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Sector News, 20 - 24 September 2010

Inmates may get better education if shake-up goes ahead.  Education Guardian, 21 September 2010.          

John Hayes, the further education minister, has launched a review of offender learning.  The review, due to be published in December may well have been started in response to Ken Clarke’s (justice secretary) comments that the country needs a “rehabilitation revolution” as well as severe criticism of the prison educational regime.  John Hayes makes a number of points:

  • a quick solution is unlikely considering that two thirds of prisoners have literacy levels lower than an 11 year old and that they are particularly hard to teach,
  • the offenders’ Learning and Skills Service, created in 2006 has been beset with squabbles over objectives and confusion over priority targets for resources,
  • there is a lack of curriculum opportunity which allows inmates to change prisons and still continue with their course,
  • that prisons need to be workshops and make a link to the outside world.

There are those who believe that it would be a mistake to make prison education solely the domain of basic skills, citing a number of prisoners who have followed their education to university level.  However, all this discussion could prove useless if the contracts drawn up by prisons with their education providers are not thoroughly thought through before signing.  Manchester College, which provides 60 per cent of prison education, has imposed a pay freeze on prison education staff and announced plans to cut 300 jobs, a move is says is necessary because of hidden costs in new contracts.

College governance needs a radical re-think. Education Guardian, 21 September 2010.

Comment: Ruth Silver chair of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service.

Ruth Silver comments on concerns over governance in colleges.  She asks the question whether governors are up to the role demanded by David Cameron’s 'Big Society'.  Whilst looking forward to less central control Ruth makes the point that the role of the governor will become increasingly difficult.  They will no longer have to merely follow government targets but make decisions which reflect the needs of local markets and the long-term public good as well considering the demands of the government.

The 1994 Group of universities advertises for graduate volunteers.  Education Guardian, 21 September 2010.

A growing number of public sector organisations are using unpaid graduates.  This practice of offering volunteer posts has a long history in politics, the media and fashion where graduates will work for nothing in the hope of getting a full-time job.  The 1994 Group of universities is jumping on the ‘band wagon’ but not without some severe criticism from, for example, the NUS, the Nationals Council for Work Experience and Intern Aware.

Graduate tax ruled out as 'unworkable'.  THE, 23 September 2010.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, has ruled out the idea of a graduate tax as a solution to student finance and university funding in England, he stated at a meeting during the party's conference.  He is of the opinion that whilst the idea appeals on equality grounds there are a number of reasons why it would not work.

Universities are blind to open-learning train set to smash up their models.  THE, 23 September 2010.

Peter Smith, the senior vice-president of academic strategies and development for private US firm Kaplan Higher Education, believes that people who run universities are no longer in control and that online access to university courses will end the model of higher education based on "scarcity" of places. Charles Reed, the chancellor of the California State University system, has said that the current situation is like a runaway train ready to hit the buffers of the current university system.  He believes that on line learning will fundamentally change the way universities do business.  It is a view which is steadily gaining ground, particularly amongst US universities.

Arts disciplines make their case to minister for science.  THE, 23 September 2010.

The British Academy has held a debate in which Arts, humanities and social sciences have had the opportunity to put their views to David Willetts the minister for universities and science.   The participants gave a number of reasons why these subjects should not be ignored including stressing the country's world-leading position in the creative industries, the fact that profits come from the creative content rather than the technology and the cultural scene which is much cited by tourists as a reason for coming to Britain.  Further arguments included the social sciences claim to providing crucial insights into helping people to change their behaviour.   David Willetts said that the government was not just interested in physical sciences but reminded the audience of major research projects which were done under national agreement with other nations.

Bigger bursaries are not better at attracting poor.  THE, 23 September 2010.

“An analysis of millions of higher education applications for the Office for Fair Access found that large bursaries offered by elite institutions such as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had no influence on young people's decisions about where to study. The results prompted Sir Martin Harris, director of fair access, to suggest that the extra money might be better spent on additional outreach work in schools”.

With too much brand in their diet, applicants must be fed more facts.  THE, 23 September 2010.

The chief executive of the Quality Assurance Agency, has said that universities should publish contact hours and graduate earnings data.  This would allow applicants to obtain a more realistic picture of the university experience.  The watchdog was somewhat critical of university attempts to sell themselves saying that many universities are reluctant to publish contact hours and that consistent data from university to university would do much to help prospective students understand which courses offered them good prospects.

Features in this week’s THE:

“The dogma delusion”. Matthew Reisz reports on the war between science and religion.

“The six wives and nine lives of Henry VIII”.  Clive Bloom, emeritus professor of English and American studies at Middlesex University, discuses our enduring fascination with the Tudors.

“Trouble with numbers”. Philip G. Altbach,  Monan University professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, ponders the issues surrounding mass higher education which has brought social mobility to millions worldwide, but has stretched academia to breaking point.

Colleges braced for 30% job cuts.  TES, 24 September 2010.

Further education colleges are expecting to face 80,000 job losses and see up to 800,000 places in education lost when the spending review is published.  The Association of Colleges has briefed principals to expect:

  • cuts of 25 to 40 per cent over four years,
  • 10 to 25 per cent cuts in the 16-18 budget,
  • the possibility of the Treasury removing £400 million for unemployment and apprenticeship programmes.

See also: UCU sounds strike warning over job cuts, a report on FE’s largest college union who have threatened strike action if the government pushes through its cuts agenda in the sector.

Press start button for spectacular results improvement – it’s official.  TES, FE Focus, 24 September 2010.

A large majority of staff believe that technology has improved learning.  This is the finding of the “Evaluating the Mobile Network Initiative” which saw £10 million of gadgets purchased over two years for 48 participating schools and colleges.  The colleges found that by giving the students items such as hand held computers and electronic measuring technology the failure rates in subjects dropped dramatically.

Apprenticeships promise still empty, says training providers.  TES, FE Focus, 24 September 2010.

Last years “Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act” contained a paragraph stating that schools must give all pupils information concerning apprenticeships.  However, the government has not issued the “order of commencement” which is required to put the legislation into practice.   The Association of Learning Providers (ALP) is at a loss to understand why the government has not done this.  A spokesperson for ALP pointed to the government's reaction to a shortage of university places this summer, in which they pointed to apprenticeships as promising routes for young people.

Welfare reform will blight single parents’ education potential, warns charity.  TES, FE Focus, 24 September 2010.

Family Action says that they are already struggling to pay for course costs, travel and childcare for single parents who apply to them for help.  The charity fears that cuts to the welfare system will make is impossible for many single parents to access education and hence remove their opportunity to lift their family of benefits.