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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.

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“Blue Skies” book contribution: ‘The students of tomorrow’ July 17, 2011

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“Blue Skies”: ‘The students of tomorrow’

By Aaron Porter –

http://pearsonblueskies.com/the-students-of-tomorrow/

 

Video contribution:

For those of you watching the recent debate on English higher education funding on our TV screens and on the front pages of our newspapers, you could be forgiven for thinking that higher education was predominantly made up of full-time undergraduates, largely aged between 18-22. Of course that is not the case, and is increasingly less likely to be the case as we start to get under the skin of an ever-changing and diverse higher education population.

Already the picture presented to us by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows us that around 4 in 10 students are part-time, 1 in 5 are postgraduates, and just under 1 in 10 are studying in a further education (FE) college. Putting to one side your opinion on the recent finance reforms – the debate is well-rehearsed – and making an educated guess about what may be in the Government’s higher education White Paper, we can be sure that the reforms are almost certainly going to lead to less traditional provision, and even more diversity.

As greater power is put in the hands of the future student, they are likely to choose to learn in different ways and at different times, and are almost certainly going to have different expectations to the students of today. In a speech just before the vote in Parliament on raising the tuition fee cap, I warned that students would likely bring about a “consumer revolution”, and whilst I feel incredibly uncomfortable about the idea of ‘students as consumers’, they will undoubtedly be more demanding about the experience they are likely to receive in the future.

So I suspect as the recent reforms take root, we might start to see an increasingly challenge to the current provision of higher education. The introduction of loans for around two thirds of part-time students is long overdue and welcome, and I hope that it will allow for more part-time students to study alongside part-time work. The pressure to enter full-time higher education at 18 years old will hopefully lessen, as the opportunity to study part-time later in life or even at 18 will now be more viable. And whilst both Browne and the Government missed the opportunity to really seize the mantle and deliver a funding system built on credit, the White Paper will have to address the issue of allowing students to move between and within institutions. The current system has been far too inflexible, in allowing a student to pick up credits over time, a system genuinely based on lifelong learning. Whilst I do not think Lord Browne nor the Government addressed this seriously enough, students will start to demand this in their actions. The idea of students increasingly spending time in different institutions, a period as a work-based learner, and switching between full and part-time study can no longer be prevented, as the student of tomorrow will be increasingly flexible and nimble to respond to the ever-changing demands of the labour market.

It will be the demands of the labour market that will increasingly mean students will want to re-enter higher education later in their working life. As the number of jobs an adult can expect to undertake in their working life continues to spiral upwards, so will the need to re-skill becoming increasingly important. Whilst the traditional campus experience will be important for lots of young adults, access to knowledge and skills will be the greater priority for older learners wanting to upskill or change careers later in life. At present the Open University stands out as the provider of education and qualifications to help the older learner change direction or reskill, but this will need to become the preserve of many more providers, as the UK seeks to keep its adult population with the required skills, and the UK economy competitive with our global competition.

And with an increasingly diverse pattern of provision demanded by future students, they will also have increased expectations of what they will receive too. In our own research NUS/HSBC Student Experience Research 2010;

65% of students said that they would have higher expectations if they were being asked to pay considerably more for their education.

Students, then as graduates, are not only being asked to pay considerably more for their higher education, whilst the government savagely cuts the teaching grant, the disastrously handled debate by Vince Cable and the government means that prospective students will be weighing up their options with real scrutiny, but also with concern about what the returns on their investment may be. With the jobs market still so bleak, and so many of the jobs that graduates went into employment with, such as the public sector, being savagely trimmed back, many students will be exerting their consumer traits onto universities with greater force than before.

The gauntlet has been well and truly laid down. In a new environment, with power in the ‘hands of students’ as David Willetts is so keen to remind us, then universities will need to respond. It can no longer be acceptable that student complaints are left to swill around the system for more than 60 days, at present some are still left unresolved for more than a year. The role of the personal tutor will become more important, as students will want and expect more personalised support to guide them through their learning. The quantity and quality of contact time, which has increasingly come under the spotlight will be an issue of even greater focus. The days when high profile academics are splashed around the university prospectus material, but then hidden away in a research lab away from undergraduate students will no longer be tolerated. Student-led protests against their perceived poor contact time, notably at Bristol and Manchester Universities will happen with increasing frequency unless institutions can respond, and meet rising expectations.

I have no doubts that improved information will be important both for the prospective and current student. The chance to make a more informed choice about what, where and how to study will be important, and then the chance to measure that against their expectations on arrival will be critical. But to ensure the greatest protection for students, we can not simply allow for market forces to run riot alone. The role of the students’ union will become even more important in holding the institution to account, and for the National Union of Students (NUS) to do the same with Government and the sector as a whole. With rights comes responsibility, and in the same way I know that students’ unions will be afforded greater powers as a result of the new flow of money through the student, I fully expect and welcome the need for Student Unions (SUs) and the NUS to increasingly base what we say on evidence, to back up our arguments with fact, but also to be more accountable and transparent to students too. The system will need to have greater regulation too in order to protect the student, and this will need to be forthcoming in the White Paper too.

The period ahead for higher education will undoubtedly be one of change. Whether we see a “consumer revolution” time will tell, and if it happens whether it will be for better or worse. But what is for sure is that talking about higher education and its students through the narrow lens of full-time 18-22 undergraduates enjoying the traditional campus experience will be less and less relevant, and it’s time we all started to get our heads around the landscape and demography of the new world.

Interview on BBC’s Hardtalk January 9, 2011

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Link to my interview on BBC Hardtalk – which is generally regarded to be the toughest interview show on TV!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00x79s9/HARDtalk_Aaron_Porter_President_UK_National_Union_of_Students/

Open letter to Simon Hughes following his appointment as the Government’s ‘access advocate’ January 4, 2011

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An open letter to Simon Hughes on University Access.

5th January 2010

Dear Simon,

Congratulations on your appointment to the role of “Advocate for Access to Education”. Given the serious access problem we have in many of our elite Universities and the proposals to treble tuition fees by the Coalition it will be a challenging role – especially if it is to go beyond the kind of “window dressing” that the role has already been accused of. NUS has long called for there to be a more serious debate and attention paid to access into continued education, particularly with better information, advice and guidance given to prospective students. Alongside our member students’ unions we are fully committed to improving and widening university access and are ready and willing to assist in your efforts to ensure that university is opened up to anyone with the talent to achieve. Our 16-18 members in FE Colleges are keen to work with you on your research into the barriers to access they face.

To begin with, we have six recommendations:

First, we would recommend that the Government urgently clarifies its “National Scholarship Scheme”. On the weekend before the fees vote, the Government was claiming that pupils on free school meals would get a free first year at University. Now the Government has dropped that commitment- arguing instead that the scheme should consist of different packages, bid for by universities. Whilst we appreciate that the free school meals measure is only a narrow pool, it was precisely this kind of “postcode lottery” on student financial assistance that your manifesto commitment on bursaries was designed to scrap- so to avoid misleading students, getting the Government to come clean on its “free first year” offer would be a good start, and being clear about which students are now eligible for this support is imperative.

Second, you could hold the Government to its promise on the fee cap. You will know that ministers have repeatedly claimed that the higher limit would only apply in “exceptional” circumstances– but we are finding it hard to get the Government to explain how it will ensure that £9k rather than £6k fees will be the “exception”. Your efforts here could mean ensuring the Government doesn’t break another promise- this time one made repeatedly on the floor of the house.

Third, you could insist that universities do much more to promote access. At present universities are only routinely judged on applications from the poorest; but it is acceptances and completions (as well as achievement) that matter more. Insisting that the monitoring of access achievements gets tougher, and that the HE sector gets its act together on measures such as Post Qualifications Admissions (where students apply once they have their results) and Contextual Admissions (where applicants are judged on academic potential), could make a massive difference.

Fourth, you could insist that the Government reinstates AimHigher. Up until now the debate on access has focussed heavily on 17 and 18 year olds, but research in this area suggests intervention earlier in school is crucial. This is exactly what the AimHigher programme ensured, by funding to ensure meaningful links were built up between universities and schools. The programme has made a massive difference to aspiration to apply to university across the country and the decision to scrap it will only harm our shared cause to improve access, particularly at a time when the Coalition have trebled tuition fees.

Fifth, you would do well to suggest that the Government listens and responds to voices in the Muslim community making clear how damaging the changes to loan interest rates will be to access for this group. FOSIS (the Federation of Islamic Student Societies) have repeatedly made clear why the changes will be a problem but so far have had no contact from ministers or officials.

But sixth and most importantly, you could demand that the EMA is reinstated. Everyone agrees that the biggest factor in determining university access is achievement at Level 3- or A Level. So for Gove to axe it (having promised to keep it) on the most threadbare of evidence is astonishing, and will do more to harm university access than your role could ever fix. Officially, you only have the power to recommend how a £50m replacement for a £450m scheme is spent. Unofficially, you could make abundantly clear just how devastating for the poorest families the removal of the EMA will be to retention and achievement- and get it reinstated before it’s too late.

I fear that measures the Government have taken so far in office have been utterly counter-productive for social mobility, I hope that your appointment will start to see this reversed, and look forward to hearing back from you in relation to the role NUS can play to help you achieve this, and the six recommendations I have made above as an important start point.

Best wishes,

Aaron Porter
National President

Aaron Porter for NUS President – Manifesto March 28, 2010

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Link to manifesto: Aaron Porter for NUS President

A manifesto which will place us at the fore-front for the fight for fairer funding, fighting cuts to education and will ensure that NUS becomes closer to students and Students’ Union.

– Fighting Cuts to Education

– Funding Our Future

– Prioritising Further Education

– Cutting Edge Communication with students and SUs

– Student Activities, Volunteering & Sport

– Accountability and Transparency

– Delivering for Students’ Unions

– Project : Participation

– Uniting Education Unions

– NUS Events & Training

– International Students

– Nations

– Liberation across the movement

– Supporting Religious Students