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Sector News, 27 September - 01 October 2010

Working-class revolution not reaching 'posh' universities. Education Guardian, 28 September 2010.

A survey of over 150 institutions by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) shows that eight of the ten universities with the lowest proportion of working class students are from the Russell Group of universities.  Oxford is bottom with just 11.5 per cent and Cambridge second with just 12.6 per cent of its intake from working class backgrounds.  The average working class intake across all universities is 32.3 per cent.

See also: "Does your social class decide if you go to university?” which gives the results of the survey.

Danger in careers service cutbacks.  Education Guardian, 28 September 2010.

Unions are worried that cuts to personal and career services will have an adverse affect on young people.  Unison believes that Connexions is an easy target; they argue that young people visit Connexions for help with social problems as well as career and course guidance.  Connexions is funded by local authorities who are facing swingeing cuts, in some cases as high as 40 or 50 per cent.  The Local Government Association favours targeting money by focussing careers services on disadvantaged children while ensuring better support for teachers and parents, who they say, are a child’s first point of call for advice.

 You have passed the test. However, there is still room for improvement.  THE, 30 September 2010.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) will publish this week proposals for a new system of institutional audit to be introduced in September 2011.  Inspectors will be expected to meet more students during their visits and have the option to talk to employers, external examiners and recent graduates.  This new system is seen as an attempt to answer the criticism that QAA has been concentrating too much on process and not enough on standards.   

“The new proposals would see universities judged on:

• Threshold academic standards. These would be defined as the standards required to be able to label a degree "bachelors" or "masters" but would not relate to degree classifications

• Quality of public information (from 2012). Review teams would look at how institutions keep this up to date and accurate

• Quality of students' "learning opportunities”.

• Enhancement of students' learning opportunities. This would cover steps the university is taking to improve teaching, support and learning resources.

See also: “It may have a great reputation - shame about the education” in which Graham Gibbs expands the thinking about universities depending on reputation rather than the quality of education and "Flawed indicators used to compare academic market", Rebecca Attwood.

Face of higher education to change for ever in 15 years. THE, 30 September 2010.


“Globalization and Internationalization in Higher Education”, is a new book edited by Felix Maringe, senior lecturer in education at the University of Southampton, and Nick Foskett, vice-chancellor of Keele University.  In the book they argue that globalisation will change the face of universities irrevocably by 2025.  Their thesis revolves around a continuing growth in student numbers and constraints on public funding, which they argue will lead to "an increasing marketisation of the global higher education system, with competition for growth a key characteristic". 

Fairer funding for part-time students essential.  THE, 30 September 2010.

Universities UK (UUK), says that there are high levels of regional variation in part-time study and argues that government leadership and funding incentives are needed to expand provision.  In a report published today, “The Supply of Part-Time Higher Education in the UK”,  UUK comment thatpart-time study is essential to widen access to higher education for low- income groups and meet the needs of employers by allowing people to develop their skills while working”.  They outline two options:

·         raising eligibility thresholds for fee and course grants for part-time students in line with any increase in tuition fees,

·         mirroring the support system for full-time students with loans for tuition fees - and possibly maintenance loans and grants.

Features in the week’s THE:

Sisters' winning formula”:  Amanda Goodall, research Fellow, University of Warwick, offers advice on how women can raise their research productivity and status in the academy.  See also Leader: “What’s sex got to do with it?”.

Pensions are safe if we don't stop working: Darrel Ince, professor of computing at the Open University, warns that whilst removing the pensionable age might seem like a good idea, it has its pitfalls.

Bonfire of the inanities”: Peter Lennox makes a plea for succinct language and an end to interminably long essays. Peter Lennox is senior lecturer and principal researcher in the Signal Processing Applications Research Group, University of Derby.

Has A* made the grade?  Results still too close to call.  TES, 01 October 2010.

A level A* grading was brought in to separate the exceptional from the merely very able.  Critics of the move have said from the start that the new grade will merely widen the gap between state and independent schools and that state school pupils will find themselves increasingly disadvantaged when applying to the top universities.  Whether this has happened is still open to question but, independent school do seem to have done better this year, in obtaining A* grades, than their state counterparts.  Cambridge, which have used A* more than any other university believe that in the long term the best will win out irrespective of background.  Oxford did not use A* in its application process and university representatives say that this has not affected the quantity or quality of applicants.  There are those who still believe that A* offers an advantage to independent schools and who are also of the opinion that the grade itself is often inconsistent, differing in standard betweens subjects.

See also "Commentary - Does 90% mean it was too easy?"

Quango bonfire could see agency up in smoke.  TES, FE Focus, 01 October 2010.

Rumours of the demise of the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) have been fuelled by a leaked paper listing the YPLA’s future as in doubt.  There is a split in government over the 16-19 funding body’s future.  Vince Cable and FE minister John Hayes appear to favour giving its funding role to the Skills Funding Agency.  There is even an option to merge higher education funding into a single post-19 body.  However, YPLA has a role in funding academies the numbers of which the government is keen to increase, this alone may be enough to save the agency from complete destruction.

OECD: consider levies to give UK vocational kick.  TES, FE Focus, 01 October 2010.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that the UK government should introduce compulsory training levies as a way of improving vocational education in England and Wales. 

The spending review. TES, FE Focus, 01 October 2010.

This weeks FE Focus is almost totally concerned with the impending cuts and their possible effects on post-16 education.

 “Adult colleges fire up staff and students to fight cuts.” In this article the paper reports on specialist adult education colleges who see their future in doubt when the spending review is published.  A number of post sixteen institutions are mobilizing students and staff to support a fight to ward of Treasury pressure for cuts of up to 40 per cent over four years.  

Class sizes will hit 27 if funds fall, warns UCU”.  The FE’s largest union the University and College Union (UCU) warns of growing class sizes when the cuts bite.

Sector reforms must clamp down on £1bn in unpaid fees, review chair urges”.  Chris Banks the former chairman of the Learning and Skills Council has said that in any review of FE budgets moves must be made to stop the loss of fees.  The loss Mr. Banks puts down to weak systems.

Accountants cry foul over cost of framework switch-over”, is another story about waste according to the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). AATsay that is has cost them £900,000 to switch to the new Qualification and Credit Framework for no benefit.

Beware MPs bearing ‘FE efficiency’”, is the papers editorial focusing on yet another year of FE funding re-organisation.