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Welfare Reform on the Web (September 2011): Education - UK - higher

Aligning higher education with the world of work

R. Hayler

Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning, vol. 1, 2011, p. 95-105

The purpose of this paper is to examine UK higher level skills gaps. UK universities now have many students who were already learning at a higher level about, for, or through, their activities at work, and have decided to formalise this via a higher education (HE) programme; for these students learning mostly takes place away from the university and is sometimes categorised as ‘work-based’. Due to the increasingly flexible and hybrid profile of all contemporary students it is more realistic to align those undertaking work-based study with those choosing more traditional study routes, as all students need to enhance their workplace and life skills in order to better fit them for employment and life after university. There are blurred, not solid, boundaries between the differing kinds of students and between working and studying, and it is useful and productive to acknowledge this continuum. Employers cite the crucial nature of employability and subject-based skills and the need for employees who understand how to learn, and furthermore how to build upon and maximise the usefulness of what they learn by making connections and solving problems. The paper shows how HE is shifting, due to demographics, an evolving world picture and a tough economic climate. Technological advances intensify globalisation causing rapid changes and greater competition for jobs and resources. The pressure on HE graduates is greater than ever before. The Government states that individuals require skills with a high economic value and to be prepared to undertake jobs in industries which do not exist yet; they must be changeable and adaptable to meet the challenges of the jobs market and willing to continuously develop themselves.

Best universities will lose thousands of places, Labour says

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 24th 2011, p. 12

From 2012, English universities can charge up to £9,000 in tuition fees, but to minimise the student loans bill, ministers are determined to ensure that most institutions charge less. Therefore 20,000 places are to be removed from all universities before being auctioned off to institutions that charge the lowest tuition fees. An analysis shows that elite universities charging the highest fees face losing up to 2,300 places.

(See also Independent, Aug. 24th 2011, p. 14)

Bringing about positive change in the higher education student experience: a case study

S. Brown

Quality Assurance in Education, vol. 19, 2011, p. 195-207

The purpose of this article is to outline the ways in which staff of a post-1992 UK university set about enhancing the student experience, at a time when the institution had poor student evaluations as demonstrated by the UK National Student Survey (NSS) and other indicators. Using a range of interventions led by the PVC (Academic), a concerted effort was made to improve classroom teaching, assessment and feedback, and the ways in which actions taken in response to student feedback were reported back. The article reviews some of the literature available on the NSS and on bringing about changes in universities, and demonstrates how such approaches were put in place. Over a period of 18 months, it was possible to report significant changes in practice, resulting in demonstrable improvements, both in NSS scores and staff morale. The article uses a reportage approach, describing the steps taken as part of an evidence-informed approach: potential future work will be undertaken by a new team, following a wide-ranging restructuring of the university.

Building the capacity of higher education to deliver programmes of work-based learning

D. Major, D. Meakin, and D. Perrin

Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning, vol. 1, 2011, p. 118-127

The purpose of this paper is to inform colleagues working in the field of work-based learning (WBL) about the development of a Post Graduate Certificate in Work Based Learning Facilitation at the University of Chester. The approach is to describe and comment on the Post Graduate Certificate and to provide comment on the context within which it originated and the rationale for it. This is a model for others to consider and an offer to assist others who may be interested in building their capacity to deliver programmes of WBL.

Degrees of quality: how to deliver the courses we need at prices we can afford

G. Wyness

Centre Forum, 2011

This report suggests that universities should be divided into two groups, comprised of those which focused on teaching and research and those which focused mainly on teaching. The highly prestigious research universities would be able to award degrees and design courses which other ‘regular’ universities would then teach. Research institutions would make up about a third of English universities. It is argued that such a structure would improve the quality of higher education, cut costs and allow students to compare courses offered by different institutions. This system would remove the incentive for universities to charge high fees as a signal that they were providing a top class education.

Four students competing for each university place, says UCAS

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Aug. 23rd 2011, p. 11

Up to four students were competing for each place to start university in Autumn 2011, official statistics showed. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said that as of midnight on August 22nd, 189,267 applicants had not found a place and were eligible to be in clearing. Clearing is where students who fail to meet their university offers are matched with vacant courses. In 2010, 47,000 applicants secured places in clearing. David Willetts, the universities minister, has said this could fall to 40,000 in 2011. However, Ucas estimated that half of all students eligible to be in clearing might not have good enough grades to win any place.

(See also The Independent, Aug. 23rd, p. 12)

Fees rise will lead to drop in students

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 5th 2011, p. 2

According to research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, more than half of universities were expecting student numbers to fall in 2012 due to the planned rise in undergraduate tuition fees. The fall in the number of students was regarded as a key risk to the long-term financial health of universities. The research showed that universities were planning to recruit more foreign students to plug the hole in their budgets. A separate survey by YouGov suggested that more than a third of prospective students no longer believed that a degree was worth the money.

Freshers face £60,000 debt, survey finds

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Aug. 12th 2011, p. 17

Students starting university in England in 2012, after the introduction of higher tuition fees, should expect to finish their degree with debts approaching £60,000, according to a survey. The independent student guide Push asked 2,808 students at 115 UK universities how much they owed banks and their parents, and the amount they had borrowed in student loans. Projections of future debt levels were made by taking into account increased tuition fees. Students then at university were racking up an average debt of £5,681 a year, the survey found. In England the average debt was £5,876; in Wales £6,231; Northern Ireland £4,319 and Scotland £2,025. Those who started studying in 2008 were expected to graduate with £22,000 of debt. That figure was expected to rise to £24,100 for those who started courses in 2010 and shoot up to £26,100 for those enrolling in 2011, the poll found. But freshers beginning their degrees in 2012 face the steepest increase in debt, to an average of £53,400.

Give priority to pupils with tough A-levels, says minister

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 18th 2011, p. 1 + 2

Higher education minister David Willetts has argued that pupils taking traditional A-levels such as maths, science and foreign languages should be given priority for university places. He said that ‘soft’ subjects such as dance and media studies were valuable to pupils who wanted to specialise in those areas, but were not core academic disciplines. However, work-based apprenticeships should be given formal recognition, allowing them to act as a direct route to university.

Half of universities predict student numbers will fall

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Aug. 5th 2011, p. 18

More than half of England's universities expected to be teaching fewer undergraduates in 2012 when tuition fees rose to up to £9,000 per year, a report revealed. The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which distributes money to universities on behalf of the government, requested institutions' financial forecasts. Its analysis showed 56 universities were anticipating a drop in the number of full-time undergraduates they would take from the UK or the European Union in 2012. On average, universities expected a 2% fall, but one institution predicted a 20% drop and five others foresaw decreases of more than 10%. Just under a quarter – 24% – expected an increase and a fifth anticipated no change.

Higher education: students at the heart of the system; an analysis of the higher education White Paper

J. Thompson and B. Bekhradnia

Higher Education Policy Institute, 2011

This report analyses the Government's White Paper on the future of higher education. It concludes that the Government's policies will succeed in their most important aim: that of reducing the level of tuition fees. However, the price will be much greater government control over universities than in the past, and a system where market mechanisms have had to be sacrificed to central direction. The reforms are also likely to lead to a polarized sector with a small number of institutions charging the maximum fee of £9000 and the majority reducing their fees to around £7500. The report concludes further that there are serious doubts about whether the new funding arrangements will lead to savings on the scale predicted by the government.

Leading universities bar students who resit A-Levels from top courses

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug.16th 2011, p.1

As applications for places on undergraduate degree courses hit a record high in 2011, a growing number of universities penalised students who boosted their marks by re-sitting A-level examinations. Leading institutions said that applicants who had retaken an entire A-Level would be banned from consideration for the most sought after degrees, such as law and medicine.

London council to pay tuition fees of poorest teenagers

J. Shepherd

The Guardian, Aug. 17th 2011, p. 12

A London council promised to pay the university tuition fees of some of its poorest teenagers in what was the first scheme of its kind in the country. Southwark Council in south London said the cost of going to university was now so high, it was a "significant deterrent" to pupils and parents in the area. It called on local school-leavers whose family income was £21,000 or less, and who had top grades and a history of voluntary work, to apply to have their fees paid from its scholarship fund. The council put £50,000 into the fund for students starting university in 2011, double that amount for the following year and £150,000 for the year after.

More students seek firms to fund university courses

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, Aug. 16th 2011, p. 12

Thousands of school-leavers applied for new corporate-sponsored degree courses or apprenticeship schemes that offer a direct route into a graduate level job, amid intense competition for places at university in 2011. When A-level results were published more than 200,000 applicants who failed to get their grades chased a predicted 46,000 places in clearing. But ahead of the 2012 rise in university fees, an array of corporate schemes proved increasingly popular. A new KPMG programme aimed at school-leavers – in which the firm paid fees for sponsored students at Durham or Exeter University – has had more than 1,000 applications for 100 places.

Muslims: tuition fee system is discriminatory

P. McPherson

The Independent, Aug. 22nd 2011, p. 11

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has said that the many young Muslims might be deterred from attending university with the coming into force of the new fees and loans regime in 2012. They argued that because of Islamic law, which forbids loans where interest is accrued, many potential students might be deterred from applying. FOSIS saw this as potentially discriminatory. They tried to find a solution to the problem by working with the National Union of Students (NUS). The latter, however, said it might be two years before an appropriate solution is found.

One in ten students ‘not happy’ with degree

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 17th 2011, p. 10

The annual survey of more than 250,000 students published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England shows that almost 10% of final year undergraduates thought that their courses were not good enough, despite claims that rising fees would led to improvements. Students were most likely to criticise the level of assessment and feedback, the amount of academic support and overall organisation of courses.

Scotland's university fees 'discriminatory', says lawyer

A. Hill

The Guardian, Aug. 18th 2011, p. 14

Scotland was breaking the law by charging students from elsewhere in the UK for university degrees while undergraduates from Scotland and the EU get their education free, according to a leading human rights lawyer. in 2011 students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland were charged between £1,820 and £2,895 per year to study for a Scottish university degree – a sum that could increase to up to £9,000 from 2012. But under EU rules, students coming to Scotland from other European countries could not be charged tuition fees because they had to be treated in the same way as Scottish students. If fees go up to £9,000, then the 22,500 UK undergraduates studying in Scotland would pay a total of £36,000 more than Scottish students and those from the EU.

(See also The Independent, Aug. 22nd, p. 11)

Small colleges to be universities

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 4th 2011, p. 10

The government is proposing to allow small specialist colleges with as few as 1,000 students to call themselves universities as part of plans to create more diversity and competition in English higher education. Higher education colleges must at present attract at least 4,000 full time students, at least 3,000 of whom must take degree courses, to use the title. There are fears that a further expansion in the number of universities risks devaluing the status of British higher education.

Top flight universities may form their own Ivy League to lure best students

G. Hurst

The Times, August 1st 2011, p. 6

Elite universities were under pressure to form a new ‘premier league’ to reflect those who would attract the brightest students under higher education reforms. There was a feeling that the Russell Group of 20 leading institutions no longer represented Britain’s most prestigious universities and should grow to include new members. Both Durham and Exeter already ranked higher than most Russell Group members and were expected to seek invitations to join the Group. However some feared that expansion might prompt a handful of elite institutions to form a breakaway group focused around the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College, London.

Tuition fee loans ‘unlikely to be repaid’


Daily Telegraph, Aug. 8th 2011, p. 6

According to, there will be little difference in the amount of money many students will repay if their undergraduate course fees are £9,000 per year instead of £6,000. Even those who start work on salaries of £30,000 are unlikely to have paid off their tuition fee loans in full after 30 years, when the debt is written off.

Universities may ‘buy’ top A-level students with offer of lower fees

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, Aug. 1st 2011, p. 9

The highest performing A-level candidates could be tempted with cut-price deals on tuition fees from 2012, Sir Steve Smith, president of the vice-chancellors umbrella group Universities UK, has said. The announcement came as some English universities faced increased pressure to maintain student numbers.

(See also The Independent, August 1st 2011, p.1 and August 18th, p. 5)

Universities open door to foreigners

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 17th 2011, p. 2

In the 2011 rush for university places, it emerged that some institutions were continuing to accept applications from international students, while declaring themselves ‘full’ to those from Britain. Research suggested that they were taking advantage of rules that strictly limited the number of state-funded British and European students while giving complete freedom to recruit foreign students, who could be charged higher tuition fees.

Virtualization and new geographies of knowledge in higher education: possibilities for the transformation of knowledge, pedagogic relations and learner identities

C. A. Taylor and M. Dunne

British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 32, 2011, p. 623-641

This article considers some of the ways in which the transformative power of Web 2.0 digital technology is reconfiguring learning, knowledge and academic identities in the contemporary university. Through a focus on five specific examples, it considers the impact of virtualization processes on spatiality, materiality and embodiment, and pedagogic relations. It argues for the benefits of taking a microsociological approach in order to reflect on the potential of virtualization to bring about new geographies of knowledge production and as a means to identify the ways in which potential transformations are uneven, problematic and contested.

When GCSEs are as good as a degree

J. Kirkup

Daily Telegraph, Aug. 25th 2011, p. 14

Comparing employment data for 1993 and 2010, a study by the Office for National Statistics has found that the financial advantages of a degree have fallen as the number of graduates has risen. By the end of 2010, 20% of graduates had salaries below £20,800, the median pay for those educated to A-Level standard. Additionally, 15% of graduate workers earned less than the median wage of someone who left school with GCSEs, which was around £18,000 in 2010. The article goes on to consider the implications of the declining value of a degree for the Coalition government’s higher education policy.

Willetts lobbied universities on behalf of rejected students

J. Vasagar

The Guardian, Aug. 25th 2011, p. 11

David Willetts, the universities minister, has lobbied the vice-chancellors of three universities on behalf of candidates who failed to do well enough to secure a place, the Guardian has learned. In two cases the candidates were constituents of the minister, who was MP for Havant in Hampshire. In a third, the candidate did not live in the constituency but attended a local sixth-form college. The minister's personal intervention came amid an unprecedented squeeze on university places, due to a record demand and a cap on government-funded degree courses at English universities.

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