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Thur 11 Aug: First or Fail – Newcastle College Group & New College Durham and Carol Vorderman August 11, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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First or Fail: Newcastle College Group & New College Durham and Carol Vorderman

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/aug/11/newcastle-durham-college-carol-vorderman

Carol Vorderman

Could this be Carol Vorderman’s first Fail? Vorderman’s new maths taskforce has launched to little fanfare and some criticism. Photograph: Karla Cote/PA

Aaron Porter gives his verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a First… Newcastle College Group and New College Durham

Both the Newcastle College Group (NCG) and New College Durham got the thumbs up from the Quality Assurance Agency this week to start awarding their own foundation degrees, which is just a step away from full taught degree awarding powers.

In an environment where increasingly discerning prospective students will be pickier than ever before, particularly toward the bulk of institutions that have raced to £9,000 per year, more competition at the lower end of the price spectrum will be welcomed by many students, and, of course, the treasury. Students now face greater competition for both the types of institution on offer, but also a broader range of prices. As for the treasury, it will desperately cling to the hope that new providers from the further education and private sectors will enter to offer degrees significantly below the current average price – otherwise the £1bn blackhole still looms ahead.

NCG’s higher education tuition fees are set at £5,800 from 2012, which is likely to look appealing compared with many institutions that have headed straight for £9,000. Of course, the idea that some students may now feel forced to choose their higher education institution by price may be exactly what the government intended all along, but surely the choice of what and where to study should be based on academic content and the student experience, not a price tag.

Heading for a Fail… Carol Vorderman

She is no longer the numbers whiz on Countdown, or the face of much-maligned debt consolidation company First Plus. In fact, this week Carol Vorderman’s taskforce on mathematics teaching, commissioned by the Conservatives, was greeted with little fanfare, and indeed criticism from some quarters. While other news this week understandably drowned most of the press coverage she may otherwise have anticipated, it was also a lack of credible solutions for improving maths standards in the UK.

Her main recommendations included the introduction of two new GCSEs; one to focus on basic numeracy, and a second to focus on more complex mathematics. She also wanted maths education to be compulsory through to age 18, and for higher education institutions to make greater demands on entry requirements for maths and other STEM subjects. While some in the maths community welcomed the report, those in other disciplines said it failed to make the case for why maths should be given precedence over literacy, IT skills or a language.

So far the recommendation to raise the age of compulsory maths education to 18 has been dismissed by education secretary Michael Gove, but the other recommendations are still under consideration.

Sadly, like so many other commissions, I suspect this will be another that is kicked deep into the long grass. At least if Vorderman were a contestant on Countdown, she’d have got a consolation goodie prize.

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