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Sector News, 30 November - 05 December 2009

Science exams may be too easy.  The Times, 29 November 2009.

Mike Cresswell, director general of AQA, has expressed his anger to Ed Balls that two other exam boards — Edexcel and OCR — had marked GCSE papers more leniently than his own. He has complained that neither the Government nor the education sector has done enough to guarantee standards in examinations which he sees as becoming too easy.

The case of the missing students.  Education Guardian, 01 December 2009.

Earlier this year seven colleges were found to have ‘doctored’ their data in order to improve apparent success rates.  The ‘fall out’ from this is, that after further investigations, 70 other colleges are to be audited.  David Hughes, who is interim director of provider services at LSC, has said that he cannot confirm that success rates have been boosted by as much as 40 per cent.  However, he stresses that colleges have not acted illegally. Whilst the LSC has found colleges not acting within the spirit of the guidelines, David Hughes believes that the vast majority of colleges are not doing anything untoward.

Why private universities represent good value for money.   Education Guardian, 01 December 2009.

Postgraduate courses have been a lucrative source of income for UK universities.  It is estimated that foreign students undertaking these courses add £5.3bn per year to the British economy.  There has been a slow but steady drift to private universities over the years, a drift primarily based on cost.  Amity, an Indian university which opened for business in Bedford Square last year, is one of a number of foreign institutions who have got a foothold in the UK and who are in the process of undercutting the UK universities for the exact same qualification.

Mergers, acquisitions and privatisation: law firm’s vision of future.  THE, 03 December 2009.

A report by law firm Eversheds, commissioned by Universities UK, sees mergers between different sectors of education as characterising higher education in the future.  Glynne Stanfield, partner at Eversheds, says “It is not inconceivable to believe that in five years’ time [..] we may have global brands in education”. He also says “rather than being the delivering body, the university becomes the buyer of services”.  The mergers, Eversheds believes, will become super groups of schools, further education and universities.

‘Learning transformed me – I wanted to transform others’.  THE, 03 December 2009.

If not a rags to riches story, Mary Stuart’s story is certainly one about starting at the bottom, working hard and being ‘fired up’ by education and the opportunities it can bring. She moved to London after realising that she could not live with the apartheid regime in South Africa, and has moved from a homeless hostel, to council estate and eventually to vice chancellor of Lincoln University.  She tells how taking her Open University degree changed her life and how she wanted to help change other people’s lives.

Comparability the watchword for audit plans. THE, 03 December 2009.

A consultation document, “Future arrangements for quality assurance in England and Northern Ireland”, launched this week, calls for tougher inspections which compare quality standards between universities.  The document, drawn up with advice from QAA,  suggests a greater focus in institutional audits on plagiarism, mechanisms for ensuring high standards for international students, staff training and development, feedback on students' work, and information provided to potential students.

Major features in this week's THE:

“The French disconnection”.  “Bruno Cousin and Michèle Lamont say academics at France’s public universities need to re-think their strategy after the year’s protests alienated the public and had little impact on the Government”.

“Why not choose a happier subject?”. Sorcha Gunne and Zoë Brigley Thompson explain why they study rape.

“Poetry cornered”. Neil McBride looks at the future of an embattled art.

 Only 4% of young offenders study GCSEs and A-levels.  TES, 03 December 2009.

Out of the 12,115 15 to 21 year olds put in prison during 2007/08, only 439 were enrolled onto GCSE or A level courses.  Because young adult prisoners are moved around from prison to prison, there is no continuity which makes it hard for young offenders to study GCSEs or A level.

Second chance for condemned campus.  TES, FE Focus, 03 December 2009.

Brooklands, the Ashford campus in Surrey, was reported earlier in the year that it might close after it had run up an £11m debt preparing a bid to LSC for new buildings.  Miscalculation by the LSC left the college with no money for building or to pay for the process of bidding.  The new principal will look again at what can be done abut the campus’ financial position and take part in talks with the LSC and the local authority.

Top colleges to be released from spending shackles.  TES, Fe Focus, 03 December 2009.

Those colleges which come in the top 15 per cent for outstanding provision will be given wide ranging freedoms with their budgets for adult learning.   “As well as coming under less audit scrutiny and having fewer inspections they will be encouraged to develop their own qualifications and will be free to determine their own level of borrowing”.   The powers will be granted by the new Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

Thousands yet to declare CPD with less than a month to go.  TES, FE Focus, 03 December 2009.

The Institute for Learning (Ifl) has said that some 116,000 people have now declared their continuing professional development.  However, there are 188,000 teachers and trainers eligible to register their mandatory 30 hours of professional development.  Originally the deadline for declarations was 31st August but, so many missed the deadline that it was extended to the end of December.

FE staff urged to learn from the Facebook age.  TES, FE Focus, 03 December 2009.

Sir David Melville, chairman of Lifelong Learning UK, has warned that FE staff risk falling behind their students in the use of new technology.  Technological developments have eroded the idea that staff in colleges were the keepers of knowledge which they then passed on to their students.  New developments have put students in a position where they are changing their methods of learning.

Adult education funding could be slashed by 10%.  TES, FE Focus, 03 December 2009.

The Skills Investment Strategy has already announced a 3 per cent cut in the national funding rate for colleges along with a further 3 per cent cut for Train to Gain.   However, the Association of Colleges (AoC) insists that the strategy hides further cuts which will affect adult education.  AoC estimates that adult education could be cut by up to 10 per cent next year.