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Sector News, 25-29 October 2010

Are students pre-programmed to live with inequality?  Education Guardian, 26 October 2010.

Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield, showed six groups of students the same set of five short films filmed in Sheffield.   The films debated an aspect of injustice: educational divisions, unfair incomes, prejudice against the poor, unequal wealth and inequalities in health.  Professor Dorling was somewhat shocked to find the divisions that existed between students taking the same A level or degree.  The group of students were from a comprehensive, a selective grammar school, a famous public school, a further education college and two universities.  Opinions amongst the groups varied wildly, some accepting the situation as the norm, others commenting that the prejudice was against the rich and yet others stating that it does not matter where you come from, hard work will win out.


Students hit by scrapping of education maintenance allowance.  Education Guardian, 26 October 2010.

Based on denials by Michael Gove before the election that the EMA would not be removed, the news that the EMA is to be scrapped came as something of a shock to many teenagers.  As well as abolishing the EMA, the government plans to reduce the amount of funding per student for sixth-formers, double the number of apprenticeships for over-19s and plans to lift the cap on tuition fees.  All this leaves 16-19 year olds as a group which feels that it has been singled out (unfairly) for some pretty deep cuts. 


Boom time for private universities.  Education Guardian, 26 October 2010.

Last week George Osborne confirmed that universities would be allowed to charge higher fees and that the private sector would be expected to take up the slack in the gap left by public sector financial reductions.  Private sector universities see this as a move which will inevitably lead to more private HE universities being established.


The Spending review and Lord Browne’s Report.  THE, 28 October 2010.

The THE is still devoting much of its editorial space to the challenges faced by universities after the publishing of Lord Browne of Madingley’s Review into higher education and the possible effects of the spending cuts.

What price the soul of a university”, is the paper’s leader in which comparisons are made between Lord Browne’s review and the review conducted thirteen years ago by Ron Dearing.  The leader comments that despite government claims to the opposite the Browne review was led by economic factors and that it is clear that subjects such as humanities and arts will suffer disproportionately.   This, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) is “a rapid move to an untested model starved of HEFCE teaching grants”.  In addition, Hefce believes that the downgrading of non-science based subjects is "a disaster for the nation’s cultural and intellectual life”.  Ron Dearing, the paper says, did not lose sight of the purpose of higher education.

See also "Hefce chief: prepare for a tough journey in uncharted territory” and “Impact, but on our terms".

 Changed utterly: cuts expected to transform the teaching landscape”,  is another story about the effects of ending public funding for disciplines such as the arts, humanities and social sciences.  Professor of sociology Frank Ferudi  of the University of Kent says that there is a serious issue that students studying non public funded  courses will see learning as little more than consumerism.  Frank Ferudi does admit that a positive side of the move to cut funding could be that it encourages students to take their work more seriously.  Thom Brooks of Newcastle University (reader in political and legal philosophy) agrees that students will worry more about what they get for their money and is concerned that families saving for their children’s future will have little time to prepare for the extra costs which are about to ensue.  Ben Knight, director of the Higher Education Academy for England, questions the assumption that students will make rational choices if they have all the information presented to them, something that people tend not to do.

See also “Battle cry goes up for the arts”.

Browne complacent on postgrad support, says NUS”, the NUS says that Lord Browne was wrong in insisting that there is no case for giving taught postgrad students the same level of support as undergraduates.  They back up their case with the results of a survey of nearly 2,500 UK taught post-graduate students in which they claim that post-graduate learning has increased in line with undergraduate numbers.  Sixty seven percent of respondents who are self funded said that they had come close to leaving their studies because of financial pressures.

It’s independence day for those who rise to the Browne challenge”, Opinion, James Tooley Professor of Education Policy, Newcastle University”.  Although excited about the prospect of greater competition in higher education, James Tooley is fearful of the threat from rising bureaucracy.

Can we afford not to spend more?”  This is the major article in this week’s THE concerning the Browne report; Vernon Bogdanor, research professor, King’s College, London.   Vernon Bogdanor looks at the failings of the 1963 Robbins report where increases in university entrants were requested and a failure to recognise the relationship between the universities and the state is apparent.  Robbins also failed to understand how a first class system of universities could be reconciled with parity of esteem.   In 1998 the Labour Party introduced top up tuition fees bringing a roar of protest about the effects on the poor, although the percentage (not number) of students from unskilled workers had remained static for the 40 years after Robbins.  The Browne report says that it is not possible to have a first class university system unless the role of the state is reduced and parity of esteem is abandoned.  The block grant for teaching has meant that each university receives the same amount of money irrespective of courses taught.  This means that high level courses at Cambridge get the same amount of funding as (what some would call) a Mickey Mouse course at another university.  Vernon Bogdanor admits that there are legitimate fears concerning access that Browne has not resolved.  Universities such as Oxford and Cambridge will be more successful at raising money than lesser universities.  However, if lesser universities attract a higher proportion of poorer students they will need more cash.  In summary the article points to the reality of funding and asks the question can we call ourselves a civilised society when we can find money for the millennium dome and Olympics and not for universities?

See also: “The market charge ” in which eleven academics give their view on recent and possibly future events.


School aims to teach pupils at every level from their ABCs to their BAs.  THE, 28 October 2010.

Methwold High School near Thetford, Norfolk, is considering running courses in law and business administration, aiming to become a national pilot for more locally provided HE.

This story is also covered by the TES 29 October, under: “Revolution by degrees? Secondary moots higher education ‘first’.


Other features in this week’s THE:

 “Progressive state”, Kerala, one of India’s smaller states, has a distinctive higher education system which is undergoing reform.  Philip G Altbach, a Monan University professor, discusses the reforms and the problems the state faces.


Arts.  THE, 28 October 2010.

Two cultures, one song”; Hannah Fearn discovers how collaboration between scientists, engineers and those in humanities is paying off.

Wings but no prayers” a discussion on the play “Panic Patterns” being shown in Glasgow before being adapted for television. 

States of mind”; Gary Day, principal lecturer in English at De Montfort University, asks if dreams can predict the future or even influence it.  He relates the tale of Amy Hardie who dreamt that her husband had died, to find out that it was true.


Ofqual chief lays it on the line: C-grade GCSE targets should go.  TES, 29 October 2010.

Isabel Nisbet, chief executive of Ofqual, has dubbed the current school league tables as simplistic and she wants to see C-grade GCSE targets scrapped.  Ever since the crucial C-grade threshold was introduced school have put too much emphasis on borderline C/D pupils.  A white paper is expected which will unveil a complete overhaul of league tables and Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders agrees that the grade targets should go.  Mr. Lightman believes that the tables should focus on what students can do rather than grades.


Psychologists say training freeze puts service at risk.  TES, 29 October 2010.

Minsters claim that the suspension of training of educational psychologists is part of an overhaul of SEN.  However, psychologists fear that the decision along with public service cuts puts the service in jeopardy.


Not so sweet 16 as Osborne turns the screws on colleges.  TES, 29 October 2010.

George Osborne might have managed to save the schools from the severest of cuts but, the 16-19 sector will pay the price.  Although it is not yet clear what effect the spending review will have on sixth form and further education colleges, it is clear that they are in for a rough ride.  The chancellor has introduced a pupil premium but, to do this he has axed the education maintenance allowance.  To make matters worse, it looks as if the government has backed the policy of raising the education leaving age, but without providing any extra funds. 


SFA shrinkage begins as 200 jobs are axed.  TES, FE Focus, 29 October 2010.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has reduced their staffing by 15 per cent.  In a statement by Geoff Russell chief executive of SFA, he said that “It would be nonsense for funding bodies not to accept the challenge to become better and less expensive [.]”.


Scrapping EMA will slash poorer student numbers, say principals.  TES, FE Focus, 29 October 2010.

The education maintenance allowance gives students from lower income families up to £30 per week and it has boosted post-sixteen education by around 30 per cent.  College principals see the recent cut as devastating and say that it will almost certainly affect the number of poorer students coming through their doors.


Skills council urged to ‘emulate medieval guilds’. TES, FE Focus, 29 October 2010.

John Hayes believes that "We are stuck in a dreary technocratic language which drives away inspiration”.  HE also believes that we have placed too much emphasis on ‘sticking’ academic components onto vocational courses in order to make them (mistakenly) respectable.  He wants to see a return to the days when craftsmen were proud to be craftsmen.


 The TES has published an easy to follow guide on how the Spending Review affects adult education under the headllne "Spending Review - Adult skills: what the future holds".