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Sector News, 27 - 30 April 2010

Poor numeracy is aproblem we must tackle now.  Education Guardian, 27 April 2010.

Comment: Belinda Vernon, head of research, New Philanthropy Capital.

Having accepted that numeracy issues are not new, Belinda Vernon wonders why we are stuck with an adult  (and child) numeracy problem.  Part of the issue lies in the stigma associated with illiteracy but not with numeracy.   Being ‘no good at maths’ seems to be acceptable, when in reality it should not.  Belinda sees changing attitudes as the biggest job.  Examples of schemes which seem to have some success are given as, maths classes with a mix of parents and children and numeracy developed in a practical rather than classroom situation.

New ways to fund universities are essential now.  Education Guardian, 27 April 2010.

Comment, Haroon Chowdry, senior research economist and Alissa Goodman, deputy director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Both Haroon and Alissa believe that none of the three main parties have an answer to the tuition fee issue, stating that if any of the plans were put into action it would only benefit the better off student.  Nor do they see that raising the fee cap would help because the government’s loan subsidy would increase.  They propose two alternatives , one is to allow universities to keep all the money created by raising fees and reduce the grant it pays to them and the other is to increase the cots of borrowing to students.

UUK warns members off signing up to visa sponsor scheme.  THE, 29 April 2010.

Universities are unhappy about the new visa rules applying to overseas students.  They see the rules as transferring responsibility for immigration from the UK Border Agency to themselves. Universities UK (UUK) has warned its members not to become a “highly trusted sponsor” in a system which it sees as ill thought out and lacking consultation.   Under the scheme universities will have to show that less than 3 per cent of their overseas students fail their course.  The Government says that the scheme is an important part of its attempt to stop illegal immigration.

Political hustings on campus prohibited during purdah.  THE, 29 April 2010.

Salford University has banned pre-election debates on campus on the grounds that it would risk breaking a law which says that all candidates must be treated equally.  This, according to the university means that if you invite one candidate to a debate you must invite all of them.   Included in the same story under the headline Variations on a Theme is a table showing what each party is proposing in its manifesto.   

See also Trust  us, we’re on your side”, which is an article discussing the manifestos of the three major political parties.

Base teaching on lessons of the Bible, business schools are told.  THE, 29 April 2010.

David Muskett, head of under-graduate programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University, has said that business education should be based on Christian principles and strive to achieve holiness.   He voiced is opinions in response to what he sees as the greed of bankers who created the global crisis.

The historical present.  THE, 29 April 2010.

A major feature in this week’s THE, is that of the place of history in our culture. History is split between the populist approach as witnessed by historical dramas and the various societies that re-enact historical events, and the academic approach found in universities.  Now history, as a subject, is under pressure to show its worth to the gross national product.  Richard Overy, professor of history at the University of Exeter, argues that the discipline should not need to demonstrate a role in public policy. Professor Overy is also concerned that history may well develop into heritage studies which he says will not create a climate for the critical thinking that currently exists in academic history.

See also: Leader, Historical lessons are priceless” and Remember the Alamo, and Algeria, too” where Robert Zaretsky, professor of history at the Honors College of the University of Houston, uses the French and Texan experiences as a way of explaining how history is often turned to suit ideological ends.

Putting the world back in working order.  THE, 29 April 2010.

The lack in popularity of the subjects known collectively as STEM subjects, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, may well be because most teenagers see (for example) mathematics as too difficult and engineering as dull.  J.D. Turner, pro vice chancellor at the University of Portsmouth, looks back at the 70s when the Apollo space programme was under way, Concorde was being test flown at Fairford and we were promised 200mph tilting trains.  He also points to the excitement of seeing a nuclear reactor for the first time and the promise of unlimited energy in the future.  Sadly, he says, all this changed when Mrs Thatcher came to power and the long decline of British engineering began.   He also expresses frustration at the medias lack of interest in engineering .  Adding to the woes is the way that engineering is taught at university with the Engineering Council stifling curriculum innovation.  He argues for a fundamental revision of how engineering is taught at degree level.   Five themes could be used to generate interest in teenagers, namely society’s need for sustainable supplies of energy, water, food and healthcare, the need for security, the trend to towards globalisation, the trend towards mass customisation and the changing nature of society itself.

The other features in the week’s  THE is "Failure to launch”, in which David J. Gunkel mourns the loss of his dreams of jetpacks and lunar adventure.

Cuts could undo ‘work of last 13 years’.  TES, FE Focus, 30 April 2010.

Both the University and College Union (UCU) and the Association of Colleges (AoC) have warned that impending cuts in FE budgets will lead to redundancies.   Both say that this is already happening and give Manchester College, planning to lose 250 staff, Tresham Colleges, 150 staff and Northumberland College who plan to cut 68 jobs as examles.  In a survey by Unison it was discovered that 70 per cent of colleges plan to sack staff.

See also Editorial "Leaner and fitter, but at what cost?"

 Lack of jobs blamed for bad behaviour. TES, FE Focus, 30 April 2010.

A lack of jobs is being blamed for the bad behaviour of some students.  As it gets more difficult for young people to get jobs vocational courses can lose their relevance.   Dr Wallace of Nottingham Trent University, using research conducted at three Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire colleges, says that many young people do not believe that their education will lead them into employment.  Furthermore, reducing budgets and increasing class sizes leads to less individual attention which exacerbates the situation.

 Meet the champions of FE who want your vote on May 6. TES, FE Focus, 30 April 2010.

The article reports on three interviews  with Conservative Neil Carmichael, Labour Nic Duncan and Liberal Democrat Ros Kayes.  The paper discusses the background of the three candidates and their vision for the future of further education.

Vote for learners, not quangos and red tape. TES, FE Focus, 30 April 2010.

Comment, Jane Scott, chief executive, Association of Accounting Technicians.

Jane believes that successive governments have wasted far too much money on quangos and that currently further wastage is to be found in ineffective free courses and unconvincing new frameworks.  She argues for much simpler administrative arrangmenets for skills training.