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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


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.

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

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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




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.

Thu 18th Aug 2011: First or fail: 2011 school leavers and class of 2011 August 18, 2011

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First or fail: school leavers and class of 2011


The National Student Survey reveals a satisfied final-year class but this year’s school leavers are likely to be less impressed with a lack of university places

school students exams

School leaver prospects: Competition to get a university place is the toughest it’s ever been, says Aaron Porter. Photograph: keith morris / Alamy/Alamy

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: a satisfied class of 2011

It’s been a tough year for higher education. But some good news came out this week, as results for the 2011 National Student Survey were published. A survey of final-year undergraduates, with 22 questions covering a range of learning and teaching issues, showed that satisfaction scores by students were higher than ever before. In a bleak climate of graduate unemployment, that is no mean achievement and is a real testament to some of the fantastic teaching that goes on in our higher education institutions.

Even some of the areas of greatest concern, particularly assessment and feedback, saw an increase in satisfaction to 68%, up from 66%. Overall satisfaction across the UK is 83%, up one percentage point from 2010. While this is all pretty impressive, it does raise two important questions: With unprecedented cuts about to bite, and tuition fees about to treble, will universities have any chance of maintaining student satisfaction? And is satisfaction with your higher education experience best measured months before your final exams, or should we now be looking at a more longitudinal measure where graduates are asked to evaluate how beneficial their experience was four or five years after graduating? I suspect, in different ways, those two questions will be up for debate over the coming months.

Heading for a fail: 2011 school leavers

In the same week record student satisfaction scores were published, we received grim data about the world that graduates and school leavers are entering. The Office for National Statistics confirmed that youth unemployment was rising yet again. Those unfortunately named Neets (Not in education, employment or training) stand at an eye-watering 20.2% of all 18-25-year-olds on the scrap heap. To make matters worse, it seems that options for school leavers are limited wherever they may look. For the poorest students in college and sixth form, support in the form of the Education Maintenance Allowance has been scrapped, and there are concerns about whether the pot of money left in bursary funds will be able to ensure that students from the poorest backgrounds have enough money to travel to college and buy books.

For those looking to enter higher education, it’s similarly tough. Competition to get a university place is the toughest it’s ever been. Entry to higher education has always been a competitive process, and that’s as it should be. But because of an arbitrary cap on student numbers, there will be somewhere in the region of 250,000 qualified applicants missing out on a place.

At a time when youth unemployment is so high, the idea that qualified students who want to study are being turned away from our universities because government won’t fund the places is a self-inflicted wound. Critics will argue that the budget deficit means that the government can’t afford to create university places, but my response is blunt: it’s more expensive to pay job seekers’ allowance and other benefits to a qualified young adult than it is to send them to university for three years. So economically and socially this is completely regressive. It’s time the government started considering the other side of the deficit reduction equation, namely growth. And there can be no better answer than investing in education, skills and training of our school leavers. Sadly George Osborne doesn’t just seem miles away from coming up with the right answer, he appears to still be asking the wrong question.

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

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First or Fail: Newcastle College Group & New College Durham and 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.

Thur 4th Aug 2011: First or Fail: National Teaching Fellowships and US Pell grants August 4, 2011

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First or Fail: National Teaching Fellowships and US Pell grants


Up for debate this week, Aaron Porter is celebrating best practice and innovation v internal competition and mourning the potential loss of Pell grants for poorer students in the US

graduation mortarboards

There should be more recognition for inspirational teaching. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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: Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows 2011

There has been a lot of debate about the status of teaching in higher education. In far too many institutions, it comes a poor second to research, and even sometimes a lowly third behind administrative capability. While I disagreed with the ideology behind his report, Lord Browne was right to point out that there are currently lots of sharp incentives for institutions to focus on research, but very few for teaching. However my solution would be different to that put forward by Browne, and endorsed by the coalition. Rather than focusing on market forces and competition, which essentially set institutions, departments and staff in opposition with one another, I would like to see good practice and innovation rewarded on its own terms.

The National Teaching Fellowships organised by the Higher Education Academy is a perfect example of how good practice and innovation in teaching should be rewarded, rather than seeking to focus on the reductive unintended consequences of the market.

This week after submissions from staff were judged, the Academy announced 55 staff from across England, Wales and Northern Ireland who have been recognised for their excellence in teaching and support for learning. At a time when there is now more focus on teaching, it is great to see some of higher education’s fantastic staff rewarded for their contribution to the sector. I have no doubts that the list of 55 names recognised by the HEA will be full of staff who inspire and challenge students, change their lives and make going to university a pleasure and not a chore.

I’m still convinced that best practice and inspirational teachers should be recognised and rewarded through schemes like the National Teaching Fellowships and Student-led Teaching Awards, rather than boiled down to narrow metrics as an incentive to chase AAB students round the system.

Here is the list of the 2011 Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows.

Heading for a fail: Poorest students in the US

While recent international headlines have focused on the stand-off between Democrats and Republicans in order to agree the new debt ceiling and ensure the US does not default, the implications are far-reaching – and may affect higher education.

In the original budget put forward by Republicans, and fortunately defeated, Pell grants (support for the poorest students in the US) were for the chop. Fortunately the Democrat-negotiated concession which was finally successful managed not only to save current expenditure on Pell grants, but actually to see spending in this area increase – about the only budget line to see an increase in the new spending settlement.

However, given the Republicans have set their sights on cuts in this area, and a new committee has been set up to investigate further budget cuts, support for the poorest students in the US is now under pressure. Given how expensive US universities are, it is vital that the poorest students are given the support they require, and the national government continues to put its hand in its pocket to fund this, no matter how tough things get.

Thur 28 July 2011: First or Fail: University of East London and Theresa May July 28, 2011

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First or Fail: University of East London and Theresa May

This week Aaron Porter explores the unpopular, and potentially very costly, reforms which will limit international student numbers and academic support for the 2012 Olympics



'1 year to go to' the Olympic Games

Staff at the University of East London are already gearing up for the 2012 Olympic games. Photograph: ANTHONY CHARLTON/LOCOG/HO/EPA

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… University of East London

With the Olympics exactly one year away, it’s not just been a good week for sports fans excited about 16 days of wall-to-wall sport next summer, but located right in the heart of East London, this is fantastic news for the University of East London, its students and staff who are already gearing up for the games.

Already a university that has deep roots in the local community, it has played an instrumental role in helping to realise the regeneration of a part of London which had suffered since the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s. Arguably the legacy of the economic investment in East London, the new homes, the creation of more than 40,000 jobs, a new shopping centre and state of the art sporting facilities which will be converted for public use will be an even greater triumph than the games themselves

Academics from UEL have been supporting and analysing all aspects of the games, including research on how sustainable the games will be, through to interactive workshops on nutrition, fitness, strength and conditioning. Along with JISC, the university has also set up an East London Lives 2012 Olympic archive which will give an opportunity for East Londoners to share accounts of how the games are impacting on their lives which will be stored as an online archive.

The Olympic games have the potential to instigate a transformation across a whole host of areas particularly as a catalyst to get more young people taking up a range of sports. It’s heartening to see a university realise the opportunity of the games for them too, and I suspect this could be the beginning of a truly special year for the University of East London.

Heading for a Fail… Theresa May

When David Cameron pronounced in the prime ministerial debates before the last general election that he would oversee “net immigration falling from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands” he was attempting to appeal to the Daily Mail-reading voters he was chasing in order to win. Nick Clegg in stark contrast floated the idea of an immigration amnesty for those who had previously entered the country illegally. At that point, the thought of a chummy relationship between Cam and Clegg right into Downing Street couldn’t have appeared more absurd.

But tie their political vows they did, and now the government’s immigration policy is starting to become an issue of contention. Over the past few months, the Home Office has been consulting on how it could further “tighten up” immigration regulations, but what this really means is looking for how they can further restrict people coming into the country. At present, students are counted in the net immigration figures. The logic behind this is utterly unfathomable to me, not least because internationalstudents are a transient population who return to their country of origin, but while they are in the UK they contribute billions of pounds through fees, accommodation, transport and so much more. In fact international students bring in critical income to our universities, which cross-subsidise the provision for home students – whether institutions will admit this publicly or not, the figures don’t really lie.

The idea that the home secretary is targeting international students by scaling back the provision of post-study work opportunities, and limiting the English language routes into higher education seem entirely counter-productive. There could be a huge cost to the local and national economy, and to the bank balances of universities if recruitment is hit. But the cultural loss to campuses will be enormous if home students are no longer able to find themselves in lecture theatres, sports fields and halls with students from across the globe which helps to make our society more tolerant, understanding and diverse.

This week the cross-party Home Affairs select committee warned that assumptions the home secretary has made on international student recruitment are, “optimistic” and an impact assessment now suggests the costs of the reform could be as much as £3.6bn. But perhaps most worryingly of all, the report goes onto suggest that the home secretary is ignoring the evidence, and simply ploughing ahead anyway. Sounds like the government are blindly chasing the Daily Mail readers again, and for this May definitely deserves a fail.

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

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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



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.

Thur 14th July: Aaron Porter’s First or Fail: The Treasury and Office for Fair Access July 14, 2011

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Aaron Porter’s First or Fail: The Treasury and Office for Fair Access


This week, Aaron Porter examines Offa’s quick work on access agreements and the Treasury’s dashed hopes for average fees

Baby Black Hole

Heading for a budget black hole? Aaron Porter says rough estimates suggest the Treasury could be facing £600m shortfall. Photograph: AP/NASA

Aaron Porter gives his verdict on the good (heading for a first) and the bad (heading for a fail) this week.

Heading for a first: Office for Fair Access (Offa)

It was Mission Impossible. For what would normally take months, but had to be just weeks because of the Government’s rushed higher education funding policy, the Office for Fair Access miraculously managed to sign off the full complement of access agreements this week, for institutions wishing to charge more than £6,000 a year from September 2012, on time and on schedule.

Rather than simply getting the agreements signed off on time and constrained by their existing powers, Offa truly deserves recognition for seeking out a significantly increased outlay from institutions to support the poorest students, but for doing so in the eye of a political storm. Total access agreement funding will be £602m by 2015-16, the first year with three cohorts of the new fee regime students, compared with £407m in 2011-12.

But almost as soon as the government had announced that the upper cap would be set at £9,000 back in November, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable took to the airwaves promising it would only be “in exceptional circumstances”. Nick Clegg even went to Cambridge University to “promise” – a word he should learn to use carefully – that universities would be prevented from charging the maximum unless “they can prove that they can dramatically increase the number of people from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds who presently aren’t going”.

Sadly, this was another Clegg promise which showed a complete lack of understanding for the context in which he was operating, this time misunderstanding the role and remit of the office – which is an access regulator, not a price regulator. You’d have thought that the clue was in the title, but then again the deputy prime minister doesn’t have the best track record of twigging things that seem blindingly obvious to everyone else.

However, for as well as Offa has done in the circumstances, its role and remit won’t suffice in the new fees regime. The government needs to stick to what it set out in the white paper and afford new powers to the regulator, and when the new Offa director is appointed later this year, his or her first task will be to give the organisation some teeth and start to measure institutions on their impact and results, not on self-imposed targets.

Heading for a fail: the Treasury

If Offa had a good week, then, sadly, the Treasury had a bad one. For as the ink dried on the access agreements, the dim and distant pipe dream that the average fee would be £7,500 (as Treasury figures assume) were banished once and for all. The Offa analysis shows the average fee is £8,393, which comes down to £8,161 once fee waivers are taken into account. That makes a whopping £616 off per student. It might not sound much, but rough estimates suggest this could lead to a budget black hole of as much as £600m.

This is a big headache for the Treasury, given it has already subjected the higher education budget to the biggest cut in its history over the next four years. With public teaching funds for the arts, humanities and social sciences already gone, it isn’t obvious what the Treasury will do next.

David Willetts has rightly stated his intention to see student numbers grow, and it is surely unthinkable to look at the remaining teaching budget largely concentrated on Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), or the widening participation premium which would surely be politically unpalatable to touch.

It almost borders on a conspiracy theory, but perhaps David Willetts knew all along that the average fee would be higher than £7,500, and this far down the road would now be impossible for the Treasury to cut further. Time will tell.

Guardian: First or Fail – Pearson and the University of Wales (Thur 7th July 2011) July 10, 2011

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Aaron Porter’s First or Fail: Pearson and the University of Wales

Aaron Porter puts the University of Wales and Pearson under the spotlight this week. But which gets the First and which gets a Fail?


WBA World Heavyweight Title - Nikolai Valuev v David Haye - Nuremberg Arena

Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Heading for a First … Pearson

Following the publication of the higher education white paper, Pearson the publishing giant has acted speedily to agree a partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London, this week, which will validate a degree drawn up and designed by Pearson.

This is the first major step taken forward by the private provider, just a week after the white paper. It allows them to enter the degree-awarding ring for the first time. Pearson has not hidden its desire to gain university status itself eventually and award its own degrees, but for the time being this will be seen as a real coup. Of course, Pearson has lots of experience in offering qualifications; not only does it own the exam board EdExcel, but it also offers BTecs and HNDs already.

Of course sceptics have heralded this as private providers simply looking to earn a quick buck , but in truth this is likely to lead to more diverse offerings for students and the chance for qualifications to be studied in different ways. If successful, we are probably only a few strides away from seeing the establishing of the Pearson University.

Heading for a Fail … the University of Wales

The past seven days has gone from bad to worse for the University of Wales. Once regarded as an academic heavyweight, the last few days have seen the institution lurch from one PR crisis to the next. First, question marks were raised about the integrity, and even the legality, of links between the university and colleges in Malaysia and Thailand offering their degrees, according to the findings of a review from the Quality Assurance Agency. Many commentators described it as “the most damning report” of its kind they had seen, and a rare move away from the judgment of “confidence” which the agency has given to 99% of institutions.

Not content with a kicking from the QAA, Wales’ education minister, Leighton Andrews, also put the boot in, describing the farce as bringing Wales “into disrepute”. And then, just as things seemed like they could not get any worse, talks about the formation of a new super-university in Wales fell apart as UWIC walked away from discussions with Trinity St David and Swansea Metropolitan University as a clear consequence of the fall-out from the QAA’s judgement on the University of Wales.

And then, the final cherry on the cake was news that the chief executive of Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Professor Philip Gummet, in a leaked letter reported by the BBC to the chair of council at the University of Wales, stated the farce was “a significant failure of central processes, and of oversight of these processes by senior management and the council”. For the higher education community, this is pretty damning stuff.

Guardian: First or Fail – David Willetts & Vince Cable (Thur 30th June 2011) July 10, 2011

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Aaron Porter: first or fail

In the first of a series of weekly blog posts, 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) in HE


Vince Cable

Heading for a First: David Willetts

Whether you agree with him or not, our minister for market forces and chaos, I mean universities and science, David Willetts has had a good week. We finally got to see the long awaited HE White Paper, which at 70 pages didn’t really surprise or shock us, but bewilderingly it wasn’t clear why such an unimpressive document was delayed for eight months. What took them so long?

The reason why I’ve awarded him a first this week, is not because I agree with the White Paper, but rather David Willetts has managed to get his way. The establishing of a freer market in higher education, routes for new providers to enter the HE arena, weaker regulation on quality, more information for consumers and greater competition between institutions is the market revolution Willetts and his Conservative colleagues have long craved.

The fact that the Minister of State has clearly won the internal war against his boss, and delivered a document that is Tory through and through, means the path toward a freer market has been established. The initial reaction from academics and students has been sceptical, bordering on the incredulous, but the debate will begin in both parliamentary and academic circles, and it will take a NHS style u-turn to stop Willetts getting his way.

Heading for a Fail: Vince Cable

The very same document which got David Willetts his first, is exactly the same reason why Vince Cable deserves to be awarded a fail. The supposed Secretary of State couldn’t have looked more disinterested in the HE White Paper announcement. Some commented how tortured he looked in the House, sat next to Willetts as the speaker first called the Secretary of State to the dispatch box, only to realise Dr Cable had abdicated that particular responsibility, and instead called the Minister of State to stand in for his boss.

In fact every time the words ‘higher education’ or ‘students’ are uttered, Vince appears to do a runner. The twitterati started to speculate why Cable was so absent from the press work and defence of the document, as unimpressively, and without precedent the man once regarded as “the most popular man in politics” has been turned into a laughing stock by students and academics alike. In April this year, Cable delivered a finger-wagging speech to a packed HEFCE Conference, the few allies he had in the sector turned their back on him, and his relationship with the sector appears all but broken.

But specifically, after the troubles over tuition fees and the infamous broken pledge, this should have been the chance for the Liberal Democrats to prove they do care about students, higher education and a chance to stamp some authority on the coalition. A chance for tough targets on widening access, missing. An opportunity to resist a worrying leap to pure consumerism, or an opening to strongly emphasise the importance of academic freedom – all missing. Rather than seizing the white paper as a chance to repair the Lib Dem’s damaged reputation on higher education, Cable went walkabouts.

Not much evidence of “muscular liberalism” here.