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24 Nov – Times Higher Education – Listen to the heart November 28, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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Times Higher Education, 24 November 2011

Listen to the heart

Aaron Porter says that in a high-fees world, the sector must do more to involve an increasingly diverse student body in decision-making

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=418207&c=1

Listen to the heart

Credit: Elly Walton

Today, it seems, there is barely a consultation paper or university strategy that does not refer to the importance of “student engagement”. But for all the talk, how effectively does the academy engage with students? Has it merely become adept at paying lip service to the idea?

It is often observed that since the introduction of tuition fees, students increasingly have asked what they will get for their money. The Labour government’s response was to introduce numerous initiatives for student engagement, including student juries, a national forum and even a minister for students. The usefulness of each, however, was questionable – and all were axed by the coalition when it came to power.

The emphasis on student engagement has grown for other reasons, too. One imperative has been the move from an elite to a mass higher education system and the consequent need for universities to involve students other than full-time, 18-21-year-old undergraduates. This has led to an important shift in activity by the National Union of Students.

I know from my time as NUS president that its emphasis on student engagement – built on a sound evidence base – has played a considerable role in ensuring a credible and more mature student contribution to national debate. It has also supported students’ unions to do much the same at the institutional level.

When universities are asked how they engage with students, they are quick to point to committees with student representation, and to students’ unions that have been consulted in their decision-making.

But whether these structures genuinely reach beyond traditional full-time students is questionable. And for all the consultation that takes place, do students really have a greater influence than they did decades ago?

I am not convinced. There has undoubtedly been progress, but it has been too slow and too constrained. Far too many universities are still content to have a handful of students on their committees and a staff-student liaison meeting once a month.

Relying on committees does not cut the mustard. Often the students who attend these meetings have the time to do so because they do not need part-time jobs and don’t have caring responsibilities. How are part-time students or distance learners being involved? The overwhelming majority of student representatives are still drawn from a narrow pool.

Nationally, the same accusations can be made. The political parties and the higher education sector waxed lyrical about the importance of student engagement when the groundwork was being laid to increase tuition fees. But there was more than a whiff of double standards when formal student representation was left off the terms of reference for the Browne Review.

And while sector bodies such as the Quality Assurance Agency and the UK funding councils have made huge strides in recent years – many adding student members to their boards – the documents and reports they produce remain impenetrable to those who are not higher education policy experts.

Will the changes being introduced next autumn really lead to a more “student-focused” higher education system? The answer here is perhaps the most dispiriting. I do not believe for one second that the title of the higher education White Paper means what it says – unless you think that being at the “heart of the system” means giving students a bit more information (not provided by the government, of course, but left to others) while demanding a hugely increased financial contribution from them.

Universities must do more to open up their books and to involve students in decision-making and strategic planning. It is great to see that the University of Exeter has created a budget scrutiny committee jointly chaired by the university’s registrar and its Students’ Guild president. This committee will oversee where Exeter’s additional tuition-fee money will be spent. It actually grants real decision-making power to students, rather than giving them leave to offer views that may or may not be taken on board.

After all, the only way we can make the reformed system work – and truly place students at the heart of the system – is if universities and students’ unions work together. The responsibility lies at the door of both organisations to ensure that students’ diverse voices are heard. Excuses to ignore them are wearing thin.

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Guardian HE Network, Thu 13 Oct: First or Fail – Chuka Umunna & University of Wales October 16, 2011

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Chuka Umunna and the University of Wales: first or fail?

A fresh face on the Labour front bench makes a good impression – but it’s more bad news in Wales, says Aaron Porter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/oct/13/chuka-umunna-university-of-wales

Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna, who has replaced John Denham as the shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, has enjoyed a meteoric rise, says Aaron Porter. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

Heading for a First… Chuka Umunna

Almost as soon as conference season was over, Ed Miliband wasted no time in shuffling his pack, bringing some fresh faces to the Labour front bench. Perhaps the most meteoric rise was granted to the impressive Chuka Umunna, part of the 2010 intake and MP for Streatham, who replaced John Denham as the shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills. Given that jobs and economic growth are going to be vital between now and the next general election, this is a sizeable job to give to a relative novice. But Umunna has received notable plaudits both inside and out of the Labour party since his selection as the candidate to fight for Streatham in March 2008, and should provide added energy and vigour as Labour look to step up the competition with the coalition government.

While most of the political interest in his department will inevitably concentrate on economic growth and job creation, the role of higher education, also in his department, should not be overlooked. The OECD evidence is compelling; where there is state investment in a strong higher education system this more than pays itself back through growth, innovation and job creation. Given the absence of any obvious growth strategy from the coalition, Umunna would do well to look to the universities section of his shadow department when preparing to take the case to Cable, Osborne et al.

In the more medium term, he will also need to consider the broader position Labour will take on higher education funding before the next general election. The stopgap announcement just before party conference, for a fee level of £6,000, was met with a mixed reaction. Some party members, and the National Union of Students, are still holding out for a graduate tax – but the results of the Liam Byrne’s policyreview will be instrumental in determining whether the party will stick with the policy Ed Miliband pushed so hard on in his leadership campaign or not.

The job of helping to rebuild Labour’s reputation on the economy, and further exposing the government’s increasingly desperate recovery plan, is a considerable challengeand responsibility. My gut reaction is that Umunna has the essential ingredients to make a real success of it.

Heading for a Fail… University of Wales

No, it’s not just a repeat of last week, but sadly in the past seven days things appear to have become even more desperate for the University of the Wales. After the public concerns about their external degrees outside of Wales were aired just over a week ago, the past few days have seen yet more bad news.

Now, a European-funded scholarship programme, the Prince of Wales Innovation Scheme (Powis) has been withdrawn. According to the Welsh Assembly Enterprise Minister, Edwina Hart AM, a review into the programme found that it was not in fact eligible for EU funding. Although the overall budget for the programme was due to be £11m, with £5m coming from the European funding and the rest from universities and business, up to this point only £0.4m of the EU funding had been put in.

In separate news, it was also reported that the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) was to change its name to distance itself from the University of Wales. The new name will be Cardiff Metropolitan University, and it will utilise its own awarding powers, rather than awarding degrees from the University of Wales.

So another tough seven days for the University of Wales. I sincerely hope I can write about something else next week.

Thu 29 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: Labour’s tuition fee policy September 29, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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Labour’s tuition fees policy: first or fail?

Does the party’s announcement that it will remove price variability and back a £6,000 fixed fee deserve a first or a fail?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2011/sep/29/labour-tuition-fees-policy

Labour leader Ed Miliband

Labour leader Ed Miliband delivering his spech to the party’s annaul conference at the Echo Arena in Liverpool. Photograph: CHRISTOPHER THOMOND/for the Guardian.

This week Labour’s announcement to back tuition fees at £6,000 has dominated the higher education agenda. But it’s drawn both praise and criticism, and so I’ve taken the decision to award it both a first and a fail, and look at its strength and weaknesses.

Heading for a first … Labour’s tuition fee policy

The removal of price variability, greater stability for university finances, the scrapping of the potentially destabilising core and margin model, and a significant reduction in student debt on graduation. Major steps forward that most accept would mute the market excesses of the coalition’s higher education reforms.

In announcing an interim position, which Labour has put forward as an alternative which could and in their eyes should be implemented immediately by the coalition, it proves that higher education continues to retain a high profile on the political agenda. It also appears to have resonated well with lots of prospective students and their parents who recognise that Labour has tried to reconcile the tension between ensuring universities remain to be sufficiently well funded, while continuing to bring in a student contribution.

Many universities too have welcomed the announcement, particularly those concerned about how the ill-thought out core and margin model will work. This appears to threaten to solidify social inequality by further concentrating students from selective schools into universities who will be spending more money on their students, while the rest will be forced into a bargain basement race to the bottom as universities are forced to charge fees lower than £7,500, implemented as a result of Treasury miscalculations on what the average fee would be.

Heading for a fail … Labour’s tuition fee policy

But for all the praise that Labour’s announcement brought, there was a fair amount of dismay and dissatisfaction too. Chief among the concerns came from supporters of a graduate tax, feeling that the £6,000 announcement was an attempt to backtrack from Ed Miliband’s support for the alternative to tuition fees which had been central to his leadership campaign.

While most accept that the transfer to a graduate tax isn’t feasible overnight, crucial technical issues like ensuring that hypothecation will work and clarity on the funding method for universities to still receive upfront money would need to be resolved, it was the lack of clarity over whether the announcement was simply a suggestion for what the coalition could do now, or whether it might indeed find its way into the 2015 Labour manifesto that caused concern.

For others, the decision to back £6,000 appeared to concede that tuition fees are here to stay. There are still a sizeable number of critics of the tuition fees system no matter what form it takes, and with any cap it might have. For them, putting forward a policy that is far from ideal with its only redeeming feature being that it’s not quite as bad as what the coalition has put forward doesn’t cut the mustard, even as a short term fix.

But whatever your position on tuition fees or a graduate tax, the debate has certainly been reignited. As the Labour party conference comes to a close, it now appears clearer that the £6,000 suggestion is simply a short-term position to demonstrate the coalition could do something different right now. As for what might appear in the 2015 manifesto, I suspect we’ll have to wait until the policy review is finally published.

Thu 22 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: University Alliance and post-qualification applications September 22, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or fail: University Alliance and post-qualification applications

University Alliance’s report into universities’ role in stimulating economic growth is worth a read but a second attempt at driving PQA is already losing steam, says Aaron Porter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2011/sep/22/first-fail-university-alliance-pqa

signs of spring

UA’s report sets out an agenda for stimulating growth in economy through higher education
Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Heading for a first … University Alliance

Higher education is infamous for producing reports that, while very worthy, end up only acting as doorstops or decoration on a bookshelf. So when a report is produced of real value and of important contemporary relevance to the key debate in politics right now – how to stimulate economic growth – it should be celebrated. This week, the publication of the University Alliance report, Growing the future: universities leading, changing and creating the regional economy was a welcome contribution to both the higher education and economic debates being had right now.

Unashamedly, the report set out the role which universities already do, and need to continue to play in contributing to the regional economy. At a time when the coalition is obsessed with deficit reduction, which is unquestionably choking off growth, it has never been more important for universities to demonstrate their value in helping to stimulate growth. In the immediate term, they are a vital source for jobs and an important link with local businesses; in the medium term their research and knowledge transfer will equip the future workforce with the skills required to ensure the UK can remain internationally competitive.

With contributions from leading figures in higher education, industry, politics and even a chapter from the chancellor of Huddersfield University, Sir Patrick Stewart, the report is well worth reading. Hopefully the kind words in the foreword from Vince Cable will translate into real support and crucially adequate funding for universities from government to be able to deliver on the promise they undoubtedly have.

Heading for a fail … post-qualification applications

The pros and cons of a post-qualification application system have long been debated within higher education. Bill Rammell, during his time as higher education minister put forward the idea for consideration, but a mixture of resistance from the sector and political timing meant it wasn’t realised.

So when the idea of moving A-level results forward and the university application process back was re-introduced by the coalition in the higher education white paper it was met with a mixed reaction once again. Instinctively, I continue to be drawn to the idea. Surely it makes more sense for university places to be awarded on the basis of your actual results, rather than on prediction. And while I accept that this may mean some shifting around of the school exam timetable and the university application process, it seems a price worth paying.

However, this week the Russell Group started to go public with their criticism of the idea, claiming that it’s not clear how the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and raising concerns that a PQA system could hamper their efforts to recruit disadvantaged students. A public statement like this means the Russell Group will be lobbying behind the scenes to see the idea thrown out by the time the white paper comes back from parliamentary scrutiny.

I still wait to be ultimately convinced by the arguments on either side, but I can’t help remain uncomfortable with an admissions system that relies so heavily on predictions, rather than a genuine attempt to measure attainment and more crucially potential.

Thur 15 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: Vince Cable and the UK economy September 15, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or Fail: Vince Cable and the UK economy

This week, Vince Cable manages not to upset every vice-chancellor at the Universities UK conference but elsewhere it’s revealed the UK spends just 1.2% of its GDP on HE

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/15/vince-cable-vice-chancellors-uk-gdp

Vince Cable Speaks At The Liberal Democrat Party Conference

Speaking out: Vince Cable didn’t upset everyone at the Universities UK conference this week, says Aaron Porter. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

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 … Vince Cable

It’s been a rare week for Vince Cable: he hasn’t broken a pledge or reneged on another manifesto promise. But this week, he actually managed to get through Universities UK conference without upsetting every single vice-chancellor in the room – a feat he has sadly managed in previous public speeches to vice-chancellors, most notably at the HEFCE conference in Birmingham where he turned up over an hour late, delivered a withering, finger-wagging speech before refusing to take questions (which had previously been agreed) and was then left to eat his sandwiches alone as the conference full of vice-chancellors either politely ignored him or simply didn’t realise he’d stomped off alone.

But in a minor turnaround, the secretary of state managed to have a constructive dialogue with VCs at their annual conference at Royal Holloway. He will have been heartened further by news that, following the publication of the higher education white paper, a dozen or so as yet unnamed institutions have asked the Office for Fair Access about lowering their tuition fee. Although it still leaves the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills a long way short of its Treasury target – which erroneously predicted and budgeted for an average fee of £7,500 – it does at least provide the secretary of state with a shred of good news before the Liberal Democrat party conference in Birmingham later this month. Who knows, the Lib Dems could still reach double digits in the polls once again – but I’m not holding my breath.

Heading for a Fail … the UK economy

This week we heard news that the UK had slipped down yet another international league table. No, it wasn’t George Osborne having to revise our growth figures down again, or further bad news that youth unemployment has risen once more – both of which also happened – but it was news from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Its latest publication, Education at a Glance, showed that the UK has spent just 1.2% of its GDP on higher education, falling further behind the OCED average (1.5%).

Higher education spending may not have secured the same media coverage or political scrutiny as the growth figures or rising unemployment, but its link to both is significant. For a government so patently lacking a credible growth strategy, spending in higher education delivers more than £6 for every single £1 spent – but the problem for the coalition is the time lag before the return is realised. So, faced with long term growth, or the more immediate challenge of eliminating the deficit by the end of this Parliament, short-termism has triumphed once again.

It’s not often you get Wendy Piatt and Sally Hunt singing the same tune, but the reaction to this news from the OECD was one of those rare occasions where the Russell Group and the University and College Union were united. The Russell Group rightly pointed out that such diminishing public investment in higher education risks jeopardising the international reputation of our leading, and I would argue our entire, higher education system. Sally Hunt rightly pointed out that we need to re-emphasise the relationship between education and skills and our economy.

David Cameron is increasingly being accused of making the same mistakes as the Thatcher government of the 1980s. Given we saw a decade of cuts to our universities under the Iron Lady, it appears, when it comes to higher education spending, that accusation certainly holds true.

Thu 8 Sep – Guardian HE – First or fail: BPP University College and Edinburgh University fees September 10, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or fail: BPP University College and Edinburgh University fees

A private provider charging £5,000 a year compares well with the £36,000 over four years being charged by a Scottish university

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/08/first-fail-bpp-edinburgh-university

The McEwan Hall and Bristo Square, Edinburgh University

The McEwan Hall and Bristo Square, Edinburgh University: four-year degrees at Edinburgh University come with a £36,000 price tag for some students. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

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: BPP University College

With shrewd timing, as Scottish universities prepare to charge £9,000 a year to non-Scottish UK students from 2012, BPP University College – the UK’s only for-profit private provider with degree awarding powers – has announced it will set fees at £5,000 a year for its three-year programmes, and £6,000 a year for two-year programmes.

The announcement wasn’t only significant for the contrast with the Scottish universities, but more pertinently because it has deliberately moved to undercut all English universities with the exception of the Open University, which has set its fees at £5,000 for 120 credits (equivalent to a full year of study in a traditional university).

So with BPP aggressively positioning itself to undercut mainstream provision, and with a confident pitch of career-focused courses to deliver on the employability agenda, the foundations are surely set for an aggressive growth strategy to start snapping up increasing numbers of undergraduate students.

Of course critics will be quick to question how quality provision can really be provided at just £5,000 a year, suggesting that the for-profit sector must obviously be offering some kind of sub-standard qualification. But the truth is, I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest these accusations have any substance. It’s probably fair to say that BPP doesn’t offer the rounded student experience of many other institutions – you won’t find too many clubs or societies or even anything resembling a students’ union – but they don’t pretend otherwise and seem pretty confident there will be lots of students signing up come next September.

Heading for a fail: Edinburgh University

When the Scottish Nationalist party pledged, along with Labour and the Liberal Democrats, that they wouldn’t introduce fees for Scottish students choosing to study in Scotland at the last Scottish election, it was a clever ploy. And it provided a noticeable contrast with the deeply unpopular tuition fee trebling that the Westminster coalition government squeezed through parliament in the face of unprecedented opposition.

But while pledging not to introduce fees for Scottish students was a vote winner in Scotland, or at least not a vote loser for any parties who didn’t break ranks – only the Conservatives made it clear they would look to bring in fees – it was always going to cause a funding problem somewhere, unless an unpalatable solution was afforded to universities. But few had realised quite how unpalatable the solution would end up being.

A minor quirk in European law means that while a government can’t legislate to discriminate between citizens of EU countries, they can discriminate within a country. And while the interpretation of this is being challenged, for the meanwhile at least it has opened the door for the poor souls from the rest of the UK, ie England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to be saddled with the unenviable task of trying to fill the funding shortfall Scottish universities feel that is opening up.

While Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt universities showed a modicum of restraint by limiting their £9,000-a-year fee to an overall of maximum of £27,000 even for those on four year courses, Edinburgh University showed no such restraint, unleashing the quite preposterous standard fee of £36,000 for a four-year course.

I’m not alone in being disgusted by the size of the fee that Edinburgh University has decided to charge. But I’m equally disgusted by a Scottish Nationalist party administration in Holyrood abusing the fact that Scotland is a part of the UK, and allowing the clear discrimination against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to prop up the finances of Scottish universities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thur 1 Sep: Guardian HE: First or fail: Campaign for Financial Education and 2012 university applicants September 2, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or fail: Campaign for Financial Education and 2012 university applicants

Deserving recognition this week: a campaign to add financial education to the school curriculum; falling from favour, the students who can’t afford higher tuition fees

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/01/first-or-fail-campaign-for-financial-edcation

 

abacus

Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis has launched a campaign to get compulsory financial education into the school curriculum. Photograph: Toru Hanai/REUTERS

Aaron’s 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: campaign for financial education

With all the furore surrounding tuition fees, debt, loans and interest rates, very little thought has been given to the support, and crucially the education given to school pupils about finance and money. So with higher education funding rarely out of the headlines, Martin Lewis of the Money Saving Expert website has launched a campaign to get compulsory financial education into the school curriculum.

While higher education funding may have been the catalyst for the campaign, it’s evident that financial education wouldn’t be limited to information about that, in fact the plan would be to cover the basics of personal finance and consumer rights. Launching a petition on the government’s new e-petition website, Martin Lewis describes the current state of affairs as “a national disgrace that in the 20 years since introducing student loans, we’ve educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt. We’re a financially illiterate nation.” Strong words, but then again a comprehensive understanding of basic finance is an important issue. A wrong decision, or unchallenged misinformation can cost thousands.

Since launching the campaign, the e-petition has quickly passed more than 50,000 signatures. And with parliament giving consideration to a full debate on any petition that passes 100,000 sign ups, it’s already over half-way there.

In an economy that already requires an increasingly sophisticated understanding as to how to make the right financial decisions, this seems like a no-brainer to me. To add your name to the petition, you can sign up here.

Heading for a fail: 2012 university applicants

The government likes to claim they don’t understand the system and perhaps the financial education they receive isn’t up to scratch, but it doesn’t take a degree to realise that lots of potential university applicants for 2012 are going to be deterred from applying due to the hike in fees. The big question for universities, but also the government, is how many? Up until now, it’s been almost impossible to say with any authority how many fewer applicants we could see for the 2012 intake. Lessons from history show us that after the previous tuition fee rise, from £1,000 a year to £3,000, we saw a 5% drop for the 2006 intake. But that was quite a different reform that met with quite a different reaction and crucially was done at a time when there was record investment in the outreach infrastructure such as AimHigher. With that infrastructure gone and a hostile reaction on the streets and in the press, initial predictions have been for a drop of anywhere between 5% to 20% through university doors come 2012.

Anything approaching a double digit fall would be catastrophic for the coalition, and for the Liberal Democrats in particular, who are desperately hoping that their tuition fee car crash won’t cause them any more political damage. If the decrease is negligible, they will at least claim it hasn’t had the damaging impact many feared it would. However, it will do little to allay the concerns of thousands of students and their parents who still feel betrayed after their very public pledge signing, and then discarding. Anything approaching a 10% fall or more, will simply give more ammunition to the long-standing critics of the tuition fee trebling.

So this week, findings from the first major study into the applicant intentions from the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), which surveyed over 1,000 secondary school pupils aged between 14 an 17, will make uncomfortable reading for the coalition. NFER’s headline was that 15% of pupils in school years 10 to 12 in England who were originally planning to go to university have now decided not to, 19% of school pupils have decided to only apply to universities charging less than the £9000 a year, and 26% said they will only apply to universities where they can live at home. But perhaps most shocking of all, was that 79% of respondents said that the tuition fee increase was forcing them to change their plans about future study in some form or another. It’s going to take more than a Simon Hughes sized sticking plaster to remedy this.

So the clock is ticking to see whether the findings from this research project will be translated into the real decline many predicted when the government first announced their plans, but if this is anything to go by, it does not look encouraging.

Thur 21st July: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: Robert Gordon University graduates and Charlie Gilmour July 21, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or Fail: Robert Gordon University graduates and Charlie Gilmour

Aaron Porter discusses measures for graduate employability and the consequences of student protests

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/21/robert-gordon-university-charlie-gilmour

Aberdeen

Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University has the highest success rate in the UK for finding graduates jobs.
Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Heading for a First … Robert Gordon University graduates

This week saw the publication of the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s destination survey of first-time full-time graduates (for 2009-10), with the not so snappy acronym DLHE. Somewhat to my surprise, the mainstream university with the best rate of graduate employment wasn’t Oxford or Cambridge, but actually Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, with a whopping 95.9% of its cohort headed into employment.

It’s less surprising when you consider that the university has worked hard to secure research partnerships in engineering, computer science and the sub-sea industry, all of which have a real need for highly talented graduates.

Although I still have deep reservations about the quality and robustness of data collected just six months after graduation – I was deeply disappointed that the government didn’t use the recent higher education white paper as an opportunity to commit to a more longitudinal survey of graduate destinations – this is still great news from for the students and alumni in Aberdeen.

Other mainstream universities that figured highly in the survey include the University of Surrey (94.8%), University of Edinburgh (94.8%) and Aberdeen University (94.4%).

Heading for a Fail … Charlie Gilmour

It was one of the images that defined the student protests at the end of last year. Charlie Gilmour, the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David, swinging from a Union Jack hanging from the Cenotaph. A Cambridge University student, from a wealthy home, who appeared to be high on drugs running amok on the streets of London. It was right that this was criticised and, in my opinion, his actions and others like him did nothing to help the student cause and probably hindered it significantly – certainly in terms of trying to build broader public support through the media.

But whatever your opinion about the student protests, and the actions of a tiny minority which went beyond the law, the news this week that Charlie Gilmour has been sentenced to 16 months for jumping on the bonnet of a car which was part of the escort for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall seems disproportionate, unfair and an attempt from the judicial system to make a scapegoat of him.

Probably the most controversial decision of my time as NUS president was to describe the scenes of violence and criminal damage on the students protests as “despicable”. Now out of the eye of the storm and with the benefit of hindsight, I think the language I used was strong. And while I will never defend law- breaking, coupled with the belief that such actions were likely to lose our campaign support, I can’t help feel that the courts need to take a wider perspective. Gilmour was in the wrong, few would contest that. But context is important, and an angry 21-year-old, who had been rejected by his biological father, had been subject to quite disgusting personal attacks on him and his family and had already volunteered to seek help from a psychotherapist has surely paid a hefty price already.

If the courts needed to punish him, on top of the punishment he has faced already, then prison seems like the least appropriate sanction, as far as I’m concerned. What Gilmour will face both in prison and beyond is a great deal more profound than a “fail”. The real failure here is the verdict from our judicial system.