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

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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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


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.

Wed 5 Oct: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: UK Science & University of Wales October 6, 2011

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Aaron Porter’s first or fail: UK science and the University of Wales

This week, Aaron Porter examines the announcement of additional investment in UK science and the University of Wales’ decision to stop validating degrees from other institutions


Nobel winners Andre Geim and Dr Konstantin Novoselov

£50m is to be invested in a ‘graphene hub’ at the University of Manchester, which builds on the work of Nobel prize-winners Andre Geim (left) and Dr Konstantin Novoselov. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Heading for a first … UK science

Aside from a new round of bin collections, the Conservative party conference was light on policy announcements this week, and even lighter on ideas to stimulate economic growth. However, in amongst the doom and gloom, and George Osborne’s desperate attempts to convince us “we’re (still) all in this together”, there was one significant piece of good news, as the chancellor announced £200m of additional investment in UK science.

Of that money, £50m has been designated for a “graphene hub”, which builds on the Nobel prize-winning work of academics from the University of Manchester who secured the physics prize in 2010. The higher education community in the UK has long argued that it has the capacity and potential to deliver the research and innovation to ensure the UK can remain internationally competitive.

Successive governments have recognised that our best chance of remaining competitive lies in high-level skills and research, rather than a desperate race to the bottom, but it needs to be backed up with funding. And so this announcement, although not Earth-shattering in size, is a welcome start because of the message it sends to the science community that there is a recognition that it can still play a significant role in boosting the UK economy in the long term.

But although welcome, a one-off announcement is hardly a coherent strategy, nor will it be enough to sustain the UK research and science base in an increasingly competitive environment. So as question marks about the coalition’s economic growth strategy, or perhaps more pertinently lack of one, continue to become more and more important, our research community would be well served to strengthen its case for investment and the resultant contribution it can make to kick start our faltering economy.

Heading for a fail … University of Wales/HE in Wales

It was only a few weeks ago that concerns became public about the nature and quality of the University of Wales’ partnership arrangements with other institutions, both in Wales and further afield. The press were critical, the education minister in Wales gave them a public dressing down, and the QAA appeared to be marshalling their evidence to report back a pretty dismal account of what was going on.

So as the storm clouds started to circle around the University of Wales, it seemed obvious that a drastic response would be required, but few predicted what would happen next. This week, the University of Wales announced that it would sever ties as an accrediting body for other universities in Wales. Although they recognised they have a “duty of care” to existing students on programmes, it is clearly a less than satisfactory denouement for students who will probably be left wondering who will accredit their degrees, and if they are accredited what value they will have anyway.

In a more disturbing twist it came to light that the institutions with which the University of Wales had, up until now been validating programmes, were not warned about the decision from the University of Wales. So while recognition should be given to the university for all but conceding there is legitimacy to the accusations that have been levelled at the quality of their external degrees, it now opens up a series of important questions about the status of the students currently enrolled on their programmes. This concerns their future relationship with institutions in Wales and further afield and given the direction of recent developments, ultimately whether the university itself has any future.

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.