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Sector News, 30 March - 03 April 2009

Out of the ordinary.  Education Guardian, 31 March 2009.

A short article celebrating the power of lifelong learning to transform people’s lives.   The extracts are taken from “College Voices” by Janet Murray which is published by Lifelong Learning UK.  All the students discussed in this article would be classified as disadvantaged.  They range from a 23 year old male, brought up in Lozells, Birmingham who carried a knife for protection yet who is now studying to become a journalist, to the sad tale of a young accountancy student who died recently.


Cyber Campus – supplement.  Education Guardian, 31 March 2009.

This week’s supplement concerns IT in universities and colleges; there are as usual no links.  However, websites which may be useful are : http://www.susteit.org.uk/, (Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education); www.bloomsbury.ac.uk/ble,( APT-Stairs project); http://lutube.leeds.ac.uk/, (LUTube); www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/services/netskills.aspx (Jisc technology training). 

Technology storms the ivory tower”.  “Globalisation, demographics, technology, increasingly demanding student expectations and a new world in which high levels of knowledge and technology among workers are required for an increasingly competitive society” are given as the reasons for universities to change.  The traditional, historic model of a university based around academic disciplines is being challenged according to Mike Boxall, a consultant who specialises in education for PA Consulting.  However, whilst the electronic culture will have a great impact, face to face teaching is likely to remain important.

A sustainable future”.  Stephen Hoare argues that technology has the power to shape the future of higher education.  His article points to solutions such as thin client servers and grid computing along with success stories at the University of Sheffield (Information Commons) and Glasgow Caledonian’s Saltire Centre. The University and Colleges Information Systems Association (Ucisa) are investing an annual £1bn on IT systems (http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/).

The kit: counting out the costs”.  Ucisa and Hefce is looking at the costs of IT failure against a backdrop of rising hardware and software costs.  As the pound has lost value against foreign currencies, the knock on effect has been to increase the costs of computer technology.  Jeff Haywood, chief information officer at Edinburgh University says that he has seen costs rise by 30%. In addition, the costs of online virtual learning resources have also increased leading some to consider fee open source options, described as software developed altruistically by a wide group working together.

Responsibility begins with the ‘on’ switch”.  ICT is a major contributor to higher education’s carbon footprint and is responsible for 15 to 20% of the sector’s power consumption, according to Jisc.   The question is, what do institutions do to make their computing more environmentally friendly? At Liverpool University a piece of software designed by the university’s computer services, allows them to shut down computers when nobody is logged on.  This has saved the university around £140,000 in energy costs, a far cry from the days when computers were left on for 24 hours. Imperial College London has a liquid-cooled data centre which the university claims saves 2,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. In Musselburgh, the Queen Margaret University has exchanged PCs for a thin client network,  The university says its thin client network will last longer than the PCs and use nearly a fifth of the energy.

Teach the Teachers”.  Web based solutions are developing fast and leaving some teachers in their wake, whilst some of their students seem to have more understanding of the technology.  Students are using ICT tools and this is leading their teachers into getting involved.  Whilst tools such as “YouTube” and “Google Docs” are easy to learn, because they have been designed for public use, users do require an ability to decide which tool fits which purpose.   Some universities are embracing the new technologies, for example, the University of Leeds has its own version of YouTube - LUTube - and at Birbeck college Google Docs spreadsheets are used with mature students to collect and share data from lab experiments.  The message is that teachers need to ‘keep up’ with changes in IT and to this end a number of companies offer training to help staff keep pace.  (See the web links at the beginning of this article).

Common sense is the best defence”.  Students, particularly new students, pose a risk to university systems by being naive when they use networking systems.  The students regularly want to be everyone’s friend and share passwords and dates of birth on Facebook.  Whilst universities have firewalls, students are still very exposed.  It is important that the message about being cynical on the web is put across forcibly to students so that they realise that when an outsider has a password it can give them access to all sorts of information, bank account details for example.


An Ofqual, not QAA, is needed for standards.  THE, 02 April 2009.

Alan Ryan, warden of new College Oxford, told the commons select committee for Innovation, Science and Skills that the Council for National Academic Awards was far better than the current set up with QAA.  The QAA, said Alan, are more concerned with procedures than with standards and that it would do universities good to have to explain what they taught.


Half of sector to prioritise firms’ training needs.  THE, 02 April 2009.

“Funding chiefs want at least half of England’s universities to make industry workforce-training requirements a core strategic priority”, the THE reports.  HEFCE, who made the decision concerning workforce training in February, agreed targets of 5,000 to 20,000 employees to join higher education courses co-funded by their employers, this year. 


How is denying people a life-changing second chance in any way fair?  THE, 02 April 2009.

The director of lifelong learning for English at the University of Bristol, Tom Sperlinger, is critical of the Government’s policy of refusing students funding for equivalent or lower qualifications.  He argues that far from helping to raise participation at university the policy has disadvantaged those who need the opportunity most.  He further comments, that “Lifelong learning creates social equality and community.  Education, like sport, should not be available only to those who practise it professionally or to each person for a limited time”.


The knack and how to get it.  THE, 02 April 2009.

A major article in this weeks THE, looks at the experiences of a teacher of English with particular reference to reading and the gulf that can exist between teachers and those for whom reading is difficult.


A-level physics students being 'short-changed' at college. Daily Telegraph, 02 April 2009.

The Daily Telegraph’s report on the ‘dumbing-down’ of the GCSE and A level syllabuses (a report was highlighted in last weeks news, THE, 26 March).   Professor Gareth Jones, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College, London, is convinced that sixth-formers in England and Wales are less well prepared to study physics at university than their counterparts in Europe.


Moonies and Druids win place in RE.  TES, 03 April 2009.

A new religious studies GCSE is to be piloted by 50 schools from September.  Humanism, atheism and agnosticism will make up a major part of the OCR syllabus which will include study of druids, Rastafarianism and the Moonies.  Humanists, who have been fighting for years to have their beliefs studied as part of RE in schools, have hailed this as a triumph.


Double trouble for colleges as main funds cut and capped.  TES, FE Focus, 03 April 2009.

The 16 to 19 funds could be 2% lower next year leading to a cut of nearly £200,000 for an average college.  At the same time Train to Gain spending faces a possible cap.  Contracts for training could be reduced in-year by sums ranging from £500,000 to £1million to pay for over recruitment elsewhere.  It could mean some colleges are told to cut their Train to Gain programmes mid year.


Department defends using money for university grants.   TE, FE Focus, 03 April 2009.

DIUS has defended its use of Train to Gain money for university grants by arguing that FE has received more funding than anticipated.