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Sector News, 21 December 2009 - 01 January 2010

Universities to shun new 'elitist' A* grades.  Daily Telegraph, 20 December 2009.

Next summer, a new grade for A levels will be awarded which is intended to help universities distinguish between the numbers of A-level pupils scoring A grades.

However, some universities have said that they will ignore the new grade in order to lure more state school pupils.  The universities' opinion is that the new grade will merely favour private school applicants.

Fast-track degrees proposed to cut higher education costs.  Education Guardian, 22 December 2009.

In order to cut costs the Government has ordered universities to create two year fast track degrees to replace the existing three year degrees.  Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, has said "Over the next spending review period, we will want some shift away from full-time three year places and towards a wider variety of provision".

Academics and vice-chancellors oppose Mandelson's universities move.  Education Guardian, 23 December 2009.

It was already known that £263m would be cut from universities' budgets next year.  However, the Government has announced a further £270m, giving expected reductions in finance of £533m.  Universities that over-recruited students this summer will also be fined £3,700 for each extra student they accepted. Academics across the country have united in condemnation of the cuts.  Vice chancellors fear that the cuts will raise class numbers, compromise the quality of higher education and put lecturers out of work.

Details from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills can be found using the link.

The Government's plans to cut university budgets is reported in all the major newspapers, for example in the Daily Telegraph under, "Universities facing £80 million fines on top of budget cuts" and "Universities warned of sharp funding cuts" and in the Times under, "Huge cash cuts to hit teaching at university" and "Universities may close as cutback points to two-tier higher education".

Middle-classes charged £30,000 to go to university.  Daily Telegraph, 27 December 2009.

David Blanchflower, an economist and former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, says that it is ludicrous that people will pay £30,000 a year in private school fees but will not pay a reasonable amount for their children to attend university.  He is calling for the raising of the universities fees cap in order that universities can charge the richest students fees whilst supporting the less well off.  David adds that poor people have been subsidising rich people for too long. 

Hefce budget to be slashed by £915m over three years.  THE, 31 December 2009.

The Times Higher’s take on the threatened cuts to university funding.  The THE reports that the cuts will amount to £915 million over three years, equating to a 12.5 per cent decline in funding.  Paul Marshall, chief executive of the 1994 Group of small research-intensive universities, said that higher education was being targeted for "bigger cuts than any other part of the public sector".

See also: Tighten your belts and prepare for a year of cut and thrust”.

On balance, it's time for parity - no matter how it may move things.  THE, 31 December 2009.

Opinion: Tom Schuller, associate director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education.

Tom Schuller argues that Lord Browne’s review of university funding must include funding for part-time courses.  Tom sees the distinction between part time and full time as a nonsense and comments that if we are to take lifelong learning seriously it should not matter whether a degree has been achieved part time or full time.  He also makes the point that there is a growing gap between the numbers of female and male students.  Women outnumber men in almost every subject, a change over the past years which has had very little public analysis.

A good shepherd guides gently.  THE, 31 December 2009.

Graham Harper looks at the role of the post graduate supervisor.  Quoting directly from the THE, Graham says that “The good supervisor is passionate, unflinching, wary of purely instrumental value, mostly individual but partly institutional. The good supervisor is unable to be moved from the paramount human position he or she holds dear: knowledge matters, postgraduate students are committed to new knowledge, every manner of political, economic and social change will affect universities, but postgraduate study must continue, will continue, must flourish, and must be supported, above all else”.

Tighten belts now. TES, 01 January 2010.

Clearly the looming Government cuts in education are exercising everyone’s minds.  With the Comprehensive Spending Review coming to an end, it would be prudent for schools and colleges to brace themselves for hard times despite the Chancellor’s promise of a 0.7 per cent increase in funding between 2011 and 2013.  It is worth noting that the Conservative party has refused to ring fence the education budget.

Take care when putting a price on FE.  TES, FE Focus, 01 January 2010.

Comment.  Alan Thomson, Editor, FE Focus.

Alan warns against any attempt by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) to price vocational qualifications on the basis of what they might be worth in earnings.  He uses as an example the Government’s attempt to state that a degree student could earn £400,000 more than an A level student over a lifetime, a figure that was laughed ‘out of court’ at the time.  Whilst the editor agrees that UKCES are right to undertake research on the possible worth of vocational qualifications he cites a number of risks in using the statistics gained as a guide.  Included in the examples of the risks which are likely to arise is the possibility that NVQ2 qualified students may not get any financial reward for their qualification. Should they then not take a qualification?