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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

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/aug/04/national-teaching-fellowships-pell-grants#most-zeitgeist

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.

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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

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/28/theresa-may-international-students

 

'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

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.

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?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/07/pearson-university-wales

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.

The Observer: “Smart suit, shiny shoes … meet the new NUS president leading the battle against fees” (20th June 2010) January 1, 2011

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Smart suit, shiny shoes … meet the new NUS president leading the battle against fees

published in The Observer on 20th June 2010:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jun/20/nus-president-battle-fees-aaron-porter

As the union turns to persuasion not placards, Aaron Porter is finding unlikely support

  • Anushka Asthana, policy editor
  • The Observer, Sunday 20 June 2010
  • Scott Barbour

    Students take part in a demonstration to protest over higher tuition fees in London, England. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    Aaron Porter, 25, has just moved back in with his parents in Norbury, south London, after graduating in English literature from the University of Leicester. Not quite the profile you might expect of a man who, as the new president of the National Union of Students, is about to lead one of the fiercest political battles in a generation.

    Porter has only months in this new age of austerity to convince Lord Browne, who is carrying out a major review into university financing, that the government should not raise the cap on student fees.

    If he fails, hundreds of thousands of young people he represents now – and millions in the future – will face an increasingly US-style market in higher education. That could mean starting their working lives with debts of £50,000 or more. “I’ve got a hell of a lot on my plate,” he admits.

    The campaigning begins in earnest tomorrow, when thousands of students and lecturers team up for 70 events across the country, hoping that higher education will be spared the worst of the cuts to be unveiled in Tuesday’s emergency budget.

    Porter might be living with his parents – a policeman who grew up in London and a teacher from Trinidad – but by day his job is as high-powered as they come. Dressed in a smart dark suit, striped shirt, red tie and shiny black shoes, he is due to go from this interview with the Observer to a one-on-one meeting with Lord Browne. From there it is on to an advisory forum with top figures in the field including Professor Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, which represents all vice-chancellors.

    Porter officially becomes NUS president on 1 July, but he has already met Vince Cable, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, and tomorrow he will sit down with David Willetts, the universities minister. In between the occasional dinner cooked by his mother, he is working 10 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week. “The stakes are so high – it is imperative I get my point across,” he says.

    Success, says Porter, is “ensuring that a market in fees does not emerge”. And failure? “The disaster would be a real market in fees coupled with cuts from the government… it will devastate some people’s lives.” He is fighting hard to stop universities getting their way and lifting the £3,225-a-year cap on fees (due to rise to £3,290 this year).

    Porter is already worried about predictions that this summer 150,000 pupils who have the ability to go to university will never make it. Tackling that issue is what he sees as his key role: “It is vital – I have to stand up to defend what could be a lost generation of young people. And also ensure that education can continue to be based on ability, and not ability to pay. That is the real battle we are up against.”

    It is a battle for which the NUS has created a new strategy. One of the youngest unions in the country has given up shouting from the sidelines and decided instead to step into the fray.

    “We’ve moved from irrelevance to the centre of the debate,” he says. “By ensuring we have evidence-based policy and engaging in the debate that is happening, not in some imaginary one.” Porter remembers 2004, when he was 19 and the decision was being taken to increase fees from their original level of £1,000 a year. At that time the NUS stuck to a position opposing all tuition fees, calling instead for the reinstatement of grants.

    But, he argues, the argument had already been lost and the time had come to move on. “There came a point when the debate was no longer ‘should there be fees or not?’, but ‘how do we fund higher education?’ Rather than sitting at the table, we were standing outside shouting. We weren’t taken seriously: we were left out in the cold.”

    It was his predecessor, Wes Streeting, who fought to change the NUS from the inside, dropping its opposition to contributions from students. Instead, the organisation came up with an alternative – a graduate tax, which would see students face a slightly increased rate of income tax over their careers. It was a fight to get the union to accept it and now Porter is determined to maintain the policy. “There are some that think we should stick to the principled position of free education. But if vice-chancellors expect us to stand on the outside waving placards they are sorely mistaken.”

    Porter is a member of the Labour party but decided to run for the role of president as an independent, believing that would be the best way to serve students. Student support for Labour has ebbed away in recent years. A poll carried out before the general election suggested 50% of students were planning to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

    Porter believes Nick Clegg’s party has placed itself in a difficult position. After all, it promised in its manifesto to phase out fees – a hugely popular move. Yet in the coalition agreement the party agreed to await the outcome of Browne’s review. Should it be unpalatable to the party, Clegg and his negotiating team agreed that Lib Dem MPs would abstain, allowing the review’s conclusions to be implemented if supported by the Conservatives and Labour. Porter knows that the party – and especially Cable – is under from pressure from vice-chancellors who insist fees must go up if they are to compete successfully with foreign competitors. The universities believes fees should be seen as an additional income on top of government funding – not an alternative.

    “There are tens of thousands of students who voted for the Liberal Democrats on a pledge that they would not raise fees,” says Porter. “It they do not stick to that position they will not only lose the trust of students but the general public. I think it would be political suicide for the Lib Dems to go into coalition with the Conservatives on this issue.”

    He goes further: “I don’t believe the Lib Dems can look the electorate in the eye if they go back on their word. We would be happy to work with them on an alternative way of funding higher education.” As for the Conservatives, he talks of a “constructive” relationship with Willetts in opposition. “He surprised us, a Tory minister, and I hope we surprised him as a national union.”

    Indeed, the politician has been full of praise for the NUS. When in opposition Willetts said the transformation of the union and its new way of fighting was “the most powerful single way of making sure that politicians listen”. That was in October 2009, at an NUS conference. It was there that Willetts claimed the case for raising the cap had not been won by universities. “How would I vote today? I think I would say today, if the vote arose, that the case has not been made,” he said. “This is not an argument that I believe the universities have won. They haven’t yet properly accounted for the first £3,000 they had, so I would say not unless, and until, you have shown what is in it for students and their parents.”

    Porter hopes to convince Willetts that vice-chancellors have still not won the argument. “I don’t think universities have made the case sufficiently about how they could improve what students receive,” he says, saying the call for higher fees lacks “legitimacy”.

    Porter believes that failure by the NUS to win this argument will hurt those from the poorest backgrounds in the long run, who are deterred from applying to university. Those that do choose to study at a higher level may have to stay at home missing out on the extracurricular activities such as volunteering and clubs – not to mention learning to live independently, “to cook and wash for themselves”.

    Then there is the post-university impact. Heavy fees could mean different decisions about marriage, he argues, and could create a society in which graduates habitually rent instead of buying homes. “I recognise the pressures on university and college funding but they have had a decade of almost exponential investment and very few of them had the foresight to realise there might be a few years of difficulties.” His argument is that it is not fair to burden students with the cost of that failure.

    Porter perhaps owes his own political drive to his mother, who timed dinner with the six o’clock news when he was growing up. “I remember taking an unhealthy interest in the 1992 election,” he says. “I was seven.”

    Should he fail and fees go up, he says: “I don’t think vice-chancellors are so bloodthirsty that they would not make some grants available. But if you graduate with £50,000 of debt, or £80,000 or £90,000 if you are a medic… I would think twice.” As for the struggle, it will be a bit of the old and a bit of the new, he says: meetings behind closed doors with the likes of Willetts, Cable and Browne – but an old-fashioned national demonstration to remind the country that students still know how to shout.

    WHATEVER HAPPENED TO OTHER NUS PRESIDENTS?

    Jack Straw, 1969-71

    Became president of an increasingly radical NUS in 1969 after campaigning to remove the union’s “no politics” clause. Ten years later he was elected as Labour MP for Blackburn and went on to serve as home and foreign secretaries. Now shadow justice secretary. His son, Will, followed in his footsteps, becoming president of the Oxford University Student Union. 

    Charles Clarke, 1975-77

    Clarke – who had been a prominent Labour MP – lost his seat in the election by 310 votes. He had served as education and home secretaries during Labour’s 13 years in power.

    Sue Slipman, 1977-78

    She was the first woman to be elected president in 1977 after being supported by the Broad Left, a coalition of the Labour party, Plaid Cymru, the Communist party of Great Britain and others. Credited with reforming the way in which single mothers were seen by society as head of the National Council For One-Parent Families in the 1980s and 90s.

    Trevor Phillips, 1978-80

    Became president after leading student union at Imperial College London. Worked in TV before entering politics. Was head of Commission for Racial Equality and leads its successor, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

    David Aaronovitch, 1980-82

    After being thrown out of Oxford, Aaronovitch studied history at Manchester University. While there, in 1975, he was part of a University Challenge team that answered every question with “Che Guevara”, “Marx”, “Trotsky” or “Lenin”. It was a protest about the programme’s bias towards Oxbridge. Now a writer and journalist.

    Lorna Fitzsimons, 1992-94

    Elected to parliament three years later. Became MP for Rochdale in 1997 – and was described as one of Blair’s babes – but lost her seat in 2005. Now chief executive of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.