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Welfare Reform on the Web (March 2012): Education - UK - higher

British students going Dutch to avoid debt

I. Traynor

The Guardian, Feb. 10th 2012, p. 3

English students were discovering the possibilities of swapping university life at home for a quite difference experience on the continent - without the inconvenience of having to speak a foreign language. As of February 2012, 255 Britons had applied for places at Maastricht University in Holland, two-and-a-half times the comparable figure a year earlier. Four years earlier there were 18 British students in Maastricht. The figure is 163 in 2012 and that could double. Money was a factor: swingeing tuition fees were thought to be behind a 8,500 drop in the number of 18-year-olds applying for university places in England in 2012, according to recent figures.

Choice cut: how choice has declined in higher education

R. Roberts and others

University and College Union, 2012

The number of full-time undergraduate courses on offer at UK universities has fallen by more than a quarter (27%) since 2006, according to this report. Despite an increase in student numbers, this report reveals the number of undergraduate courses available has decreased from 70,052 in 2006 to 51,116 in 2012. The report analysed data from the universities admission service, UCAS, to determine which areas of the UK have been hit hardest in course reduction, with large disparities emerging between regions and each of the home nations.


'Fine universities for failing the poor'

G. Paton and T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Feb. 3rd 2012, p. 2

Prof. Les Ebdon, nominated as the coalition's preferred choice as head of the Office for Fair Access, said he would impose huge financial penalties on universities which failed to recruit enough students from poor backgrounds. His comments were likely to provoke anger among Conservative MPs.

No 10 powerless in college tsar row

T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Feb. 14th 2012, p. 2

The Prime Minister admitted that he was powerless to prevent the appointment of controversial academic Prof. Les Ebdon as head of the Office for Fair Access. Prof. Ebdon was nominated for the post by the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable, but his appointment was opposed by leading Conservatives. Prof. Ebdon was an outspoken critic of the Coalition Government's universities policy and of slow progress in widening the social mix of students at elite institutions.

(See also Daily Telegraph, Feb. 8th 2012, p. 2; Daily Telegraph, Feb. 9th 2012, p. 1 + 2; Daily Telegraph, Feb. 13th 2012, p. 2; Daily Telegraph, Feb. 15th 2012, p. 1 + 2)

Penalty for paying off student loan early is lifted

R. Winnett and T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Feb. 16th 2012, p. 1 + 2

The business secretary Vince Cable had planned to introduce a surcharge for graduates who repaid their student loans within 30 years of leaving university. A graduate repaying a 40,000 loan could have had to pay a penalty of 2,000. The scheme was dropped after the Prime Minister agreed to allow Mr Cable to appoint the controversial academic Prof. Les Ebdon as university admissions tsar.

(See also Daily Telegraph, Feb. 17th 2012, p. 12)

Pre-appointment hearing: appointment of the Director of the Office for Fair Access

Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

London: TSO, 2012 (House of Commons papers, session 2010/12; HC 1811) All higher education institutions which intend to charge more than the basic 6000 annual graduate contribution have to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the independent Director what more they will do to attract students from under-represented and disadvantaged groups. The Government's White Paper on Higher Education Reform, Students at the Heart of the System, announced proposals to strengthen both the powers of the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) and the role of the independent Director, so that it could 'provide more active and energetic challenge and support to universities and colleges'. The preferred candidate for the post was Prof. Les Ebdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire. While he demonstrated an all-round understanding of widening participation, the Committee was not convinced by Professor Ebdon's descriptions of the root causes of the obstacles to accessing universities. Therefore, it had to question his evidence in respect of two of the criteria for selection, namely 'promote the strengths of the arguments in face of opposition' and 'communicate persuasively and publicly, with excellent presentational stills'. It was therefore unable to endorse the appointment of Professor Ebdon as the Director of OFFA and recommended that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills conducted a new recruitment exercise.

Private pupils 25pc more likely to win Oxford place

O. Goldhill

Daily Telegraph, Feb 6th 2012, p. 12-13

Despite government pressure on universities to become more diverse, it emerged that well-qualified candidates from fee-paying schools had around a 25% better chance than those from state schools of winning a place at Oxford University in 2011. It also emerged that Black and Asian pupils with good grades had a significantly lower acceptance rate than their White counterparts. The disclosure came amid continuing criticism of admissions systems at elite universities.

Report on student access could fuel social engineering

P. Wintour

The Guardian, Feb. 17th 2012, p. 2

Growing Conservative anger over the way in which universities may be asked to play a role in promoting social mobility is likely to be reignited by proposals due shortly from Alan Milburn. The former Labour cabinet minister is now the independent reviewer of social mobility and child poverty for the coalition government. Milburn is due to publish three reports in the next few months, including one focused on the role of higher education, and specifically the extent to which admissions policies should take greater account of applicants' backgrounds. Milburn has been a strong advocate of universities looking not just at an applicant's prior attainment, in terms of raw exam results, but also the context in which the pupil achieved those results, including the average grade at the school.

Solving the maths problem: international perspectives on mathematics education

E. Norris

London: Royal Society of Arts, 2012

This report warns that universities are marginalising mathematical content in the delivery of degree courses because English students are not capable of studying it. For instance, in the social sciences, quantitative research methods may be neglected. English universities are also not keeping pace with international standards. It is common among universities overseas to require advanced mathematical qualifications for acceptance on relevant degree courses. The failure to develop quantitative skills and content adequately has the potential to damage the standing of some English degree courses among international students and to disadvantage English graduates in the global marketplace. The report recommends creating a two-stage maths qualification at GCSE level: one for more advanced students and the other promoting practical numeracy skills. It also says that the government should consider making maths compulsory up to the age of 18.

Student day of action called over fees 'con'

S. Malik

The Guardian, Feb 13th 2012, p. 12

The National Union of Students was planning a countrywide campus walkout to fight government reforms to higher education, which its president described as a 'con'. A circular sent to NUS members said the national walkout would be part of a week of action 'to demonstrate to vice-chancellors and principals that students will not stand by and let the coalition government press ahead with its destructive policies to sell off and privatise our universities and colleges'.

Teenagers from richer families shun university after fees rise

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Jan. 31st 2012, p. 8

The number of British students applying to start university in 2012 fell by about 9% compared to 2011 following the rise in tuition fees to up to 9,000 per year. Applications from students living in the richest 20% of areas, who were not eligible for any of the grants and fee-waivers offered to insulate poorer candidates from the fees increase, fell more significantly than those in poor postcodes. Three quarters of elite universities saw a drop in demand, while applications to many cheaper colleges and private universities increased.

Universities 'going backwards' as degree courses scrapped

G. Paton

Daily Telegraph, Feb. 23rd 2012, p. 6

Growing numbers of universities were dropping standalone courses in subjects such as science, foreign languages and the humanities because of a squeeze on budgets. They prioritised profitable courses with large numbers of applicants instead of traditional disciplines. Overall, the number of full-time undergraduate courses in Britain fell by 27% between 2006 and 2012. In England, in the face of the biggest rise in tuition fees, the number of degree subjects fell by almost a third. In Scotland, where tuition was free, courses were down by just 3%.

Universities set to lose 5.6bn as overseas applications plummet

R. Garner

The Independent, Feb. 3rd 2012, p. 2

The article reports on the combined effects of higher tuition fees, stricter visa regulations, and cases of violence on the power of UK HE institutions to attract foreign students. There has been a 9.9% drop in applications to study at UK universities in 2012. Many EU students are being deterred by the higher fees, whilst overseas students are finding new visa regulations cumbersome.

University policies are damaging the economy

R. Mason and J. Kirkup

Daily Telegraph, Feb. 20th 2012, p. 1 + 2

In an escalation of the Coalition government internal row over admissions, a group of senior Conservatives said that Liberal Democrat-driven plans to make universities take account of applicants' backgrounds were tantamount to social engineering. The MPs demanded a major overhaul of the admission rules, including the abolition of the Ucas points system used to score the value of A-levels and other qualifications. They also called for changes in the way that state schools prepared children for university application, and suggested a new scheme for using state funding to send bright children from poor homes to independent schools.

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