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Sector News, 26 - 30 October 2009

Giving everyone an equal chance?  Education Guardian, 27 October 2009.

Data, analysed from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, suggests a widening gap between the proportion of black minority ethnic students who achieve firsts and 2:1s, compared with their white counterparts.  The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), a charity created to promote equal opportunities in higher education, found that 66.4 per cent of white students obtained firsts or 2:1s, whilst 35.5 per cent of black students and 46.9 per cent of Asian students did.  There has been a growing number of black and Asian students attending universities, so the figures are particularly disappointing.  However, set against England’s ethnic profile, the figures are not too bad, according to the Office of National Statistics.  The details of the ECU report can found by following this link.

Couldn’t we pay for skills in the way we pay for pensions?  Education Guardian, 27 October 2009.

Comment: Tony McAleavy, director CfBT Education Trust

Tony voices concern that with an election looming the major parties are content to limit their educational aspirations to schools and more students going into HE.  More needs to be done on the ‘skills front’, it is not acceptable that adult skills are being quietly sidelined.  A problem for skills development is funding, and a suggestion is made here that we could fund skills training in the same way that we fund pensions by having a tripartite contribution from employers, employees and Government.  A small rise in current contributions in national insurance would give all employees access to funding for their own up skilling or retraining.

Crowd Trouble.  Education Guardian, 27 October 2009.

Further Education colleges are finding their budgets squeezed by rising demand created by unemployment and a promise made by the Government to guarantee a place in college to every 16-18 year old.  Bradford has seen the number of 16-18 year olds in its college increase by 350, approximately 10 per cent.  St Helens College has seen a similar increase whilst Cirencester has been forced to stop its A level recruitment whilst facing the prospect of having 200 non-funded second year students. The LSC’s policy director admits that there is pressure on FE to deliver more education and he is due to talk to ministers soon.

Diplomas too difficult for pupils, says survey. Education Guardian, 27 October 2009.

A report published today by the Association of Colleges (AoC) says that the one-year higher diploma is too difficult for students.  The AoC have requested an urgent review of the diploma’s balance between theory and practice.  There is evidence, says the report, that schools and colleges are unwilling to take on any but the brightest students for the higher diploma and more needs to be done to support the less able.

How maths makes the world go round.  The Daily Telegraph, 27 October 2009.

Professor Ian Stewart looks at some unusual examples of how mathematics impacts on our daily lives.  Examples given include the calculation of air flow over a football in order to ensure that the football travels in the direction intended to, the use of scanners and even the recognition of chords in music.

Ministers told diploma adverts are 'misleading'.  The Independent, 28 October 2009.

A ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has condemned the Government’s Diploma advertising as misleading and the Authority has asked ministers to remove the advertisement.  Both the radio and a national newspaper advert stated that a Diploma could get you entrance to any university. The ruling came after complaints from listeners and readers who complained specifically that Cambridge will only accept the engineering diploma.

The story also appears in The Guardian under "Government ad about Diplomas banned".

State your demands, Government and Tories tell students.  THE, 29 October 2009.

The Labour and Conservative parties are proposing measures to ensure that students have more information about what they can expect from higher education.  Lord Mandelson, First Secretary, said in a summit held by the CBI that “Students who go into higher education pay more, expect more and are entitled to receive more”.  In addition, he believes that universities should come under closer scrutiny to ensure that they are not failing their students.

In a similar story in The Independent, ‘Universities must earn the right to charge higher fees’, Conor Ryan puts forward the argument that universities do not give enough information or choice to students.  Amongst many examples given in support of his arguments, Conor states that students and parents are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the amount of time students see their lecturers and tutors. Conor Ryan is former senior education advisor to Tony Blair and David Blunkett.

Life itself, the universe and everything that’s relevant.  THE, 29 October 2009.

General education is being considered as part of a major overhaul of the curriculum at the University of Warwick.  The university is considering proposals drawn up by the professor of sociology at the university, Steve Fuller, for a broader undergraduate curriculum.  Professor Fuller wants to make general education relevant to the 21st century, including the use of digital-based media and to ensure that a student’s education extends beyond vocational training.

Do the market research before you try to make the business case.  THE, 29 October 2009.

Opinion: Michael Thorne, vice chancellor, Anglia Ruskin University.

The fact that the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) task force is dominated by the chief executives of science and engineering companies irritates Michael Thorne.   A resulting report Stronger Together – Business and Universities in Turbulent Times”, may well have some influence on Government thinking.  However, Michael Thorne says that “The proposals within the report are built on outdated thinking about graduates in a modern economy”.  He argues that statistics published by the Organisation for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that the number of employed science graduates in the UK is almost double the US figure and well above the OECD average.  Michael Thorne also regrets the current attitude of ignoring the creative industries.

Major features in this week’s THE are:

The long march, a look at the growing Chinese higher education sector and how they are trying to reduce the gap between the rhetoric and vision of higher education reform.

A funny sort of welcome, discusses the concerns surrounding new visa and immigration regulations which could be sending out the wrong messages to foreign students.

“The secret invocation”,  Alex Danchev, professor of international relations, University of Nottingham has completed a biography of Braque and discusses the personal questions that the work has created.

With distance learning, not being in the same country as your university isn't a problem.  The Independent, 29 October 2009.

The Association of Business Schools (ABS) lists higher-education institutions offering one or other model of distance learning, leading to a management-related Masters.”  With the increase in use of the Internet it is hardly surprising that universities are offering courses via that medium.  The article gives advice on what to look for in an open learning package, for example, prospective students should ensure that they will be satisfied with the course content, that they should check how they will receive course materials, whether there's an element of "live" online lecturing or discussion with fellow students, and if so, when it takes place, and what arrangements will be made for communication with teachers.

University bar makes Diploma ‘second rate’ warns agency.  TES, 30 October 2009.

A number of top ranking universities, of which Cambridge is one, will not accept all five Diplomas as entry to their degree courses.  The problem is exacerbated by some schools refusing to allow students to take an A level as part of their assisted and specialised learning component of the Diploma.  Many universities are specifying an A level as an entry qualification along with a Diploma.  Hence, good students are not getting the opportunity to apply to a university of their choice.   

Diplomas stymied by lack of school backing, claims union.  TES, FE Focus, 30 October 2009.

In what appears to be more bad news for the Diploma, the Association of Colleges (AoC) accuses schools of deliberately freezing out partnerships with colleges.  Collaboration may underpin the principle of the Diploma, but many colleges have reported that whilst they have tried to deliver Diploma courses, the students have not arrived from the school sector.  AoC puts the blame on a history of competition and the complexity of the Diploma structure. They call for consortium wide performance tables and a simplification of the structure.

Grade banking ban mooted as Ofqual addresses ‘ping’ factor.  TES, 30 October 2009.

Students could soon be stopped banking their  A level and GCSE grades by the exam watchdog Ofqual.  Continuing modularisation of the curriculum has given rise to a system where a student’s overall grade is dependent upon the grade they obtain in each module. Ofqual’s proposal, under consideration, is to allow students to bank their marks but, the final grade would not be given until the overall marks are obtained.   The watchdog says that it has a duty to protect the standards of overall qualifications as well as the modules which make them up.  Asked why if the module marks are correct the final grade should be wrong, an Ofqual spokesperson stated that in an ideal world that should be the case but, things do go wrong as we witnessed with last year’s science GCSE results where one exam board had to reduce its marks to bring it in line with others.

Be wary of Tories’ 14-19 plans, FE warned.  TES, FE Focus, 30 October 2009.

Professor Ann Hodgson, a Nuffield Review director, has warned colleges to be wary of the Tory plan of promoting apprenticeships.  The director sees the plan as a way of retaining barriers between academic and vocational courses.  The Tories have argued that pretending that some vocational courses are equivalent to academic courses is misleading.

‘£130m quango budget should go to colleges’.  TES, FE Focus, 30 October 2009.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) has said that the further education’s improvement quangos should be phased out over the next three years and the budget of £130m should go directly to colleges. If their proposals in Towards Ambition 2020: skills jobs”  * is accepted it would put an end to the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, Becta’s FE role, Standards Verification UK and most of the Lifelong Learning UK’s funding.  Michael Davis, director of strategy and performance at UKCES, says that they are trying to simplify an overcomplicated system whilst bringing resources directly to the front line.

(* The link takes you to a summary of the report; the main report is unobtainable at present.)

Why skills will not get you up and over.  TES, FE Focus, 30 October 2009.

Researchers following the progress of more than 2,000 basic skills students over three years have concluded that gaining literacy and numeracy qualifications does not increase an adult’s chance of obtaining employment.  The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) support Skills for Life for changing people for the better, not necessarily for any economic benefit.  However, for a department now having to focus on economic success, the report must be a disappointment.

Tories’ Diploma seeds will allow us all to grow.  TES, FE Focus, 30 October 2009.

Comment: Dr John Dunford, general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders.

John Dunford points to a footnote in the Tory press release on 14-19 technical education.  In the footnote the Conservatives have stated that technical schools will offer a wide range of vocational qualifications. Along with GCSE and A levels, they will also offer Diplomas.  This is taken as a sign that the Conservative party will not completely remove Diplomas, although the three academic Diplomas are unlikely to survive.