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Sector News, 21 - 25 September 2009

Auf Wiedersehen, dept? Education Guardian, 22 September 2009.

Students all over the country are opting for ‘warmer’ climate languages such as Spanish. German departments are being closed as the demands change. At the University of Leicester, the three lecturers and fellows have been told that the future of their department is unsustainable.  Queens University Belfast is another example where the German department is facing closure.  The university has ruled that the current 20 students studying German will be the last.  Despite Germany being Europe’s biggest economy, the numbers of pupils opting to study the country’s language at GCSE and A level have continued to drop.

Don’t drive people to MP3 for HE.  (Leader), THE, 24 September 2009.

The CBI has said that it does not believe that we should deliver HE to the masses, on the grounds of affordability.  It wants to cut grants, raise tuition fees, increase loan rates and ditch the 50 per cent participation target. 

Sector split by CBI’s vision of higher fees and less aid.  THE, 24 September 2009.

Following on from the leader (above) the THE reports that the CBI sees the current student support systems as over-generous and wishes to see the removal of interest rate subsidy for all except the most needy.  The Guild HE, a group of colleges and specialist institutions, condemn the CBI report as a backward looking document which focuses too much on science, technology, engineering and maths.

The recommendations of the report “Stronger together-Business and Universities in Turbulent Times” can be viewed using the link.

Lib Dems’ fees stance in limbo.  THE, 24 September 2009.

Nick Clegg announced at the Lib Dem party conference that opposition to tuition fees would be mothballed for the foreseeable future.  Later Stephen Williams, the party’s higher education spokesman, said that no decision had been taken.  Mr Williams told a fringe meeting that he would find it difficult to support a party that made it harder for students (and parents) to access higher education.

Get it out in the open.  THE, 24 September 2009.

Around the globe the provision of web based educational resources is gathering pace.  In the UK the Open University provides good quality resources, for free, on the Internet through their OpenLearn website.  In 2001, MIT announced that it was publishing virtually all its coursework.  “Today almost 2,000 courses, or 80 per cent of those offered by the university, are on line and at no cost”. Interestingly 70 per cent of the users of the Open University’s OpenLearn web site are from outside the UK and in keeping with other sites, many who are not in formal education take advantage of the provision.

Web sites mentioned in the article are: OpenLearn; MIT’s OpenCourseWare; Jorum, the national open education resources repository; Apple’sITunes U, mobile learning; ccLearn and Open Educational Resources Commons a network of shared teaching and learning materials.

Other major articles in this week’s THE are:

Digging deeper. Tourism and the need to settle for a long stay to get a sense of foreign lands.

More than mayhem.  The rebirth of anarchism as a scholarly subject.

Essays to be marked by ‘robots’.  TES, 25 September 2009.

Academics have attacked the idea of using artificial intelligence based, automated marking of essays as “ridiculous nonsense”.  This is in response to Edexcel saying that they will use computers to read and assess essays for English tests.   The move has fuelled speculation that assessment of A levels and GCSE by this method is just around the corner.  Bethan Marshall, senior lecturer in English at King’s College London, said “A computer will never be unreliable [..]  but we write for readers of English (not for computers)”.

This story is also covered in the Guardian under the headline, "Robot computers to mark English essays".  Here the move is also condemned by teachers. John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers is quoted as saying , "I'm very concerned that it would constrain the nature of the questions being asked. You won't pick up nuances by machine and it will trigger a trend to answering narrower questions. It could be a disaster waiting to happen."

Tories draft first Education Bill.  TES, 25 September 2009.

The Conservative party have made clear their ambitions for school reform by preparing a draft Education Bill.  The policies are likely to include expansion of the academies programmes, introduction of thousands of additional school places, law to give more power to teachers, establishment of primary academies, reduced local authority control over schools and shift of key stage 2 testing into secondary schools.  The Bill is also expected to “Dramatically pare back legislation that is currently being put forward within the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill”.

Edexcel accused of deflating AS results.  TES, 25 September 2009.

Drama pupils' prospects are being jeopardised because Edexcel have deflated scores in an AS level in order to stop the examination looking too easy.  This is the claim of more than 20 secondary schools some of which state that their pupils were given grades four levels lower than expected.

Colleges in Barclays talks to establish ‘Bank of FE’.  TES, FE Focus, 25 September 2009.

Unless £240 million a year is made available to rebuild the rest of the further education college state, the rebuild programme will collapse, says the Association for Colleges (AoC).  A strategy being developed by the AoC in light of the current financial crisis over capital rebuilding is to create a FE banking product which will enable colleges to lend to institutions without rebuilding funds.

See also: “Bank of FE’ is just the first building block.

Use Train to Gain cash to send young to college, urges report.  TES, FE Focus, 25 September 2009.

Beyond Leitch: Skills Policy for the upturn”, is a report which will be launched at the Labour party conference.  The report's authors, Learning and Skills Network (LSN), say that about a third of the annual Train to Gain budget should be funded by employers and the saving used to expand college apprenticeship provision.

Providers demand to raid FE budgets to save scheme.  TES, FE Focus, 25 September 2009.

In contradiction to the LSN report, above, the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) have said that funding should be taken from college budgets to ensure that demand for Train to Gain is being met.  Albeit that they see this as temporary move, the transferred money to be paid back next year.

‘We’ve breathed life into FE’.  TES, FE Focus, 25 September 2009.

Interview, Pat McFadden business, innovation and skills minister.

In what appears to be a ringing endorsement of the FE sector, Pat McFadden has said that colleges are the key to digging the UK out of recession and reshaping its industrial future.   The minister adds “Before we came to office, FE was not even a poor relation but a forgotten one.  We have invested £2bn in 700 projects”.   However, whilst the Government’s skills strategy will shape the context for further education, it will be the regional development agencies which will be responsible for producing their own skills strategies and this will impinge on FE’s role.