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Sector News, 28 June - 02 July 2010

Immigration cap and curb on overseas students threaten to divide cabinet.  Education Guardian, 28 June 2010.

Theresa May, the home secretary, is causing concern with her cabinet colleagues by insisting that foreign students will be part of plans to curb immigration.  The education secretary, Michael Gove, and the universities secretary, David Willetts, privately warned last week that too rigid an immigration cap could hit Britain's competitiveness and reputation among top overseas students.

£50m of funding provides glimmer of hope for colleges. Education Guardian, 29 June 2010.

The Government announced last week that it will give £50 million to a fund to help colleges who were stung by the LSC's mismanagement of building funds.  Whilst the grant is welcome, it is probably too little to make much of an impact on colleges who have lost millions of pounds developing building projects which they expected to complete.  Oaklands College in Hertfordshire has already invested £10 million.  £30 million has been allocated to about 150 colleges that have yet to benefit from the capital building scheme.  The colleges will be able to bid for £250,000 of renewal grant on the understanding that they will raise two thirds of the cost of their project themselves.

Young students flock to OU.  Education Guardian, 29 June 2010.

A quarter of new students enrolling with the Open University (OU) are aged between 17 and 25.  Whilst the OU has always had a diverse group of students it has been overwhelmingly adult.  Possibly significant in this change in OU enrolment is the amount of student debt incurred by those taking a more recognisable route to a degree.  In addition, the OU offers distance learning which uses new technology and the two combined allow young people to earn a living whilst studying.  The OU also tops up the funding it receives from the government in order to support those on lower incomes.

Pledge to fully fund 10,000 places falls by the wayside.  THE, 01 July 2010.

“In their manifesto the Conservative Party said that they would encourage early student loan repayment and use the money to create 10,000 places”.   However, the plan has had to be abandoned because of problems with the student loan company and because by the time of the election Labour’s plan was well under way.  Labour had promised to fund 20,000 places with funding of £250 million. The places were to be for three years providing that universities made efficiency savings.  Faced with the impossible task of unpicking a system that was already under way the Tories have agreed to continue with Labour’s funding system but only for one year and with a cut in financial support to £132 million.

A teaching qualification for all as new academy broom sweeps in.  THE, 01 July 2010.

Craig Mahoney is the new head of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).  He insists that every member of staff teaching in a UK university should be a qualified teacher.  Other points of note in Craig Mahoney’s interview with the THE are:

  • his concern that not all vice-chancellors are convinced about the value of the HEA,
  • that the HEA needs a more tangible set of objectives,
  •  a worry about  the loss of a third of its core funding by 2012-13,

  • pleased to see that David Willetts the universities minister wants to see an improvement in the student experience,

  • he finds it unfortunate that the NUS survey of students is given such a high profile in media reporting when he believes that there are better student surveys,

  • a belief that universities are serving student better than they did in the past,
  • a desire for HE to be at the forefront of international universities.

Is it plagiarism? Well, it is rather difficult to say.  THE, 01 July 2010.

It was reported at the Fourth International Plagiarism Conference at Northumbria University last week that given five plagiarised essays scholars showed a marked inconsistency in their views.  In an attempt to address the problem, academics in the US are attempting to draw up international definitions of plagiarism.  In the UK the recently-reported plans for a national tariff covering penalties for plagiarism will, it is hoped, be adopted internationally.

Bodleian pay a high price for the shift away from paper.  THE, 1 July 2010.

Printed editions are not needed as much they were, electronic access is slowly becoming the norm.  Unfortunately there can be knock on effects for libraries who have bulk subscription packages negotiated with publishers.  If the agreed threshold for cancellations is exceeded then the libraries are prone to penalties.  This has amounted to £400,000 for the Bodleian in Oxford.

 Show scholars how to tap the potential of digital research tools.  THE, 01 July 2010.

 Opinion: Richard Boulderstone, director of e-strategy at the British Library.

 Richard Boulderstone believes that whilst technology is widely used for social interaction , there is evidence that many researchers are not taking advantage of the tools available.   Libraries, Richard says, could aid academics with resource discovery by helping them to use cutting edge technology.  In his article Richard give some examples of what is on offer:  

  •  there could be more use made of social networking systems,

  •, provides online access to 65 government supported databases around the world, content that search engines do not normally uncover,
  •  there has been mass digitisation of 19th century newspapers,

  • the British Libraries forthcoming exhibition Growing Knowledge; the Evolution of Research, will be an exhibition which will showcase new digital tools.

The great unknown.  THE, 01 July 2010.

Graham Harper, the professor and chair of COLLAB, the global collaboration laboratory, has, for the past ten years, been attempting to discover what makes a university great.  He has considered the buildings, the history, the research being undertaken, leadership and above all else the local people.  Graham’s conclusion seems to be that great universities are those who create first class “knowledge habitats” (to use Graham Harper’s words).  Graham is convinced that we spend too much time looking at the accoutrements of higher education and too little time on the places where knowledge can advance.  Great universities do not owe their success to one item alone but at the heart of one is a belief that the academic values of free and open communication, academic freedom and working for the common good are values which universities cannot ignore.

See also Leader: “As one in search of excellence”.

 Other features in this week’s THE:

 “Things fall apart”, “Omar Malik discusses entropy’s effect on human organisations”.

Brussels cash comes at a terrible price” where Yorick Wilks, senior research scientist at Florida Institute of Human and Machine Cognition, warns that looking to Europe for cash can lead universities into a bureaucratic nightmare.

Less than 50% of academies ‘GCSE’ passes are academic subjects.  TES, 02 July 2010.

Academies use alternatives to GCSE twice as much as mainstream state schools. Btechs, OCR National, basic key and functional skills, NVQs and VRQs form a large part of the curriculum in many of the academies, fuelling fears that academic study is not being served well in these establishments.

Dons scramble to pour scorn on Gove’s shake-up.  TES, 02 July 2010.

Critics say that Michael Gove’s plans to shift teacher training from universities to schools will downgrade the status of teachers.  Academics have said that the education secretary’s description that teaching is a craft shows little or no understanding of what is required to become a good teacher.  There is confusion caused by  the secretary saying that he wishes to see masters and doctorate level qualifications which teacher trainers say is contradictory to learning on site.  Critics also point out that universities find it hard to get teacher training places in schools and that the Graduate Teacher Programme not only costs twice as much as a university trained teacher the take up of such opportunities is very low.

Clarke: put FE at the heart of prisons.  TES, FE Focus, 02 July 2010.

According to a report by the Social Exclusion Unit, prisoners who do not have education opportunities whilst serving their sentence are three times more likely to reoffend.   Ken Clarke has made the point that prison should not be a revolving door for prisoners to serve and then reoffend.  He wants education to become an important part of a prisoner’s life and has suggested that further education becomes an integral part of prison education.

Colleges and trainers fear unfavourable council bias.  TES, FE Focus, 02 July 2010.

A survey carried out by the Association of Colleges (AoC) and the Association of Learning Providers (ALP) has shown that many FE colleges fear bias in local authorities handling of post-sixteen funding.  Respondents expressed significant concerns over the expansion of sixth form places in schools, the protection of non viable sixth forms and deals on 14-19 academies which have taken place despite college objections. An ALP spokesperson said “The survey reflects a deep concern that independent learning providers are not understood by local authorities [..]”

Plea to overhaul basic skills training for the homeless.  TES, FE Focus, 02 July 2010.

St Mungo’s, a charity for the homeless, is asking for an overhauls of basic skills training and Welfare to Work programmes to help employment prospects for the homeless.  The charity comments that in 1983, 86 per cent of its clients had some form of work, usually casual. Today only 4 per cent are in employment despite 80 per cent of the homeless saying that they want to work.  Half of the homeless lack functional literacy and about 25 per cent of the 1,500 surveyed by the charity said that they wanted some form of vocational training.

Digital literacy ‘as vital as maths and English’.  TES, FE Focus, 02 July 2010.

Fears surrounding the Government’s decision to close Becta have forced training bodies to write to Michael Gove, education secretary, seeking reassurance on future investment in learning technologies.  A letter  sent by the National Association of Advisers for Computers in Education (Naace) has asked Mr Gove to confirm his Government’s continuing commitment to ICT in education.

Fighting fit: how the Army steps in where schools fall short.  TES, FE Focus, 02 July 2010.

The Army is Britain’s leading training provider and claims that 13,000 to 14,000 people leave them every year with high level skills thus providing a significant investment in UK plc.   During 2008 and 2009 Army personnel obtained nearly 8,000 qualifications ranging from level 2 to level 5, the forces as whole gaining nearly 18,000 qualifications.   Amongst issues with new trainees are, in some cases, a lack of basic skills and whilst many trainees can obtain 80 or 90 oper cent in a written examination their pracical skills are poor. The trainers are generally forces personnel who have undertaken training qualifications within the Army. It is an interesting thought that the Army might be seen as a combat unit but it could also be seen as a major provider of education.  As with the rest of the public sector, cuts are coming the Army’s way and understandably this is giving cause for concern.