Edulinks – July 2011 – News

A lot can happen in a month. Let’s recap in a two-post monster.

News links abound in this post. In the other, I’ll treat you to some of the best student linkage.

In HE news, two big things happened. You know, BIG big.

White Paper Fun

First up, a government White Paper on higher education was published. Some people wanted it to go further. Others wondered why postgraduate issues weren’t addressed. A lot has been said since its publication.

I covered the White Paper on TheUniversityBlog the day it came out. So many others were quick to comment. Here’s just some of what’s out there…

Understandably, Times Higher Education had a lot of articles on the paper:

THE’s editor, Ann Mroz, naturally led on the White Paper too, saying it was big…you know, BIG big. But with no grand plan.

The Guardian said that while some will win, others will be ‘screwed’.

VC of Salford, Martin Hall, called the White Paper “Both bad and dangerous” and described the proposals as “pale and disappointing”.

Shortly after the paper’s publication, a range of campaign groups set out a not exactly glowing response to its content, producing an alternative to the White Paper.

Leicester’s Third University subsequently suggested an alternative to the alternative

Richard Hall took the White Paper’s title, “Putting students at the heart of the system” and suggested, “You are not been paying attention“.

More recently, more commentary has arrived. It’s unlikely to be the last!

Andrew McGettigan lists ten things everyone working in or studying art should know about the White Paper.

Patrick McGhee, VC of the University of East London, says we “need to challenge the fees model itself” if we are not to sleepwalk into problems similar to those in the US system.

NUS President, Liam Burns, writes in the Guardian, “Ministers must answer this question — does an identifiable fee put students off?”

OFFA the scale…

Okay, I’m guessing you’ve had enough White Paper linkage. What was the second BIG big thing to happen in the HE sector?

I’ll put you out of your misery. The other big development in July was the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) agreeing to fees set by the country’s universities.

Yes, higher fees have been confirmed throughout the land. I did a rough and ready calculation to work out average fees:

Estimated average fee = £8376
Average fee after waivers = £8136
Average fee after likely financial support = £7801

This is slightly different to the Times Higher Education information, which is available in an easy to browse spreadsheet, but it’s close enough, so I didn’t revisit the calculations. Give or take a few pounds won’t matter much, if we’re to believe that a huge rise in fees shouldn’t bother future students.

As you’d expect, the final fees agreements got a lot of media coverage:

The Independent published the full list of fees for 2012/13.

What does this mean for poor families? William Cullerne Bown looks at OFFA’s focus on “outcomes and targets


If you’re looking for study-related links instead of this recent events malarkey, you’ve got all that to come in the next post. Oh, happy days!

One comment

  1. On the Guardian’s White Paper coverage:

    Critics of ‘the mess’ that is the Higher Education White Paper such as Peter Scott[i], Bahram Bekhradnia[ii], Claire Callender[iii] and Roger Brown[iv] (Education Guardian 5 July), indeed ‘start on the back foot’, as Scott says, arguing against the Paper’s disingenuous promise to put ‘Students at the Heart of the System’. But we have been here before as this subtitle echoes Plowden’s ‘At the heart of the educational process lies the child’. In many 1960s primary schools this led to an impractical and individualised pedagogy rather than a curricular reform to underpin comprehensive secondaries. Instead, these were left in unfair academic competition with surviving grammars and privates. Now cramming for the E-bacc and A-levels ensures entry to elite HE whose graduates have the most chance of getting the one graduate job for every 83 applicants the Association of Graduate Recruiters reported last week. These illusory job prospects thus replace the critical transmission of culture down the generations that is the real heart of (higher) education.

    Patrick Ainley, University of Greenwich

    [ii] ‘Places will be taken away and given to private providers’
    Bahram Bekhradnia, director, Higher Education Policy Institute
    I had thought that the 20,000 places a year being auctioned would increase only if the government continued to find itself over-budget. But clearly they will increase steadily as a matter of policy. What is going on is that these are the numbers that will be made available to private providers. Unless total student numbers are increased, then places are going to be taken away from public universities and given to private universities. I am in favour of private universities, but not at the expense of public.
    Nevertheless, it is good that private universities will have to be subject to the same information and accountability requirements if they are to access public funds.
    Students will benefit from the better information that universities are being required to provide.
    However, mid-ranking Russell Group and 94 Group universities will come off worse, as will most public universities and some students.
    Vulnerable institutions will be those unable to hold on to their A-grade students because of increased competition. There will be an unseemly scrap among Russell and 94 Group universities for these students, with increasingly generous inducements to students. These inducements may be worth much more than what they gain in terms of funding, but it will partly be driven by positioning. There will be losers among what are inaccurately called the “top” universities, some of which are fairly mediocre, but which attract top students because of historic reputations.
    But all public universities will lose as they have numbers steadily removed from their core and they are forced either to bid for them cheaply or lose them to private universities.
    And students will be losers as they will have to repay fees three times greater than at present.

    [iii] ‘It’s terribly unfair on the widening participation agenda’
    Claire Callender, professor of higher education, Birkbeck and Institute of Education
    The winners potentially are FE colleges. But there’s a big question over the extent to which they can produce higher-quality undergraduate degrees for students. In the National Student Survey, one enormous difference between students at FE colleges and those at HE institutions is that they are far less content with things such as library facilities. Historically, higher education hasn’t been the main business of FE colleges, so they aren’t necessarily as well equipped as HE institutions.
    Social mobility will be hit though, and students who don’t understand that statistics on graduate salaries and employability can be misleading.
    We have to remember that the white paper is not offering more student places; it is just re-allocating the existing places to certain types of HE institutions, and in the process it will polarise the HE sector. So some applicants still will not get a place at university, even if they are qualified. And these are most likely to be “non-traditional” students.
    The white paper re-iterates the importance of the fair access agenda. But the new policy of reserved places for students with AAB grades at A-level undermines the policies used by universities to meet this agenda. Some universities offer lower A-level entry grades to bright students with potential who come from areas or schools with low higher educ ation participation. How will such students fare under this new regime?
    The AAB policy also presupposes that entrants to universities come in with A-levels. In fact, the biggest growth in applications and enrolments recently has been among those with no Ucas points. It’s terribly unfair on the widening participation agenda because those with qualifications not recognised for whatever reason by Ucas, or seriously bright people returning to university with professional or other experience, for example, won’t get in under the AAB criteria.
    It’s fantastic that students are being given more information, but it is well recognised that data on employment six months after graduation is very unreliable. It takes time for graduates to get into jobs that will become their long-term careers. For example, the average salaries for graduates after six months are nearly identical at two particular universities in London – one a post-92, the other a pre-92 university. Both have completely different academic reputations, but salaries are similar because the post-92 university has a huge number of part-time students and older students who already have jobs. How is a young person going to interpret the difference in salaries unless they understand what contributes to different levels of pay on graduation? Also, there is tremendous inequality in terms of access to information between students from private and more clued-up schools, and others.

    [iv] ‘Those taking widening participation students are screwed’
    Roger Brown, co-director for the Centre of Higher Education Research Development at Liverpool Hope University
    The Russell Group have got everything they wanted, if you look at their submission to the Browne report. They are the very clear beneficiaries. Nine thousand pounds is about the highest amount anywhere outside America that anyone spends on HE, and they are not being held to the widening participation benchmarks given to them by Hefce [the Higher Education Funding Council for England]. They are going to be very well off, and may even benefit from the crackpot idea that certain institutions will have light-touch inspection based on past track record.
    Those institutions that take the most students from non-traditional backgrounds in a bid to widen access will be the losers here.
    The government wants to screw down the unit of resource for teaching and that will mean the majority of institutions taking widening participation students are going to find themselves screwed, too. The whole thing is an unconvincing mixture of ideology and pragmatism. These institutions are mostly in London or in conurbations of the north-west or north-east, and those are areas suffering anyway. Now they are going to find themselves very heavily squeezed.


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