Posts Tagged ‘universities’

Tuesday News Review

28/06/2011, 06:37:15 AM

University challenge

Universities could be handed over to private firms and run for profit under plans to be announced this week. The Government wants to let companies set up or take over existing colleges and offer student loans. The plans are included in Universities Minister David Willetts’s delayed universities white paper. But a report by the Government-funded Higher Education Funding Council for England warned businesses would be able to cherry-pick the most profitable courses. And it added there was no guarantee they would work to widen the participation of less-profitable students. Sally Hunt of the University and College Union said: “Millions of students face being ripped off by operators whose main interest is their own profits, not education.” – Daily Mirror

Ministers say their plans will sustain the country’s world class universities and improve higher education opportunities. They also argue the proposals – which are linked to those that will triple tuition fees to £9,000 pounds by 2012 – will increase social mobility. As part of the changes, universities will be forced to provide potential students with more information about their entry requirements, job prospects and the quality of teaching. Popular universities will be able to accept any student achieving at least two A grades and a B at A-level – in a move aimed at increasing access and helping the institutions grow. Universities and higher education colleges charging low fees could also be allowed to increase their numbers. It is hoped that would encourage the more expensive establishments to reduce what they charge. And the White Paper is also likely to contain measures to boost the powers of the regulator, the Office for Fair Access (Offa). The watchdog is tasked with ensuring universities do not price out poorer students with higher fees. But the University and College Union warned against reforms that would allow the expansion of private universities, which are not subject to the cap on numbers. – Sky News

Strike breakers

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has written to schools throughout England and Wales telling them they could be in breach of employment law and health and safety regulations if they keep schools open during the pensions-related dispute. The letter emerged as Downing Street yesterday backed plans for parents to staff classrooms during the walkout, with ministers appearing increasingly determined to face down militant trade unions. David Cameron will make a last-ditch direct appeal to public sector workers today not to go on strike on Thursday, insisting their current pension arrangements are “not fair to the taxpayer”. The Prime Minister will address the Local Government Association’s annual conference to warn council workers and teachers that the “situation is unsustainable” and that they must accept changes. Downing Street sources said that Mr Cameron would be “robust” but would attempt to set out a “fair argument” over why reform of pensions was essential. – Daily Telegraph

People support calls for a change in the law to ban strikes by public sector workers if there is a low turnout in strike ballots, according to a survey for The Independent. They also believe that trade unions will fail to win public sympathy if they carry out their threat to stage co-ordinated strikes in their battle over pensions. Unions vowed last night to press ahead with a strike by up to 750,000 public employees on Thursday, after talks with ministers ended without a last-minute breakthrough. The survey by ComRes found that, by a margin of 50 per cent to 32 per cent, people agreed that the Government should ban public sector strikes unless there has been a turnout of at least 50 per cent in the ballot to approve the industrial action. The finding will increase the pressure on ministers to bring in a legal minimum turnout – an idea favoured by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, the Confederation of British Industry and some Tory ministers and backbenchers. – the Independent

Fox brings top brass into line

Senior members of the military will lose their jobs if they allow costs to get out of control and fail to manage budgets, under radical reforms to the Ministry of Defence published on Monday. The heads of the army, Royal Navy and RAF will be held accountable as never before, and will also be responsible for making significant cuts to the numbers of officers in their ranks. All three services have become overladen with top brass, according to a report by Lord Levene, chairman of Lloyd’s of London. His proposals have been accepted wholesale by the coalition government, with the defence secretary, Liam Fox, saying the MoD had been bedevilled by poor management. In his 84-page report, Levene noted that inter-service rivalry had added to the problems and recommended the creation of a new joint forces command, headed by a high-ranked military commander, as one way of breaking down the barriers between them. In one startling admission, Levene said the MoD and military chiefs often showed a disregard for costs. “Finance and the need for affordability are not regarded as sufficiently important throughout the organisation,” he said, adding that service chiefs who failed to bring in projects on time and within budget should face the axe.” – the Guardian

What Mrs Bone wants, Mrs Bone gets

Conservative MP Peter Bone, claimed that his wife, Mrs Bone, had been singing the praises of the Prime Minister because the UK would not be involved in the Greek bail-out. He then sought assurances from Mr Cameron on behalf of Mrs Bone, that the UK would not be required to participate in a bail-out before 2013, saying that “she would be very happy if he could give her that undertaking”. Mr Cameron replied that he felt that a very big part of his life “was giving pleasure to Mrs Bone.” And added that on this occasion “he could only go so far”. In March, the Tory MP demanded David Cameron call for a referendum about whether the UK should remain in the EU, saying it would please, among others, Mrs Bone. – Daily Telegraph

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Intra-school rankings could improve social mobility

10/12/2010, 12:00:06 PM

by Nick Keehan

The first episode of Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders broadcast on BBC Two last week told the how in 1854 Charles Trevelyan introduced the practice of competitive examination for entry into the civil service. The reform was the first step towards a system in which government positions were filled based on merit, rather than being handed out to political allies or reserved for the younger sons of the aristocracy. “From the time this measure receives Royal assent”, a Times editorial in support of the reform proclaimed, “it will be the fault of the people if the public service does not become their birthright, according to the talent, education, and industry of each”.

Not that it was expected that all parts of the public service would become the birthright of all parts of the people. Competition was open to all, but it would still only be the “lower class of appointments”, those “small posts which might recompense the industry of the head boy in the village school”, and which would be “filled by just such an examination as the readiest and best-conducted lads in these schools would succeed in”, to which young people from the lower orders could realistically aspire. Those positions “of great importance and pecuniary value, demanding the attainments and worthy [of] the pursuit of the most educated Englishmen” would in all likelihood remain the preserve of the better off, in whom, it could be safely assumed, the highest levels of talent, education and industry resided.

Attitudes towards aspiration have changed greatly since then, of course. Social mobility is the ideal of all political parties. Nowadays, very few would maintain that talent and industry are the monopoly of the offspring of upper echelons of society. So how to explain the overwhelming predominance of young people from better-off families at elite institutions?

Take universities. On Tuesday David Lammy released some research he had conducted on Oxbridge admissions. While it contained interesting details and highlighted the extent of the problem, the research, for the most part, served to confirm what was generally well-know about our elite universities in general: that they are dominated by the upper and middle classes and that the poor are generally excluded.

Commenting on Lammy’s research, education secretary, Michael Gove, stated that the reason for the lack of poor people at Oxbridge was that “our schools system is not good enough”. This is only partly right. The problem is not the overall level of quality in our schools – after all there is no shortage of applicants with the necessary grades to get into Oxbridge – but with its distribution. Put simply: children from poor families do not get to go to the best schools. The better-off do not monopolise talent and industry, but they do tend to dominate when it comes to receiving the highest standards of education.

Can it be right, however, that the quality of education received should deny young people an opportunity that their ability and hard work would in other circumstances permit them to enjoy? If their standard of education prevents them from benefitting from that opportunity to the same extent as someone who has received a higher standard of education then, maybe, yes. Research, however, suggests that this is not the case.

A five-year research study, co-funded by the department for business, innovation and skills, the national foundation for educational research, the Sutton trust and the college board, found that comprehensive pupils outperform independent and grammar pupils in university degrees. For example, a comprehensive school student with three Bs at A-level is likely to perform as well at university as an independent or grammar school student with an A and two Bs, or two As and a B. At the same time, comprehensive school pupils also performed better than similarly qualified independent and grammar school pupils in degrees from the most academically selective universities and across all degree classes.

These results suggest that it would be worthwhile for university admissions departments to consider the educational backgrounds of applicants. This has always been an option for universities and many do consider educational background and other similar factors when deciding on applications. However, given the general failure of our elite universities to ensure a socio-economically diverse student population, government could also have an important role to play in supporting these efforts.

In 1999, Peter Wilby proposed a radical reform of university admissions: give every school an Oxbridge place. Basically, the top student at every sixth form or college would be offered a place at Oxford, Cambridge or another top university. Set out in the deliberately crude way that WIlby chose to explain it, the policy was never going to be politically tenable. But the principle was, and is, sound. With some minor changes and a bit of fine-tuning it could work.

An altered version of the policy could operate as follows: alongside the traditional A-level and GCSE grades, exam boards would publish a student’s position within the school based on those grades, either as a ranking, or as a percentile or some other fraction. Universities would be under no compulsion to consider the rankings when making admission decisions. A-level grades could still form the primary basis for university offers. The rankings would, however, be a useful and readily available source of information for admissions officers that would enable them to see how applicants fared in relation to those who achieved the same standard of education. It would be one of those nudges that David Cameron and Steve Hilton like to go on about. One that would enable universities to distinguish more easily between, in the words of Michael Gove, “rich, thick kids” and “poor, clever” ones.

It would not be a panacea. Improving the performance of schools catering for the worst off and ensuring that their pupils felt that going to a top university was something to aspire to would still be necessary goals. The details would need working out. But such a policy could be useful for Labour as it seeks to promote social mobility and equality of opportunity and to further test the Tory-Liberal government’s professed commitment to those ideals.

Nick Keehan works in Parliament.

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Students are paying the price of this arranged marriage

08/12/2010, 02:30:37 PM

by Andy Dodd

With tomorrow’s vote on university tuition fees seen as the first major test of the Tory-Lib Dem government’s arranged marriage, it is timely to consider exactly what the vote could, or should, mean for Labour.

To begin with, it is a perfect opportunity to expose the increasingly bizarre contortions of the Lib Dems, who cannot seem to make up their mind whether they are the government or the opposition. Many did not expect the coalition to run smoothly, but they did not anticipate that it would wobble so soon and so dramatically. Increasingly, the notion that Nick Clegg’s party could apply its manifesto as part of an alliance seems fanciful. Nobody cares about the soft touches round the edges when the grand design of the Conservative majority is so brutal.

As Lord Paddy Ashdown pointed out yesterday (BBC Radio 5 Live Drive, 6 December), Lib Dem MPs should be duty bound to vote for raising tuition fees. The policy was included in the coalition agreement which was unanimously agreed by all members of the Lib Dem parliamentary party. In agreeing to form the government, each knew very well that they would have to compromise on election manifesto pledges. And yet they made that deal.

So, please spare me the hand wringing of the Lib Dem minions who are learning the hard way that you cannot run the country by cherry picking. Spare us, too, the convoluted logic of a secretary of state who develops a policy that triggers mass demonstrations across the land and then admits that he may not even vote for it. This is a travesty of government. (more…)

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Moving the goalposts on higher education will leave scars on our society, says Aaron Porter

18/08/2010, 12:30:14 PM

As A-level results day approaches it is already clear that over 150,000 students with both the grades and the desire to study at university this year will be left without a place.

Crucially, this limit on places is not one of necessity; the restrictions on university places are being achieved through an entirely arbitrary cap on student numbers which is itself being enforced through the government’s threat to fine any university which ends up oversubscribed.

Michael Brown, vice-chancellor of Liverpool John Moores university said last week that the government fines for over recruitment mean that some universities will even have empty spaces despite turning qualified applicants away, with government fines preventing universities from accounting for inevitable drop-outs before the start of term by slightly oversubscribing courses at this stage.

This is both morally unacceptable and economically short-sighted. It is morally unacceptable that students who have worked in order to achieve grades that would normally be sufficient to study at university will – for reasons entirely out of their control – find that the goalposts have been drastically moved. These young people are being denied the opportunity to study at university, with all the intrinsic value that holds, together with the increased work and career opportunities that affords.


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