The faculty of arts and humanities wanted to have the section reconfigured as a postgraduate research centre.  However, the university's senate said that it would not consider the faculty request because student opinion had not been sought.

Why offline?  It’s very personal.  THE, 22 October 2009.

Results from a small survey held in the south of England suggest that it is the loss of face-to-face contact with students that tutors are most concerned about when their students turn to the web.  Tutors are also worried that as their students' technological ability exceeds their own, tutors stop becoming the gatekeepers of knowledge.  Additionally, they feel that students use the web too much and lack the skills to discriminate between different resources.

Major features in this week’s THE:

Doctoring the system”.  Tara Brabazon (professor of media studies University of Brighton) and Hannah Fearn look at how improved structures to support doctoral students can turn around completion rates and how graduate schools are taking root in the UK.

Chips and Dips”.  A look at whether Silicon Valley can continue as a unique educational, research and industrial ecosystem without change.  John Gilbey, department of computer science Aberystwyth University.

The war within”.  James T. Crouse explains why he finds sadness at the south’s loss at Gettysburg but is relieved about the outcome. James T. Crouse teaches aviation law at Duke Law School.

Record enrolments still see 150,000 miss out on a university place.  The Times, 22 October 2009.

Despite record enrolments, The Times reports that 150,000 applicants missed out on a university place this year. Despite the apparently alarmist headline, they admit that many failures are due to students not getting the grades required, along with 15,000 who withdrew.  Nevertheless, the figure is up by 25,000 on last year, even though universities have ignored Government guidelines to only accept an additional 13,000 students (universities accepted 20,000 more students).

League table plan for all colleges. Education Guardian, 22 October 2009.

The Guardian reports on a proposed plan to introduce league tables for colleges.  The plan, produced by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (Ukces), is likely to influence the Government’s plans for the skills system overhaul expected next month.  In its plan Ukces say that “College and university courses should be subject to new league tables based on how many students drop out, their future earnings and how much they enjoyed their classes”.  Ukces believes that by doing this the Government could remove as many as 30 quangos saving considerable a amount of money.

 System failing autistic school leavers, MPs warn.  TES, FE Focus, 23 October 2009.

Connexions, the advice service for under 25s, has admitted that it does not know what happens to nearly a third of autistic students. It is possible that more 6,000 under 25s with this learning difficulty have been lost in the system.  It is the local authority’s responsibility to provide colleges with statements detailing a student's continuing needs in education.  However, college disability support officers say that they are often vague or of poor quality.  There are calls for the Connexions Service to improve its record keeping and offer better support for those crossing the 16+ threshold.

Beyond repair?  The failing few.  TES, FE Focus, 23 October 2009.

Alan Johnson, the then education secretary, told colleges in 2006 that inadequate FE institutions must become a thing of the past.   It was clear by 2008, that the deadline had come and gone without meeting the high aspirations of the minister.  There are those who hold the opinion that the difference between failure and success, for many, are so small as to be insignificant, indeed Ofsted admits that colleges tend to move in and out of the failing grade.  LSIS (Learning and Skills Improvement Service) believe that zero failure is possible.  The one factor that (it appears) Ofsted, LSIS and some college principals agree on, is that college failure is almost always down to poor management and a failure of senior managers to concentrate student achievement.

Funding is a thorny part of Tories’ 14-19 plans.  TES, FE Focus, 23 October 2009.

Opinion: Mark Corney, Director of MC Consultancy.

Mark Corney has concerns about the Conservative Party’s education plans, not least the threat to FE funding if the party’s policies are realised.  He sees the primary purpose of the Conservative’s Education Bill as being to remove large swathes of the secondary sector from council funding and fund this centrally.  Should a new 3-19 quango come into being along with 16-18 sixth form funding split between centrally funded schools and local authorities then FE funding will be under threat from centrally funded local secondary schools.  In short, FE’s hopes of being a major player in 14-19 education could be severely hampered.

Lords attack new local authority funding power.  TES, FE Focus, 23 October 2009.

Labour’s policy of allowing local authorities to have the final say on funding adult skills provision has come under attack in the House of Lords.  Lord Young, business, innovations and skills minister, defended the Government’s position by stating that it is not the Government’s intention to allow Regional Development Agencies to develop strategies in isolation but  to work in partnership with local authorities.  However, “Peers raised concerns that requiring each local authority to sign off plans would make it impossible to develop a consistent strategy where there were entrenched differences. Lord de Mauley, the Conservative whip with responsibility for business, innovation and skills, criticised the late change of plan and the complexity of the proposed system”.