The Labour leader said his party would lower fees as of September 2016 if in government, a move that he said “will benefit those starting courses next year” and “will benefit those already at university”.


He said the policy, which the party estimates will cost £2.7 billion a year, would be funded by changes to pension tax relief.


Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, meanwhile confirmed that the interest rate on student loans would be raised from 3 per cent to 4 per cent for those earning above £42,000 a year.


Mr Miliband said this was a “progressive” move. Critics have claimed that a £6,000 policy would benefit mainly higher earners by allowing them to repay their loans faster.


Mr Miliband attacked the government on the finances behind the current £9,000 fees system, arguing that it will “go down as one of the most expensive broken promises in history”.


In a speech at Leeds College of Music, Mr Miliband said the party was today “publishing our Zero Based Review into the current tuition fees system”.


He said it “reveals beyond doubt that the scourge of debt from tuition fees is not only holding back our young people, it is a burden on our country”.


He added: “The government’s tuition system will have added an extra £16 billion more than predicted to public debt by 2020.


“If left unchanged the whole system will have added £281 billion of debt by 2030.”


Mr Miliband said that under a £6,000 system, “the average reduction in the debt will be around £9,000 per student…And the national debt, the burden on taxpayers, will be cut by £40 billion by 2030.”


He continued: “We’re going to clear up the mess of the tuition fees system left by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.”


He called the policy “fully funded”, saying that financing would come from lowering pensions tax relief for those earning over £150,000 to 20 per cent and reducing the lifetime allowance for tax-free savings to £1 million.


He continued: “And we will reduce the annual allowance for what you can save tax-free in your pension to £30,000: still nearly 10 times higher than the average pension contribution.”


For students, Mr Miliband said that “for those with family incomes up to £42,000 we will raise the maximum maintenance grant by £400 a year from September 2016”.


Mr Miliband repeatedly attacked Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, for his broken pledge on tuition fees, saying this had “left a whole generation doubting politics”. He said: “I made you a promise on tuition fees. I will keep my promise.”


The Labour leader framed his policy on fees as not just an appeal to younger voters and disillusioned former Lib Dem voters, but to families.


“Every parent, every grandparent, every person in our country, cares about the future of our young people,” he said.


“Today is the day we say: we will not make the young pay the price of hard times. I appeal to every parent and grandparent in Britain, every concerned citizen: Let’s together turn around the prospects of young people.”


The Labour party said in a statement that the £6,000 fees policy means “students who are now in their first year at university will see their fees capped at £6,000 in their third year. Students who start university this autumn will see their fees capped at £6,000 from their second year onwards. And students who start in 2016 will see their fees capped at £6,000 from the start.”


Labour also said that universities “will not lose out”. “Our plan is fully funded, so we will increase the teaching grant universities receive by the same amount that their fee income from English students falls – around £2.7 billion,” the party said.


Four years ago, the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses sent a shudder through the US academy.


According to its findings, nearly half of undergraduates showed no substantial improvement in critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills in their first two years of study and were only slightly better on graduation.


The dismal results presented by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roska caused a sensation, highlighting an apparent neglect of students ill-served by America’s costly higher education system.


That moral challenge to justify the fees charged to undergraduates now appears to have reached the UK, with policymakers taking an interest in the idea of “learning gain” at university.


As part of a wide-ranging review of performance measures in use, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is considering whether indicators of learning gain – also known as “value-added” – could conceivably be collected from universities.


It has commissioned Rand Europe to carry out a study on the mechanisms available to track the “distance travelled” by students, with the education consultants due to deliver their report this spring.


Of course, many educators will wonder why the higher education sector’s main tool of assessment – the degree classification system – is not seen as a sufficient indicator of an individual’s progress, particularly if considered alongside that student’s A-level scores.


Several university rankings already do this to judge teaching quality, awarding “value-added” points for institutions that manage to help students with low Ucas tariff scores to achieve at least a 2:1.


But if a student with grades of BCC at A level later gains first-class honours, is that always a sign of great teaching or can it indicate “dumbing down”? Does awarding a third to a straight-A student have to reflect badly on a university’s teaching? Or might it suggest that the institution has more rigorous standards?


Degree inflation a spur to action

Many in the sector say that a new set of measures are indeed required to show learning gain because rampant degree inflation has eliminated any possibility of the comparability of standards between institutions.


Standardised tests can show how much students have developed their key study skills, argued Roger Benjamin, president of the Council for Aid to Education, which provides Collegiate Learning Assessment tests to more than 200 higher education institutions in the US.


“If you do not have some way to compare yourself against another institution, how do you know if you’re doing well?” Dr Benjamin asked.


Speaking at a Hefce conference on learning gain at the Royal Society on 9 February, he added that “professors do not have a clear incentive” to prove that what they are doing in the classroom has been effective.


In the absence of a trusted comparative measure across the sector, employers are simply choosing graduates from elite universities that have their own tough admissions procedures, he said.


“Too many students that go to less selective institutions never get an interview for a job,” said Dr Benjamin, claiming that “badges” to indicate significant learning gain could help to unearth “hidden gems” from less prestigious universities.


He admitted, however, that academics are distrustful of standardised tests, in which students are asked to read a range of materials and write an essay on a real-life scenario, usually on a business-related subject, showing their reasoning.


Critics of the tests – which, controversially, were used in the Academically Adrift study – claim that they are a waste of time and resources as they are easily gamed by students.


Astute academics can quickly teach students how to produce the false dichotomies, straw-man arguments and nonsensical but plausible-sounding platitudes required to succeed in the exam, they contend.


Dr Benjamin defended the rigour of the assessments, which can be graded by computers, but pointed out that they are an alien concept to the UK, which does not have the “meta-domain critical thinking tests” commonly found in the US. University learning in the UK is more focused on deep subject knowledge, rather than the broader range of subjects taught at American liberal arts colleges.


“We should move into developing the tests for the [different] disciplines,” he said.


Another approach to measuring learning gain discussed at the Hefce conference was the use of student surveys.


Some educators contend that the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) used in the US is a reliable proxy for learning gain, as it asks undergraduates to rate their own understanding of a subject as well as their own contributions to classroom discussions. Hefce piloted a modified set of elements from the NSSE in the UK in 2013.


However, Fiorella Kostoris, professor of economics at Sapienza University of Rome, told the conference that there was “no correlation between what students think they are learning and what they are”.


In a study of 6,000 students at Sapienza, 80 per cent thought that they could answer questions to a certain level, but far fewer actually managed to hit these predicted grade boundaries, she said.


Full-spectrum assessment

The “mixed methodologies” approach pioneered by academics from the Center of Inquiry into the Liberal Arts at Wabash College, in Indiana, might prove a more robust way to measure learning gain.


Between 2006 and 2012, researchers there used grades, surveys and standardised tests to examine how much 17,000 or so students had learned at 49 liberal arts colleges in the US.


With about 800 pieces of information on each student, including data on their intended career paths, their moral reasoning and psychological well-being, the Wabash National Study should have proved a treasure trove of information to aid learning gain.


But the study’s director, Charles Blaich, told the Hefce conference that many institutions took only limited interest in its findings, with 37 per cent of institutions in the project’s first four-year phase making no response.


“Faculty do not like standardised tests as they do not feel they represent what their [teaching] is about,” said Professor Blaich.


He added that this testing process “also requires a lot of transparency that a lot of staff are not used to”.


Professor Blaich also cautioned against using learning gain measures as a way to rank institutions, despite the inevitable pressure to add them to the basket of student satisfaction and graduate outcome measures currently in use in many league tables.


The “differences between the highest [institution] and lowest are often very small, particularly compared to the difference within an institution [at subject level]”, he said of NSSE scores.


However, with universities always keen to show how they deserve taxpayers’ support, a nifty learning gain measure such as this could prove a vital weapon in the battle to hang on to their funding.

Read more at The Times Higher Education 

UK students believe the traditional CV format is not dynamic enough to best showcase their skills, according to a new survey from Kloodle, a social networking site for grad recruitment.


The research revealed that 42% of students are ready to use more current techniques when trying to secure a job but over half (57%) of the participants are still comfortable with using the old fashioned approach.


51% would welcome more advice from careers officers on how to create a digital CV which will help them standout from other candidates battling for the same position. 44% believe an online format with video content and images appeals to them most and 49% would like an interactive social media platform for job searching.


Nicky Sidebottom, Talent and Resourcing Specialist at the Manchester Airport Group, believes that although the traditional CV has played a key role in recruitment for decades, “employers and job hunters are now embracing all the online world has to offer as well”.


“The constrictive traditional CV format can be limiting, as it can give a one-dimensional overview of an applicant’s past accomplishments and skills, without getting any real insight into their actual capabilities and future potential,” she said.


However, Phil Hayes, founder and CEO of Kloodle believes that although “video recruiting could potentially become a fantastic tool to determine whether a candidate is a great fit for an organisation”, it could have an adverse effect on diversity in the workplace.


“Each of us are predisposed to gravitate towards people who are "like us". A video CV allows us to get a flavour of whether a candidate is of similar background to ourselves, and there may be a risk that such a candidate will get preferential treatment as a result,” he explained.


“In order to create such diversity and strength of company culture, leadership needs diversity at its core. Hiring diverse talent will never happen if the people who are hiring aren't diverse themselves,” Hayes concluded.

Read more at HR Grapevine

That is according to a Universities UK report that says the present “regulatory landscape is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to understand, with no clear guiding strategy or leadership to shape its future direction”.


The report, written by a UUK regulation task group chaired by Simon Gaskell (pictured above), president and principal of Queen Mary University of London, singles out the growth in private providers, saying “it is important to be confident that all providers can give robust assurances on the quality and sustainability of their offer”. It adds: “Without a clear and strategic response to these challenges there is a risk that the hard won reputation of – and trust in – higher education will be eroded.”


The UUK report, titled Quality, Equity, Sustainability: The Future of Higher Education Regulation, recommends that “a register be established to act as the gateway into the sector for all higher education providers, setting out clear and robust entry requirements and providing greater clarity for students and other constituencies on the assurances they can expect”.


It says another goal should be “meeting the need for more effective leadership and strategic oversight of the regulatory system, through a new lead regulator, the Council for Higher Education England (CHEE)”.


The report envisages that the Higher Education Funding Council for England should “evolve” to take on the CHEE’s responsibilities.


And it calls for a “new approach for protecting the student interest in the event of institutional or course closure. This would involve CHEE taking on a role to facilitate continuity of provision and to protect the public and student interest, alongside requirements for institutions to develop their own plans for how they would manage the student interest in such instances.”


The final recommendation is that “necessary changes should be made to primary legislation in order to implement the proposals in this report, particularly the role and powers of CHEE and to give the proposed register appropriate regulatory status”.


Professor Gaskell said that it “should be recognised that over recent years, there have been a number of significant changes to the funding of higher education and to the number of providers offering courses. Regulation of the sector needs to keep pace with these developments if confidence, and our international reputation, are to be maintained.”


Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, said: “There are serious doubts about whether any party will consider a higher education bill to be a high priority early in the life of the next parliament and much more likely that improvements in regulation or changes to the fee cap will be delivered by statutory instruments rather than primary legislation. However, there are risks in arguing that the regulatory role of Hefce should be expanded.


“Hefce remains a significant funder in terms of research as well as providing some direct grant for teaching and its funding role could be increased if fees were reduced and direct grant restored. It would be highly unusual for a regulator to have a major role as a funder.”

Read more at The Times Higher Education 

Universities from across the European Union can now apply to join the admissions service used by UK students, Ucas has confirmed.


Under previous rules, students had to apply directly to overseas universities if they wanted to study outside the UK.


The landmark decision by Ucas raises the prospect of universities from the Netherlands, Germany and Finland offering places alongside UK universities this summer.


Any universities applying to join Ucas, however, must “demonstrate that they meet equivalent standards to those in the UK”, a Ucas spokesman said.


“The inclusion of a wider range of higher education providers in the Ucas system offers students more choice about where and what to study,” he added.


About 30,000 UK students take up undergraduate places abroad each year, but the new reforms may open the door to many more heading to EU countries, where tuition is either free or a fraction of the £9,000 fees paid at UK universities.


However, students are currently unable to receive loans or grants for tuition fees or maintenance costs if they intend to study abroad – a factor that may limit the number of outbound students.

Read more at The Times Higher Education 

The government department pioneering the privatisation of higher education ignored repeated warnings about the potential abuse of public money, failed to bring in laws to control its policy and now has no clue how much of the £1.27bn paid out from the public purse has been lost to fraud or waste, the parliamentary spending watchdog has found.

A report from the Commons public accounts committee says the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Bis) pressed ahead with a four-year expansion of UK private colleges “without a robust legislative framework to protect public money”.

Following changes introduced by the then universities minister David Willetts in 2010 that were meant to usher in a new era in higher education, private colleges – like public and a handful of private universities – were permitted to take on students funded with government-issued student loans.

With access to public money, the colleges were meant to compete with universities in giving students a wider choice of qualifications and more flexible study.

Willetts characterised the new institutions, most of which are backed by private cash, as plucky upstarts offering innovations in higher education that would eventually help them to rival established universities.

However, last May whistleblowers told the Guardian that students at a number of colleges were not attending classes and were being enrolled to do diplomas even though they could barely speak English.

Students caught on undercover filming alleged that classmates from the EU were ripping off public money by claiming loans and grants while were living abroad.

One lecturer said the institution he worked at was dubbed the “ATM” for the ease with which students could get “free” money in grant handouts and loans that they believed no one would make them repay.

The committee’s chair, Margaret Hodge, said Bis was given explicit warnings by the Universities and College Union (UCU) and others about the potential waste and abuse of public money but “chose to disregard them, both before and after implementation”.

Hodge said Bis was “unable to quantify how much money has been lost when it has funded students who have failed to attend, or failed to complete courses, or were not proficient in the English language, or were not entered for qualifications, or where courses themselves were poorly taught”.

As a result of Bis’s “lax approach”, Hodge said, government auditors estimated that almost £4m of public money had been given to EU students who could not prove they lived in the UK.

The report (pdf) says Bis confessed it did not know why one-fifth of students in the private college or alternative provider sector had not signed up to do any exams, or “whether this represented a misuse of public funds”.

Following Willetts’s changes, there was an extraordinary rise in the number of students at private colleges or alternative providers, from 7,000 in 2010/11 to 53,000 in and 2013/14.

With that rise, the total amount of public money paid out to the colleges and students ballooned from about £50m to £675m a year.

In total, the report says, the Student Loans Company, a government quango, has paid out £1.27bn in financial support for students at alternative providers during the four-year period.

The report says: “The department does not know how much public money may have been wasted. The department has not attempted any calculation of the total financial impact of its weak oversight.

“Even though the intended purpose was to widen access to higher education for students in England, 40% of the publicly funded students attending these colleges are EU students, compared to 6% in the rest of the higher education sector.”

The committee called on civil servants to provide a full breakdown of how much money may have been squandered or fraudulently claimed.

“No data is provided to assess the performance of private providers,” the report says, and Bis has failed to “monitor what it is achieving from expansion of the alternative provider sector”.

It concludes: “It needs to identify poor performers and take appropriate action to protect students and the sector as a whole.”

A Bis spokesman said the department was improving its oversight.

“Alternative providers play a significant role in widening access to higher education for British and foreign students, as well as boosting our exports,” he said.

“Our priority is to protect the interest of students and safeguard taxpayer’s money.

“We have made continuous improvements to the management of alternative providers since 2012. We recently introduced reforms to drive up quality, aimed at the small number of providers who are not currently meeting our high standards.

“These include a fit and proper persons test for directors and a requirement to register students for the course before they can access funding.

“We are also shortly consulting on how to ensure that all students on funded courses have the right English language skills to achieve their qualifications.”

The UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Members of the PAC were as shocked as we were over the government’s refusal to heed our warnings about private providers’ access to taxpayers’ money.

“The government still has serious questions to answer about why it ignored these repeated warnings and why it allowed such rapid expansion to go unchecked.

“Politicians of all stripes need to study today’s report about the sector’s failings when it comes to dealing with privatisation.”

Read more at The Guardian 


Learning scientists at the University of Notre Dame have found a sweet spot in the pairing of digital badges and eportfolios: the perfect opportunity for students to showcase learning achievements not normally featured in traditional transcripts and student records. G. Alex Ambrose, Professor of Practice and Associate Director of ePortfolio Assessment at Notre Dame's Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning explains how a new digital badge pilot initiative was the key that opened up these new possibilities for the university's highly successful eportfolio program.

Mary Grush: You are incorporating a digital badge pilot into an established and thriving eportfolio program at Notre Dame. What is your particular interest in doing that?

Alex Ambrose: I've spent a lot of time working with integrated eportfolio project models, exploring how these models fit into an existing but changing learning ecosystem. And Notre Dame's investment in eportfolios, especially over the past three years or so, along with a somewhat newer digital badge pilot initiative offered me a view into these technologies that I'm not sure I could get anywhere else. But the best experience yet has proven to be not just the application of each of these technologies; rather, it's the intersection of digital badges and eportfolios — and I'm particularly interested in the opportunities this pairing affords both institutions and individuals in terms of the values that can be showcased relevant to the co-curricular experience students have at our institutions.

Grush: So you are talking about integrating digital badges and eportfolios specifically to focus on the co-curricular experience — why not the curricular?

Ambrose: I've deliberately stayed away from the curricular for a couple reasons. First, I've been very heavily involved with the accreditation movement, especially the evolution of traditional assessment with eportfolios — and from that I know that there are some rather grand and philosophical challenges, much broader issues than what we should attempt to tackle at this point in time through badges and our relatively nascent eportfolio program (relative to decades-old academic processes). I'm accepting guidance from academic administrators here at Notre Dame on that: As we pilot our digital badge program I've agreed, at least for the present, to stay away from the curricular and established credentialing practices — that is, the credit hour, the letter grade, and the tuition dollar.

These are the parameters of what our digital badges are not here at ND: They are not certificates or certifications and they are not credit bearing. They will however provide recognition of student achievement, and along with eportfolios, they can often provide a deeper representation of those achievements than you'll find in transcripts and more traditional records on the curricular side. Does that make sense?

Grush: Sure. And the second reason… ?

Ambrose: The second — and I'd say more intriguing — reason I've stayed away from the curricular sheds some light on the kind of recognition we do provide. I once heard a provost at the University of Michigan say that if you add up all the time undergraduate students spend in their four years at college, only about 8 percent of their time spent is on the curricular, and 92 percent is on everything else. So, that really hit home with the understanding that there's a lot more to a traditional 4-year residential-based campus experience than the five classes you take per semester times the number of semesters in those four years.

And what part of that 92 percent doesn't get recognized on the transcript? Probably most of it.

From study abroad and service learning, to internships and research assistantships, to club leadership and community service, to student worker jobs, and for so many forms of informal learning, much of the co-curricular yield from that 92 percent of the student's college experience is either lost to or not adequately represented on the transcript or in resumes.
Read more at Campus Technology 

More than £800m a year is being wasted on students who drop out of apprenticeships and A-level courses because their schools and colleges are more interested in getting “bums on seats” than on guiding them to the right subjects. Critics warn that data released today shows that a generation of young people have been set up for failure, spending wasted months out of the jobs market or more appropriate education.

Around 12 per cent of the entire budget for post-16 education in England is being wasted on the 10 per cent of students who fail to complete their studies – a figure that rises to 25 per cent among apprentices.

The analysis, which was carried out for the Local Government Association (LGA) by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, found the cost to the public purse is £814m.

The report shows that 178,100 16- to 18-year-olds failed to complete post-16 qualifications they had embarked upon in 2012-13 – prompting an outcry from local government leaders, academics and teachers’ leaders.

Schools and colleges are funded according to the number of students they recruit, leading the LGA to say that too many institutions are adopting a policy of recruiting as many students as possible to sixth-form or college courses, instead of ensuring each individual can be steered towards a course suitable for them.

“Councils want every young person to achieve their full potential but too many are still dropping out of post-16 education and training or not achieving a pass grade,” said David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board.

“Our analysis lays bare the substantial cost of this but the human cost is even greater, with youngsters left struggling with uncertainty and a sense of failure and facing tough decisions about what to do next.”

The LGA warns that the 178,100 dropouts run the risk of becoming “Neets”  – left marginalised by not being involved in education, employment or training.

The dropout rate from AS-levels, the exams worth half an A-level which have been considered a stepping stone to the full courses, was 10 per cent. The A-level dropout rate was 5 per cent. There were 75,000 withdrawals from individual AS-levels and 22,000 from  A-levels.

The cost of dropout and non-achievement was £316m from AS- and A-levels, £302m from further education and £196m from apprenticeships.

The authors say that in recent years the cost to the Exchequer may have been even more costly as AS-level and A-level dropout rates have improved – but warned that the situation could soon become worse.

The LGA is asking all political parties to give councils more freedom to work closely with local employers to provide local solutions to offering the courses that will most help young people in their neighbourhood – instead of leaving them to try to match nationally imposed programmes to local needs.

“Councils are having success in helping young people that do dropout back into learning but fear a failure to reform the centralised ‘bums on seats’ approach to funding further education could leave too many teenagers at risk of dropping out in the future,” Mr Simmonds added.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, added: “It is the fault of successive governments because we don’t have clear pathways for students at that age.

“Schools want to hold on to them – but then they discover that academic work is not for them. If they then opt for further education colleges or apprenticeships, it is a bit of a muddle.  The ladder from school to university is clear but the ladder from school to employment is anything but. This has to be a high priority for an incoming government to tackle.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have invested £7.2bn to fund a place for every 16- and 17-year-old in England who wants one. We are reforming academic qualifications and vocational education to ensure young people get the knowledge and skills that they need to move into a job.”

Read more at The Independent 

Face-to-face interaction is best when it comes to careers guidance, with only 2% of teachers citing ‘online engagement’ as the most beneficial way for students to receive employment guidance, findings from newly merged MyKindaCrowd and Bright Futures have found.

The main research findings were:

  • Over a third (35%) of young people are not inspired by their current career guidance.
  • Over half (55%) of young people want to receive employment inspiration and guidance face-to-face with companies.
  • Only 14% of young people want to receive employment inspiration and guidance online.
  • Over half of young people think face-to-face meetings supported by on-line communication would be more beneficial for them.
  • 94% of young people would like employers to come to their education space and run interactive workshops, give advice or come with potential job opportunities.
  • 40% of teachers believe the career inspiration and guidance their students receive is not effective.
  • Two thirds (67%) of teachers think face-to-face with employees is the most beneficial way for their students’ to receive employment guidance.
  • Only 2% of teachers think online engagement is the most beneficial way for their students’ to receive employment guidance.
  • Nearly half (48%) of teachers think face-to-face meetings supported by on-line communication would be more beneficial for their students and half think the importance is on who is running the session.
  • 100% of teachers surveyed want employers to come into their institution and run interactive workshops, give advice or come with potential job opportunities.

The official closing date for standard university applications for 2015 entry has passed so it seems an appropriate moment to investigate whether the system of access to universities is fair, especially at selective institutions.

How successful are universities in supporting social mobility and could they do more?

In recent years, the issue of social mobility through higher education has been given particular political prominence by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission set up by the Child Poverty Act 2010, chaired by Alan Milburn.

In 2013, the Commission's report Higher Education, The Fair Access Challenge pointed out that between 2002-03 and 2011-12 the percentage of state-educated students at Russell Group universities actually fell.

It famously stated that the odds of a child at a state secondary school, who was eligible for free school meals in Year 11, being admitted to Oxbridge by the age of 19 were almost 2,000 to one against.

By contrast, the odds of a privately educated child being admitted to Oxbridge were 20 to one.

Are there signs of progress on social mobility in universities?

A recent Ucas report on the pattern of applications and acceptances in the 2014 cycle indicated that overall more young people are going to university than ever with more than 500,000 applicants being admitted.

Statistically misleading

While the gap between disadvantaged and better-off students is narrowing, there is still a long way to go.

The report finds that only 3% of disadvantaged 18-year-olds enter "high tariff" universities (such as the Russell Group) compared with 21% of those from the most advantaged backgrounds.

Ucas data indicates that the most disadvantaged young applicants in England were 13% more likely to enter a selective institution in 2014 than in the previous year, and 40% more likely than in 2010.

But does this constitute good progress?

Commenting on the 2014 data, the universities fair access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access (Offa), pointed out that while the 40% increase is welcome, it is in some respects statistically misleading.

This is perhaps because, historically, very few people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds enter highly selective universities. To be precise, there were 4,040 entrants in 2014 compared with 3,105 in 2011.

In that context, the 40% increase amounts to less than one percentage point increase for the most disadvantaged group, from 2.3% to 3.2% overall. The Offa judgement is, in effect, "good, but could do better".

Data on declining part-time and postgraduate students also suggest that less well-off students are missing out.

Can this slow progress be accelerated?

The Milburn Commission emphasised in an update report before Christmas that priorities for universities to boost social mobility should include working even more closely with schools and providing support on A-level and career choices.

Calibre of schools

The Commission also proposed that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should support universities to establish regional university access networks.

In responding, HEFCE has this month set up National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) for universities and colleges to collaborate to improve access to higher education.

With investment of £22m, the scheme involves more than 200 further and higher education institutions, reaching 4,300 secondary schools and colleges.

While most are regionally focused, some networks are specifically for care leavers, older learners and learners aspiring to progress to Oxford and Cambridge.

Perhaps most controversially however, the Milburn report also encouraged selective universities to admit 3,000 more qualified state school students and 1,400 more working-class students with high grades each year starting this year, given that recruitment caps have been lifted by the government for the 2015 intake.

In addition, the Commission calls for 5,000 more Free School Meals pupils to be admitted by all universities by 2020.

But selective universities do not fully accept the arguments of either the Commission or Offa, and worry that too much onus is being put on them and claim the challenges - and the means to address them - lie elsewhere.

"The key reason why too few students from disadvantaged backgrounds even apply to leading universities is that they are not achieving the right grades in the right subjects at school.

"Universities can and do help - but we simply cannot solve these problems alone. School attainment, advice and aspirations must all be dramatically improved if we are to remove the real barriers to fair access."

This is a complex area with many disputes over the multiple causes and effects, including calibre of schools, family wealth, grades, outreach initiatives and bursaries. But research by the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions (Cayt) suggests that even when we compare like with like in terms of academic achievement, applicants from deprived backgrounds are often still less likely to get into high tariff universities.

The Russell Group point to the investment they are making in supporting access both from tuition fees and from other sources.

They argue out that in 2015-16, 20 Russell Group universities in England will spend £235m supporting students from less advantaged backgrounds.

This will involve more than £160m on scholarships, fee waivers and bursaries with a further £49m on outreach activities, including working with teachers and hosting summer schools and other access schemes.

Proposals that universities should perhaps apply a set of formulas to calculate a "real" academic potential index, using so-called contextual data, where, for example, applicants with high grades from schools with generally low A-level grades, would be uprated on an objective statistical basis, are strongly resisted by selective universities.

Wilful elitism

They say the true picture of an applicant can only be secured on a case-by-case basis by an experienced admissions tutor.

Also, they are concerned that having formulas would undermine the autonomy of universities in managing their own admissions, and in turn their independence in other areas.

In the higher education sector more generally, there is concern about defining improvements in social mobility solely in terms of the percentage of poor students attending elite institutions.

It is claimed that the hundreds of thousands of students from disadvantaged areas who attend other universities across the UK, sometimes rather than not attending university at all, is ultimately a much more powerful force for social change.

More profoundly perhaps, there is the view that there is something amiss in a society where a small number of elite universities serve as narrow gateways to the top jobs.

Should the debate not be about a fair system for access to the professions rather than securing fair access to an unfair filtering system?

Later in 2015, the Milburn Commission will be publishing research into the "black box" behind candidate selection and promotion in the professions and how this helps or hinders social mobility.

Rather intriguingly the commission has also announced that it will be publishing research "why some people from advantaged backgrounds succeed in the labour market despite apparent low ability or few academic achievements" the so-called glass floor effect.

Since 1973, the Labour Force Survey has been surveying around 300,000 homes each year on education and work. Now for the first time it includes a number of questions on social mobility, looking, for example, at the occupation of respondents' parents.

This will help link social background to current achievement and work activity.

Paradoxically, higher education is unlikely to figure significantly in the 2015 general election because it appears none of the three main parties is confident it offers a clean historical record or attractive solution for future funding.

The Labour Party is indicating it is considering cutting tuition fees to £6,000 per annum from the current £9,000.

The debate has moved on from claims of social engineering versus wilful elitism.

But the numbers of working-class students at selective institutions appears stubbornly resistant to change - for whatever reason.

There is a broad political consensus on the need for fairer access to university and top jobs, however, given the complexity of the factors involved, the political nature of the arguments, and the direct links to the future social and economic success of the UK, debates over social mobility, and the role of universities in supporting it, will continue throughout 2015, and well beyond.

Read more at The BBC


The CBI’s First Steps report set out the business priorities for education. Our focus must be on striving to develop rigorous, rounded and grounded young people that are better prepared to succeed and better able to help businesses thrive. The Education and Skills survey year on year reflects this analysis: employers rate attitudes and aptitudes in school and college leavers as their top priority. We’ve started to see progress but there’s no doubt we’re only a short way along this path to successful reform.


The 2014 edition shows that business is clear that we must keep up the push for progress. Reform of the education system needs to clearly set out what we want our schools to deliver – young people with not only knowledge and skills but also with the characteristics and behaviours that set them up for success in life and work – and effectively hold schools to account against this. We’ve got to make sure that all young people receive an education that will enable them to fulfil their potential – in every school across the UK, whatever the area and whoever is in charge.


This year’s survey also shows us that many businesses remain concerned about the challenges they have with filling the roles of the future that will require more high-skilled employees. Beyond schools, a more responsive and demand-led system of skills development is needed to overcome this. The increased take up of advanced and higher apprenticeships and commitment to funding training at higher levels is a promising development, but it’s also vital that this doesn’t result in a continued dropoff in numbers undertaking apprenticeships at an intermediate level.


Employers want to play a bigger part too. There have been encouraging steps taken to move towards the employer-driven skills system we need, but increased business engagement in schools can add even more value to the school environment – from engagement within careers guidance and professionals volunteering as governors, to sponsoring academies and supporting curriculum development related to their industry. Business is already doing a lot to support young people in this way – but there is real potential to scale this up for the benefit of all. A local system of brokerage to support these links could be of significant value.


It’s obvious that it will take time before the full effects of the reforms seen over the last 12 months take hold. But in the meantime, we must continue the journey of reform to make sure we support the development of the skills, knowledge and people that will enable. British businesses to grow and compete now and in the future.

Read the full report at CBI

Young people may spend hours preparing their CV for employers to pore over, but research shows that just 8.8 seconds is spent studying any one person’s curriculum vitae in a process that has become “Tinderised”.

According to the UK’s youth programme, National Citizen Service, the pressure on employers to get through hundreds of CVs for entry level jobs has doubled, leading to less time being spent on prospective employees' initial applications.

The average number of applications to these roles over the past two years leaped from 46 in 2013 to 93 today, and out of the 500 employers surveyed, one in 10 larger businesses, who staff more than 250 people, say they are seeing more than 400 applications for entry level jobs advertised.

Employers have admitted to spending less time reviewing a CV than ever before, with half saying they spend less than six seconds reading one, and have said that despite the surge in applications, the majority of CVs do not stand out from the crowd.

Entrepreneur and Dragon Den star Piers Linney said the research shows that “because employers have less time than ever to review applications, the process of reviewing CVs has become almost ‘Tinderised’ with each CV given just a few seconds to stand out against the competition before being kept or cast aside.”

Businesses are looking or “evidence of strength of character, tenacity and resilience,” he said, while the study revealed that people are more likely to get through to the next stage in the recruitment process if there is evidence of extra-curricular activities, interests and courses, as opposed to simply listing exam results.

The research also outlined the top 10 CV faux pas:

1. Bad grammar

2. Spelling mistakes

3. Poor formatting

4. CV longer than two pages

5. Casual tone

6. Use of jargon

7. Unusual font style or size

8. Exam grades listed in full

9. Generic interests listed such as cooking or reading

10. Lack of activities related to personal development

Read more at The Independent 

A group representing non-profit and for-profit private providers aims to be “the Russell Group of the alternative sector” and to dissociate its members from “dodgy” for-profit colleges.

The Independent Universities Group, representing eight institutions with degree-awarding powers and/or university title that are not funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was scheduled to be formally established at a meeting on 6 January.

Some suggest that membership of the IUG or attainment of the entry requirement of degree-awarding powers could in future become key regulatory thresholds for private providers to demonstrate quality – particularly if a Labour government is returned after the 2015 election and introduces tougher regulation on private providers.

The IUG was set to be made up of five non-profit institutions and three for-profit or for-profit-owned institutions: Ashridge Business School; BPP University (whose parent company is US higher education firm Apollo Group); the University of Buckingham; the College of Estate Management; the University of Law (owned by Montagu Private Equity); Regent’s University London; RDI (a subsidiary of US firm Capella Education Company); and Richmond, the American International University in London.

The only private institution with degree-awarding powers that has opted not to join the group is not-for-profit ifs University College. Richmond does not have UK degree-awarding powers, but has US accreditation.

Aldwyn Cooper, Regent’s vice-chancellor, said: “In a sense we do see ourselves as a sort of Russell Group of the alternative sector. Because we want there to be a recognition that there is a distinct difference between different elements of the alternative sector, which is still confusing to the general public and to MPs, frankly.”

Professor Cooper said part of the group’s aim was to stress that members had “been under greater inspection and had to achieve greater levels of quality assurance than most of the state-funded sector”.

The group is likely to lobby for its members to be granted access to higher fees via the Student Loans Company – students at private providers can borrow only £6,000 a year for fees. Professor Cooper called the lower cap “iniquitous” as “we’ve achieved exactly the same criteria” as state-funded universities.

Professor Cooper added that there were some “very dodgy colleges still out there” who were “doing a disservice to the alternative sector as a whole” and he did not mind if they were criticised.

“We’re really happy for them to be hammered and hammered good,” he said. “But we don’t want to be associated with them.”

Alistair Alcock, acting vice-chancellor at Buckingham, said that universities such as Regent’s and Buckingham “are for certain purposes treated as alternative providers, and issues surrounding numbers caps, loans and status are ones that do not affect fellow Universities UK members in the same way. So we do feel a separate voice needs to be heard for this growing group of HE providers.”

Read more at Times Higher Education 

The institution was ranked as the global leader in new US-based rankings that measure universities for the production of graduates who are “ready to work”, expertise in a particular field and reputation.

In all, five British universities were named among the top 20 – one more than last year – and 12 were in the top 150. The UK had more top-ranking universities than any country, other than the United States.

Figures show Cambridge climbed from third last year to first in 2014 while Oxford fell from first to fourth. Harvard and Yale, in the US, were named second and third.

Check out the full list here:

1. Great Britain – University of Cambridge

2. USA – Harvard Univ.

3. USA – Yale Univ.

4. Great Britain – University of Oxford

5. USA – California Institute of Technology

6. USA – Mass. Institute of Technology

7. USA – Stanford Univ.

8. Germany – TU München

9. USA – Princeton Univ.

10. Japan – Univ. of Tokyo

11. USA – Columbia Univ.

12. USA – Univ. of California, Berkeley

13. Canada – Univ. of Toronto

14. Great Britain – University College London

15. Great Britain – Imperial College London

16. Hong Kong – Hong Kong Univ. of Sciences and Tech.

17. France – École Normale Supérieure Paris

18. Great Britain – University of Edinburgh

19. USA – Johns Hopkins Univ.

20. China – Peking Univ.

21. France – École Polytechnique ParisTech

22. India – Indian Institute of Science

23. Australia – Australian National Univ.

24. France – H.E.C. Paris

25. Great Britain – University of Manchester

26. Japan – Tokyo Institute of Technology

27. USA – Duke Univ.

28. Canada – McGill Univ.

29. Spain – IE Univ

30. USA – Univ. Of Chicago

31. Germany – Univ. Heidelberg

32. USA – New York Univ.

33. Australia – Monash Univ.

34. USA – Brown Univ.

35. Great Britain – King's College London

36. China – Fudan Univ.

37. Switzerland – Swiss Federal Inst. of Tech. Zurich

38. Switzerland – Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

39. Singapore – National Univ. of Singapore

40. Italy – Univ. Commerciale Luigi Bocconi

41. USA – Cornell Univ.

42. France – École des Mines ParisTech

43. USA – Boston Univ.

44. Great Britain – London School of Economics

45. Spain – Navarra

46. Germany – Goethe-Univ. Frankfurt am Main

47. Canada – Univ. of Montreal, H. E. C Montreal

48. Australia – Univ. of New South Wales

49. France – École Centrale Paris

50. Germany – Ludwig-Maximilians-Univ. München

51. USA – Carnegie Mellon Univ.

52. USA – Univ. of California, San Francisco

53. India – Indian School of Business

54. Japan – Kyoto Univ.

55. Canada – Univ. of British Columbia

56. China – Tsinghua Univ.

57. Hong Kong – The Chinese Univ. of Hong Kong

58. China – Shanghai Jiao Tong Univ.

59. USA – Northwestern Univ.

60. Great Britain – University of Birmingham

61. Switzerland – Univ. Zürich

62. USA – Univ. of California, Los Angeles

63. Great Britain – University of Nottingham

64. Switzerland – Univ. de Lausanne

65. Australia – Univ. Of Melbourne

66. USA – Dartmouth College

67. Sweden – Stockholm Univ.

68. Belgium – Univ. Gent

69. Denmark – Univ. of Copenhagen

70. USA – Univ. of Pennsylvania

71. USA – Univ. of Washington

72. France – École de Management de Lyon

73. France – ESSEC

74. Great Britain – London Business School

75. Italy – Politecnico di Milano

76. The Netherlands – Technische Univ. Eindhoven

77. Germany – Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin

78. Great Britain – University of Bristol

79. USA – Georgetown Univ.

80. Canada – McMaster Univ.

81. Germany – Frankfurt School of Finance and Management

82. The Netherlands – Utrecht Univ.

83. Belgium – Katholieke Univ. Leuven

84. USA – Boston College

85. USA – Michigan State Univ.

86. The Netherlands – Rijksuniversiteit Groningen

87. Germany – Georg-August-Universität Gottingen

88. Switzerland – Univ. Bern

89. The Netherlands – Erasmus Univ. Rotterdam

90. Sweden – Lunds Univ.

91. Finland – Univ. of Helsinki

92. USA – Brigham Young Univ.

93. USA – Rutgers Univ.

94. France – Sciences Po Paris

95. USA – Univ. of California, San Diego

96. Brazil – Univ. de São Paulo

97. The Netherlands – Technische Univ. Delft

98. USA – Univ. of Southern California

99. USA – Univ. of Texas, Austin

100. Switzerland – Univ. Basel

101. USA – Texas A&M Univ.

102. Sweden – Karolinska Institutet

103. Switzerland – Univ. St. Gallen

104. France- Univ. Pierre et Marie Curie

105. South Korea – Korea Adv. Inst. of Sciences and Tech.

106. USA – Rice Univ.

107. Hong Kong – Univ. Of Hong Kong

108. Spain – Esade/ Univ. Ramón Llull

109. Brazil – Fundação Getulio Vargas

110. Ireland – Trinity College Dublin

111. Japan – Waseda Univ.

112. Great Britain – University of Warwick

113. Israel – The Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem

114. USA – Ohio State Univ.

115. USA – Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor

116. Mexico – Tecnológico de Monterrey

117. USA – Univ. of Virginia

118. USA – Case Western Reserve Univ.

119. Canada – Univ. of Waterloo

120. India – Indian Institute of Technology Bombay

121. Mexico – Univ. Nacional Autónoma de México

122. France – Univ. Paris-Sud

123. Japan – Osaka Univ.

124. South Korea – Pohang Institute of Science and Technology

125. China – Nanjing Univ.

126. China – Zhejiang Univ.

127. Germany – Technische Universitat Berlin

128. USA – Washington Univ. in Saint Louis

129. USA – Georgia Tech.

130. South Korea – Seoul National Univ.

131. USA – Purdue Univ.

132. Israel – Technion Israel Institute of Technology

133. Japan – Nagoya Univ.

134. USA – Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison

135. USA – Univ. of Pittsburgh

136. Taiwan – National Taiwan Univ.

137. USA – Univ. of Arizona

138. Russia- Moscow State Univ.

139. Taiwan – National Tsing Hua University

140. Singapore – Nanyang Technological University

141. Sweden – Uppsala Univ.

142. Denmark – Tech. Univ. Of Denmark

143. South Korea – Yonsei Univ.

144. Italy – Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

145. India – Indian Institute of Technology kanpur

146. Hong Kong – The City University of Hong Kong

147. China – Harbin Institute of Technology

148. Norway – Univ. Of Oslo

149. India- Indian Institute of Technology Delhi

150. New Zealand – Univ. of Auckland

Read mroe at The Telegraph

Leading universities have been accused of undermining A-levels by accepting students before they sit their final exams in a “desperate” rush to fill places.

Research by the Telegraph shows universities are preparing to make increasing numbers of “unconditional offers” to sixth-formers next year.

Top research institutions including Birmingham, Lancaster, Nottingham, Leicester, Sussex and Queen Mary, University of London, will admit students en masse in some subjects without waiting for results in August.


Numbers are expected to significantly exceed the 12,000 unconditional offers made across the UK this year, with one university alone saying it will make 10,000 in 2015.


The move coincides with a government decision to abolish all restrictions on student recruitment in England for the first time in 2015 – creating a free market in undergraduate admissions.


It has led to intense competition between universities to sign up the most talented sixth-formers before they are attracted to opposing institutions.

In most cases, admissions tutors will make places available to candidates based on past performance in GCSEs and their predicted A-level grades, meaning students will win places even if they go on to fail their summer exams.


Universities insist the move is intended to reward students with potential while taking the pressure off teenagers in the final year of the sixth-form.

But there are fears that it will lead to a dramatic dip in performance in the last few months of school as students effectively “give up” on their A-levels.


A recent study by admissions experts warned that the system may provoke an “environment of reduced effort” where students “might stop trying hard”.


It was also claimed it could lead to "loss of credibility" at top universities and the sense that academics are "desperate to fill places".


One student told researchers: “If I was given an unconditional offer I wouldn’t bother working for my A-levels”.


According to UCAS, just over 20 universities made a record 12,000 unconditional offers between them to students starting courses this autumn. It represented a dramatic four-fold rise in just 12 months.


In 2012, Birmingham became the first institution to use the practice in a coordinated way by making 1,000 offers across 12 courses. This year, unconditional offers will be made to some 3,000 students – one-in-10 of the university’s total – in more than 50 separate subjects.


This includes chemistry, economics, English, geography, history, maths, modern languages and sociology.


For the first time this year, Lancaster has introduced a co-ordinated unconditional offer scheme, promising talented students places on 18 courses. It followed a trial in two departments last year.


Other institutions adopting unconditional offers in a systematic way in 2015 include two Russell Group universities – Nottingham and Queen Mary – along with Aston, Leicester, Sussex, Leeds Beckett and Birmingham City.


Most students have to make universities their “firm choice” on UCAS application forms as a condition of accepting an offer – effectively tying them into a place up to six months before courses start.


Aston said it was piloting an unconditional offer scheme “to reward academic excellence based on past performance and predicted grades” in one or two subjects in 2015.


Leicester said its unconditional offer programme was “not a short-cut and does not mean you can sit back and ignore your A-levels”, adding: “We will only make unconditional offers to students who we are absolutely certain will work hard and achieve excellent grades.”


Sussex said it offered unconditional places in all subjects other than medicine but insisted only the brightest 10 per cent of applicants were chosen based on previous GCSE results and AS-levels.


The move towards unconditional offers has been made as the government abolishes all controls on student recruitment for English universities in 2015.

It has already led to a more intense competition between institutions, with universities offering scholarships worth up to £10,000 and lucrative inducements such as free iPads, sports club membership and cheap accommodation to attract applicants.


But the unconditional offer system has been criticised by academics.


A report from Supporting Professionalism in Admissions – a university advisory group – suggested the system could have benefits, including acting as a way to increase student numbers and taking the pressure off sixth-formers as they approach their exams.


But it also listed a series of “threats” posed by the system. This included “perceived loss of credibility and face” and the possibility that universities’ “league table position may suffer if grades lower”.


It also said it may encourage an “environment of reduced effort” in the sixth-form.


Around 75 per cent of students and teachers responding to a SPA survey admitted the system meant sixth-formers “might stop trying hard” in the final year. Almost four-in-10 said universities making large numbers of unconditional offers were “desperate to fill places”.


One teacher told researchers: “I have seen students drop out of our programme once an unconditional offer has been received as they feel that it is pointless carrying on; they have nothing to gain.”


But another said: “It would take the pressure off students during their A-level year, which might mean they’d perform better anyway.”


Prof Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “There is a real danger that this will lead to the final year being wasted. If final results no longer carry the weight you thought they would it is inevitable that many students are going to coast.”


But David Willetts, the former Universities Minister, and architect of the new admissions rules, said: “It all makes for a more competitive system and it’s to be welcomed. Students have much more choice than they had the in the past.”

Read more at The Telegraph 

Employers will take the lead in a new careers body that will broker links between schools and businesses in England, say ministers.


The government has allocated £20m to start up the company but expects it ultimately to be fully independent.


Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said the aim was to "inspire young people".


The move follows concerns that careers advice is far worse since schools took over responsibility for it from local councils in 2012.


Identifying talent

Mrs Morgan said it was important young people heard about all their options, including apprenticeships, vocational training and higher education.


Speaking on a visit to London's Crossrail project, Mrs Morgan said businesses were keen to develop more links with schools.


Continue reading the main story

Start Quote


This is the best thing I have done so far career-wise”


Aaron Bedford

Crossrail apprentice

"It is worth employers investing in the future and they want young people to have the skills that they are going to be able to use in their workforce.


"They tell us they want to do more work with schools but often aren't sure who to contact and how best to identify talent for the future."


Mrs Morgan met 23-year-old Aaron Bedford, a joinery apprentice with Crossrail since May.


Mr Bedford said he had done a series of cleaning and warehousing jobs after leaving school with "basic GCSEs" in 2008.


"This is the best thing I have done so far career-wise," he said.


He hopes to continue to an advanced-level apprenticeship.


Mrs Morgan said changes to the National Careers Service would mean advisers could help young people as well as adults.


"What we don't want to do is to squash any of the excellent schemes that are already going on around the country, some of which will involve face-to-face advice.


"We want to build on that and spread that really good practice."


Christine Hodgson, current executive chairman of outsourcing company Capgemini UK, will chair the new company, which will advise schools and colleges, link them with employers and help boost careers advice in areas where it is poor.


It will also provide feedback to government on how well young people are being prepared for work.


Deirdre Hughes, who chaired a National Careers Council report into schools' careers guidance earlier this year, said the new body faced a number of challenges.


In particular she said a survey of 300 employers suggested more than half were not interested in engaging with schools because they saw no real benefits to their business.


'Poor decisions'

According to earlier research by the trade association Careers England, careers guidance was reduced in the overwhelming majority of schools in England after they took over the duty to run it in 2012.


Before that it was provided by local councils through the Connexions service.


David Sparks, chairman of the Local Government Association, said the job should be returned to councils.


"Too many young people have not received the high-quality, impartial and personalised careers advice they deserve since the responsibility to provide it was transferred away from councils to schools by successive governments.


"This failure to provide good advice can leave youngsters making poor decisions which have a potentially devastating impact on their future careers as they train for jobs that do not exist.


"Another national agency, tasked with the impossible challenge of matching thousands of local schools with two million employers, is a wasted opportunity and won't resolve the widening skills gap."


The Association of School and College Leaders said it was vital the changes resulted in more face-to-face guidance for pupils from qualified careers professionals.


"Today's proposals will stand or fall on whether they enable schools to put in place expert, professional support," said ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman.


Graham Stuart MP, chairman of Parliament's Education Select Committee said the greatest challenge was to get schools and colleges to take careers guidance seriously.


He said that without "a proper accountability system" too many schools would continue to fail to inform pupils about their options.


John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, urged the new body to ensure "all schools not just a self-selected few, work hand in hand with local firms to inspire and inform young people about their career options".


The CBI's director general, John Cridland, said it should "find and tackle local areas where young people are not getting the support they need".

Read more at BBC News

New Year often brings a new focus and in order to develop in 2015, you need to follow a process that will help you achieve your goals in 2015 and beyond. Committing to personal development can mean focusing on improving your self-knowledge, identifying your potential, fulfilling goals and aspirations and defining a personal development plan. Personal Development planning means working through questions such as what do I really want to achieve from life, what are my goals and ambitions, am I taking the right actions to get me there.

In order to create an effective Personal Development Plan, the first thing you need to understand is your current situation. To help you understand where you are and set objectives for the year ahead, a personal SWOT will help you to identify opportunities for improvement, and help you to make the most of your personal talents by working out what you are good at and where you could improve. You will understand any threats to you achieving your goals such as needing to move house and the time this will entail, or a partner or relative’s illness necessitating time away from work. Use this template to help you focus on your strengths, appreciate where you need to improve and make the most of opportunities available to you.

Once we know where we are we need to know what our goals are. For some people this may be crystal clear but other people may not be as sure. It can help at this stage to consider methodologies and mind-sets available and self-help books offer a wealth of information. Dr Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People has stood the test of time from when it was published in 1990. Reading this information map will give you an overview on the 7 habits which include being proactive, beginning with the end in mind and seeking first to understand and then be understood. Covey’s concept can help people grow, change, and become more effective both in the workplace and in their personal lives.

Now you understand the current situation, it’s time to document your goals and make them visible. Major goals can seem unattainable so sometimes the easiest way to achieve your objectives is to plan them out and start small with little goals to achieve that all add up to reaching your main objectives. You can achieve your goals – but you have to work at it. Make sure you understand what it is you want to achieve and by when? How much do you want this? How determined are you to succeed? What do you need to do this year, this quarter, this month, this week, today to get you closer to your target? What does that mean in terms of action, planning, effort and attainment? Use this Goal Setting template to identify what you need to achieve and how you will do it. Setting goals will help you get to where you want to be.

Now you need to implement the tasks that are going to help you achieve your goals. Maybe you have your own method, but you could also consider a new one such as Getting Things Done™. This is a time management methodology which helps you to manage your time, increase focus and improve personal productivity. It will help you to understand which tasks you need to work on first in order to achieve your goals and which tasks can be saved for later. David Allen, the author of this methodology, uses two key elements, control and perspective and will help you implement a process to ensure you do what needs to be done. Take a look at this information map which outlines the process and includes a template to get you started.

It can be easy to get caught up in activities which don’t help you achieve your goals so regular review points are required to help ensure you stay on track and meet your goals come year end. Schedule these every few months or quarterly and reflect on what you’ve achieved since your last review point. Do you need to change anything to get you back on track and do you need to set any new tasks to help you get there? Are you meeting your short term goals, do you have the skills required to reach the next phase of your ultimate career or personal goals.

Read more at Business 2 Community 

Ucas, the organisation that handles British university admissions, is warning that some students applying for places may be disadvantaged by the uneven and confusing wave of A-level exam changes taking place later this year.


In a survey of 500 secondary schools, Ucas found many unsure how to respond to the A-level changes in England, which strip out AS-level exams as part of A-level grades and introduce a series of new two-year linear exams from September this year until 2017.


Ucas warned that the mixture of new and old-style exams, some including modular AS-levels and some not, will not be over until 2020.


“Universities and colleges should review their admissions practices in light of qualification reform happening around the UK to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of curriculum choices made by their schools or colleges,” Ucas recommended to universities as part of its analysis.


Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas’s chief executive, said: “Responses to this survey paint a picture of a high level of uncertainty and anxiety among schools and colleges, and a wide range of responses to the A-level reform.”


Curnock Cook admitted: “The admissions environment is further complicated by the divergence of A-levels and GCSEs across the UK.” Students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will sit for different qualifications with the same name but varying assessment arrangements and structures.


A quarter of the 500 schools that responded said they were likely to enter pupils for fewer A-level subjects than previously, while the changes led one school to complain: “It is particularly difficult to know what advice to give our students and staff – there is no clear voyage through at present and this needs to be addressed in the interests of young people.”




Another school leader told Ucas: “We are now in a position where no one seems to know exactly what will happen.”


A majority of schools told Ucas they planned to snub one of the Department for Education’s changes – the “de-coupling” of A-level and AS-levels, meaning that AS-levels no longer form part of a two-year A-level course.


The DfE’s aim was to place more emphasis on the two-year-long course and its final exam, uninterrupted by an AS exam in the middle. But two-thirds of the schools surveyed by Ucas said they would continue to enter pupils for AS-levels, even though they will become a standalone exam.


One school leader told Ucas: “It is highly likely that students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be put off taking A-levels. The AS has acted as a great confidence boost if GCSE grade profiles are weaker.”


Some universities such as Cambridge argued that AS-levels should be retained because of their value in the admissions process, while many schools said that university admissions was a top priority in their decisions over which exams to enter pupils for.


Ucas said universities would need to be clear and transparent in their entry requirements.

Read more at The Guardian 

A new £22 million scheme involving over 200 higher education institutions and reaching 4,300 secondary schools and colleges aims to encourage more young people into higher education.

The National Networks for Collaborative Outreach (NNCO) will deliver a nationally co-ordinated approach to working with schools, universities and colleges to help people access higher education [Note 1].   Local and regional providers of higher education have come together to form the networks, ensuring comprehensive coverage across England.

Thirty-five local networks will cover the whole of England. Each network will appoint a single point of contact to help teachers and advisers find out about higher education outreach activity in their area and to provide general advice about progression into higher education. Three more networks will offer advice and support to specific groups of students at national level, including older learners wishing to continue or return to study and care leavers.

The local networks will host web-sites with information about outreach activity, and signpost other information to support schools and colleges as they prepare their students for higher education.

The networks are funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and managed by HEFCE [Note 2].

Greg Clark, Minister for Universities and Science, welcomed the networks, saying:

‘Higher education is a transformational experience and the future of the UK economy depends on having highly-trained graduates so it is vital that young people have the right information about progressing into higher education. This programme will ensure that schools and colleges across England can help their students learn about higher education in the classroom, online and through local outreach activity.

‘A record number of students entered higher education in 2014, with entry rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds increasing by over 10 per cent to its highest ever level. However there is still more work to do to ensure all students who want to study hard can benefit, irrespective of their background.’

Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

‘We have been impressed by the higher education sector’s response to this scheme, which means that vital information about how to progress into higher education will be available to people across England. We set out to establish coverage of state-funded secondary schools and sixth form colleges and, through the support of the sector, this will be achieved.

‘As well as providing co-ordinated coverage of outreach activity, we are keen that the NNCO scheme contributes innovative approaches to the interaction between higher education institutions and schools and colleges. We will be evaluating the scheme to ensure that innovation can be shared amongst networks and quickly benefit schools and colleges and the students they support.’

HEFCE has launched a web page which will enable schools and colleges to find their local network.


  1. The NNCO scheme was first announced in a written ministerial statement in November 2013, when the former Minister for Universities and Science set out changes to the National Scholarship Programme from 2014-15 onwards. He stated that:

    ‘By bringing forward from 2015-16 the planned reduction of £100 million in funding for the NSP we are able to redirect £25 million to establish a new network to support collaborative outreach.

    ‘Universities, colleges and schools will benefit from an investment of £25 million in 2014 to help them work together more effectively as they reach out to encourage more people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to university.

  2. Funding of £22 million is provided for the academic years 2014-15 and 2015-16. The remaining £3 million from the £25 million allocated will fund the rolling-out of the Higher Education Access Tracker, a sector-owned service which enables institutions to track learners through the education system and measure the success of their interventions.
  3. The NNCO scheme funds publicly funded universities and colleges to develop local networks to coordinate outreach activities for all state-funded secondary schools and colleges in England. At present 226 universities and colleges are partners in networks.
  4. The three national networks will offer specific support to care leavers, older learners and learners aspiring to progress to Oxford and Cambridge.
Read more at HEFCE

It’s that time of year again, when panic reigns in households inhabited by 17- and 18-year-olds across the country. Schoolbags are thrown across kitchens; bedroom doors are slammed; homework left undone and tantrums even more frequent than usual.

No, it’s not exam term – it’s worse: January 15 marks UCAS deadline day, and the beginning of the end of many a school career.

For the past few months, students will have spent sleepless nights worrying about their personal statements. Forget picking a university, college, degree or course; it's that 4,000-word form detailing who you are, what you do and why on earth the institution you're applying to should pick you that gets A-level students most stressed out.

Entire terms at some schools are dedicated to compiling the perfect personal statement - from clever authors to namedrop to how to sell yourself without sounding too smug. But, no matter how long students spend crafting the ideal advert for their many skills and talents, there are always some that stand out for all the wrong reasons.

From spelling mistakes to grammatical howlers and claims so bold they could have been made by candidates on The Apprentice, here are our favourite personal statement clangers - a reminder that, no matter how worried you are about submitting yours, it simply can't be as bad as some of these...

Not so Grate

"Having been head of my form and captain of the debating club, I have grate communication skills."

Well, Duh...

"What is physics? I don’t know; that’s why I want to take it at university."

Eighty Per Cent

"'Eighty per cent of success is showing up.' I feel this attitude correctly demonstrates my passion for Literature where, indeed, you only have to 'turn up' and read the books and to fully understand the topic. I was form captain in Year 7, indicating my sense of responsibility. I enjoyed the challenge of my duties, which included fetching the register and making people sign up for sports days. Also, this year I was voted head girl because I made the most hilarious speech ever. This demonstrates my skill at creative and persuasive writing."

Shaun the Sheep

"Ever since I watched 'Shaun the Sheep' on CBBC, i have been passionate about becoming a farmer. For me, nothing in life would be as good as a farmer's life."

Mr Helpful

"I want to be a doctor because I am interested in science and I enjoy helping people. I know this because I am always trying to look for ways to help others, whether it is in the supermarket or the airport. I think medicine is a very challenging career, but the hard work pays off, literally!"

Head Bog

"I am well-respected by my classmates. At school, I hold the position of head bog and it is a post I am performing well."

Here or Hear?

"Thanks for considering my application and I hope I will here from you soon."

[Insert Name Here]

"I am hoping to pass my driving test so I can drive to -insert uni name here- everyday!"

Repeat Repeat Repeat

"Economics is a diverse subject, as economics can be related to anything, especially during economic crisis, which forces to think economically, whereas maths has been long one of my favourite subjects, as mathematics can be applied everywhere, moreover, mathematics is useful in everyday life."

A Great Man

"I believe I will be a great man in future. Why? I enjoy reading. I’ve read nearly 50 percent of books in the library. I like writing too. There are more than 15 pieces of writings from me in newspapers. I have found that it’s a good way to earn some extra pocket money.... I don’t think that one can be a genius without any efforts so I am always making efforts to improve myself. Because of this, I think I will be a great man in future."

Marital Arts

"I have a black belt in karate and enjoy marital arts."

Read more at The Telegraph 

Young people will be able to gain a full honours degree while earning a wage and paying no fees, under a scheme backed by government and industry.

The new Degree Apprenticeship qualifications will be taught in England from next September, starting in the digital and software field.

The government will pay two-thirds of the costs and fees while employers pay trainees' wages and other costs.

The government says employers of any size can take part in the scheme.

It stems from government collaboration with higher education and industry, said Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey.

Some 150 places have already been guaranteed on the programme by the employers involved, in subject areas ranging from software design to information technology for business.

'Integrated' learning

The aim is to integrate academic learning at degree level and on-the-job practical training - "to ensure that education and training routes are providing the skills which employers need now and in the future", said Mr Vaizey.

The employers involved include Accenture, BT, Capgemini, Ford, Fujitsu, GlaxoSmithKline, HM Revenue and Customs, Hewlett Packard, IBM, John Lewis, Lloyds Banking Group, Network Rail and Tata Consulting Services.

The academic side of the courses will be provided by universities including Aston, Exeter, Greenwich, Loughborough, Manchester Metropolitan, University College London, the University of the West of England and Winchester.

Capgemini's UK chairman Christine Hodgson said the scheme would "enable young people to build the academic and practical skills needed for success in the tech sector and help create the talent needed to boost the digital economy".

Richard Pettinger, director of information management for business degree programmes at UCL, said the university was delighted to collaborate with employers and government on the new qualifications "to help increase the flow of skills into the tech industry".

'Massive demand'

Head teachers also welcomed the scheme - Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders described it as "a really interesting development in the growing range of alternatives to traditional university courses".

"There is massive demand for recruits to these industries who are highly skilled and knowledgeable," said Mr Lightman.

He added that it was vital that enough information and guidance on the new options was made available to schools.

The government hopes that if the programme is successful in the digital sector, it could be extended to other industries.

Read more at BBC News

Massive open social learning and “nanodegrees” are among the trends in teaching and learning set to shake up higher education, according to a report.

Innovating Pedagogy 2014, the third annual report about the technological trends that could revolutionise education, produced by The Open University, says that finding ways to effectively engage thousands of people in productive discussions while learning together online is a key challenge for educationalists in the next couple of years.

So-called massive open social learning is the next step in the development of massive open online courses, or Moocs, the report says.

“Recent Moocs have taken an instructivist approach, with course materials created by a university and delivered by video and text…it can be a lonely experience,” it says. “There is more that can be done to engage people as active learners, sharing their ideas and discussing their different perspectives as they learn online.”

The report acknowledges that this approach harks back to “early Mooc experiments”, or C-Moocs, which were based on a pedagogy of connectivist learning – however, it adds that these were “difficult to manage at large scale”.

Mike Sharples, chair in educational technology at The Open University Institute of Educational Technology and co-author of the report, said that finding out “what sort of pedagogies get better as you scale” was the big question that universities were asking.

“If you can manage learning so that people are really connecting with others’ perspectives, then the more people there are, the better the learning gets,” he theorised.

Another development related to Moocs is the emergence of nanodegrees.

“Nanodegrees are at the other end of the scale from the traditional university degree,” Professor Sharples said. “For a degree, you spend three years gaining all the skills you need from a broad area. Nanodegrees are focused on what skills you need to learn for a very specific task.”

Read more at Times Higher Education

Researchers at the Institute of Education, University of London, and the University of Manchester state that instead “advantaged social origins and private schooling raise the chances of getting a degree, and especially an elite degree, above and beyond cognitive and examination attainment”.

They add: “Given the domination of Britain’s ruling class by graduates of private schools and elite universities, these non-meritocratic processes have important repercussions.”

The paper, to be published in the Oxford Review of Education next month, analyses the education histories of more than 7,700 people in England and Wales whose lives are being followed by the 1970 British Cohort Study.

The researchers say their measure of an “elite” university is one that is a member of the Russell Group, “which promotes itself as representing the leading UK universities”. They go on to acknowledge the “element of arbitrariness in this measure”.

The study says: “Surprisingly, grammar schooling was not linked to any significant advantage in getting a degree.” It adds “that grammar schools did make a difference at O level, but this did not follow through to university chances. This ‘leaky pipe’ between grammar school attainment and university entrance warrants further investigation.”

The paper continues: “We can say though that the view that the domination of elite universities by the privately educated was justified by the concentration of the pool of talent in such schools is not justified by our analysis. Our findings accord with longstanding results showing that state educated pupils outperform their comparably qualified privately educated peers once at university.”

Alice Sullivan, professor of sociology at the IoE and the study’s lead author, said: “It was surprising that grammar schooling was not linked to any significant advantage in getting a degree.”

She added: “We also investigated whether grammar schools were especially beneficial for working-class pupils who attended them, even if there was no overall grammar school advantage. But we found no statistical evidence to support this argument.”

Professor Sullivan continued that “higher aspiration” in private schools or “links between the universities and the private schools” could be explanations for the high proportion of private school pupils in Russell Group universities.

And she said: “Our analysis shows that simply looking at access to higher education, rather than acknowledging the status differentials within the university sector, will tend to lead to an underestimation of the social inequalities that exist.”

Read more at Times Higher Education

The Sutton Trust analysed statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s 2012-13 leavers’ survey to find that, of the respondents who reported that they were employed as interns six months after graduation, 30.6 per cent said they were unpaid.

The thinktank called for all interns who carried out placements that lasted for longer than a month to be paid at least the minimum wage.

It calculates that a six-month unpaid internship in London would cost a graduate £5,556, or £926 a month, in accommodation costs, bills and food – presuming that their transport costs were covered by their employers.

Even outside the capital, the costs are substantial, with the bill in Manchester coming to £4,728 for the same period, excluding transport costs – equivalent to £788 a month.

The thinktank concludes that the increasing importance of work experience in the job market meant graduates from poorer backgrounds were being put at a disadvantage.

“The cost of taking on an internship without pay is beyond the means of the vast majority of individuals,” said Lee Elliot Major, the thinktank’s director of development and policy. “Paying all interns who work for over a month the minimum wage would significantly improve access to these placements for those from more modest backgrounds, offering them a stepping stone into many coveted jobs, thus increasing social mobility.”

The Sutton Trust also released polling which found that 70 per cent of people aged between 16 and 75 in England agreed that unpaid internships were unfair because only the wealthy would be able to work without pay.

In comparison, 24 per cent of respondents felt they were fair because they provided valuable work experience, and 15 per cent felt they were fair because people who really wanted a particular career would find a way to support themselves.

A third of those questioned said interns who work for up to a month should be paid the minimum wage or above, with this proportion increasing to 55 per cent for internships that last for between four and six months. The figure rose to 73 per cent for internships that last longer than a year.

Just 3 per cent of respondents felt internships that last for longer than a month should be completely unpaid.

Read more at Times Higher Education

The current university funding system is unsustainable because of the high number of students who will never be able to afford to pay off their loans after graduating, according to a major new report.

Student debt is now so high compared to average salaries that many graduates in respectable public sector professions will be unable to repay their fees even by the end of the 30-year repayment period, the Higher Education Commission warns.

This funding "black hole" is forcing the Government to indirectly subsidise higher education writing off billions of pounds in student debt - even though the point of £9,000 a year fees was to make universities less reliant on the taxpayer.

The commission, an independent body set up to monitor higher education, concludes that the current university fees system offers the “"worst of both worlds" to students, universities and the Government - and warns that some institutions are now at risk of "failure".

"We have created a system whereby everybody feels they are getting a bad deal," report authors warn. "This is not sustainable."

The commission says it is particularly concerned about the future level of student debt with financial experts estimating that 73 per cent of all students will still be unable to pay off their loans after 30 years, when debts are automatically wiped.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the average student debt will be £44, 015 - higher even than the US.

"The Commission is particularly concerned that middle earners, such as health professionals, teachers or public sector workers who need a degree to enter their profession will not be likely to pay back their loan within the repayment period," it says.

"The Commission fundamentally questions any system that charges higher education at a rate where the average graduate will not be able to pay it back.

"We are deeply concerned that the Government may have created a loan repayment system where, for example, a teacher is unable to secure a mortgage at age 35 because of the high level of monthly loan repayment."

It continues: "The Government is funding higher education by writing off student debt as opposed to directly investing in teaching grants [as happened prior to the introduction of the current system]."

Universities, too, are facing an "annual erosion of real terms income" as a result of cuts to the teaching grant and a fixed cap on fees of £9,000 a year, the report warns.

On top of that, the decision to lift the cap on the number of students each university can recruit raises the prospect of some weaker universities which lose students to other institutions facing "financial difficulty and potential failure".

The report warns that "institutional failure would have a direct impact on the sustainability of the rest of the sector: if any institution were to fail there would be significant reputational damage to the whole sector".

"A drop in confidence in UK HE could impact even the most prestigious universities," it adds.

The lifting of the cap, which comes into force next year, will lead to a three-tier university system: one group, the most selective universities, unlikely to expand as they tend not to want to grow undergraduate numbers"; a second group with a mixture of selective courses and others less popular, expanding as much as they can and a third group, which previously recruited heavily through clearing, facing pressure to keep up numbers.

To stave off potential closure, they will recruit students who are "under-qualified or, more importantly, might be more suited to further education or an apprenticeship".

"The potential for reduced quality and high non-completion rates would be very real," the report argues.

Conservative peer Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at Hull University, and Dr Ruth Thompson, a former Director General of Higher Education at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, who jointly chaired the inquiry, said: "The Commission is concerned about graduate indebtedness and the extent of future uncertain liabilities the Government is amassing.

"So far universities have not taken as much of the strain but the present unstable arrangements create risks for them as well."

The Commission makes a series of recommendations to overcome its concerns - including removing international students from the net migration figures and allowing them to work in the UK for two years after graduation. This, it argues, would enable universities to recruit more students from abroad on higher fees.

Other key points include working out a better strategy to recoup debts from students living abroad.

The report argues: "Given the lack of sustainability of the current finance system, further work needs to be undertaken to arrive at a better higher education funding model."

The National Union of Students warned that "even the Government’s figures show that the prospect of a huge black hole looming over the budget is very real".

Megan Dunn, vice-president (higher education), added: "Forcing debt onto students as a Way of funding universities is an experiment that has failed not just students but our country."

Students are planning a demonstration in London today when thousands are expected to call for an end to the fees regime.

A spokesman for BIS said: "We always welcome recommendations from the sector and will look closely at the findings from the Commission."

The report in numbers
Universities challenge the recommendations

  • International students should be removed from net migration figures and allowed to work for two years in the UK – to help universities maximise their income from foreign student fees.
  • The Government should be prepared to reverse its decision to lift the cap on UK numbers at universities – if it appears the quality of education is being lowered or certain colleges face closure.
  • The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should develop a strategy with the Student Loans Company for collecting debts from those working abroad.
  • Whichever party wins the next election should consider six alternative methods of funding the system – ranging from a free-for-all on fees to a return to lower fees and bigger government teaching grants for universities.
  • The Government should not sell off the student loan book to private companies.
Read more at The Independent 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of me leaving school. When I stepped off the grounds of my alma mater for the final time, Tiananmen Square was still playing on the news channels and Guns n' Roses' Sweet Child o’ Mine was playing on a million ghetto blasters around the country. Most importantly – nothing was playing on the Internet because Sir Tim Berners-Lee hadn't released it to the world yet.

These were simpler times.

We collected the world's knowledge in libraries. We watched Spitting Image en masse at the same time every week. We were happy for our phones to be tethered to our homes by curly beige cords. We expected that our kids would step into careers that would last them for decades, probably for life.

And our education system was designed for that.

The world around us has quite obviously changed pretty radically. But sadly, it seems that our schools have not. And this concerns me.

I've recently had a pretty enlightening journey. I've spent most of this year creating a six-part documentary series called “The Day Before Tomorrow”, which is all about how different industries are currently being affected by social and technological shifts.

It's involved me speaking to some frighteningly smart individuals. The education show has caused me to think about the field of learning in a fresh way.

One of the most fundamental questions I've asked myself is ’what is the purpose of education? After lots of ponderings – and several glasses of rum – I've come to the conclusion that its primary purpose is to prepare you to live effectively in the world of the future.

Most industries are doing a pretty average job of adapting to the new world we live in. They're making minimal changes to their organisations in a half-arsed effort to keep up. This makes it pretty easy for a start-up with a more consumer-focused approach to steal their lunch.

Education has all the same problems of lumbering bureaucracy and resistance to change – probably even more so than the average industry – but we're unlikely to see an upstart competitor steal the market because education is complex, requires responsibility and doesn't have an attractive pot of gold waiting for the plucky prospector. And the consumers – in this case, the kids – are the ones who are stuck with an increasingly irrelevant system.

You see, school is still focused on what to think, rather than how to think. The exams and measurements that are in place to raise standards are counterproductively preventing students from finding their own area of excellence. And that's leading kids to the mistaken belief that jobs are passionless pursuits that involve receiving wisdom from your superiors rather than shaking the tree and seeking fresh opportunities.

Progress beats process. The world belongs to those who know how to ask questions rather than assume they have the answers.

Even vocational routes aren't safe havens any more. Some of the shows in the series explore that in more detail.

We know that the role of a doctor is going to change pretty radically in the next decade as computers get better at diagnosis and remote surgeries are adopted more widely. The legal arena is ripe for disruption (they'll use the full force of the law to protect themselves for as long as possible – but they'll lose the fight in the end). The financial sector won't survive another cock up intact. (The lack of changes they've made since 2008 pretty much guarantees that we'll see another financial faux pas sooner rather than later).

So if every industry is changing, surely the most important skills for our children to learn are adaptability, creativity and the ability to learn. But not as separate curriculumised subjects. They need to be incorporated into the way they learn everything.

Because the new world belongs to those who can continue to pick up new skills, spot the opportunities that everyone else misses and are brave enough to question all the things that their elders have taken for granted.

That's very different to the skills that were expected of my generation who tumbled into the world of adulthood when Maggie was still in power.

Yet we still seem to be preparing our kids to enter the bustling job market of 1989.

I’ve been there. It's not all it's cracked up to be.

Read more at The Telegraph

Schoolchildren who focus exclusively on arts and humanities-style subjects risk restricting their future career path, the Education Secretary has warned.

Disciplines such as the sciences and maths open more doors for pupils than many subjects traditionally favoured by academic all-rounders, according to Nicky Morgan.

She said too many young people were still making GCSE and A-level choices at school that held them back for the rest of their life.

Large numbers of children without a clear idea about careers have been pushed towards the arts and humanities in the past – rather than sciences – because they are seen as more useful “for all kinds of jobs”, she said.

But she insisted that this “couldn’t be further from the truth”, claiming that more practical disciplines should be studied to “keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers”.

It follows the publication of figures in a report last year that showed a near 80 per cent increase in the number of students taking degrees in humanities, business and creative arts or design between 2002 and 2012.

Over the same period, universities only witnessed a 20 per cent rise in students taking physical sciences, engineering and technology degrees.

Mrs Morgan’s comments were made as a campaign was launched by business leaders to promote science, technology, engineering and maths – the STEM subjects – at school and college.

The campaign – Your Life – is designed to increase the number of students taking A-levels in maths and physics by more than 50 per cent in the next three years as well as encouraging more bright graduates to work as science teachers.

It comes amid fears from business leaders that many companies are being starved of highly-skilled workers because too many teenagers shun practical disciplines at GCSE, A-level and university.

Addressing the campaign launch in central London, Mrs Morgan said that just a decade ago, pupils were being told to take the maths and sciences only if they wanted a specific skilled career such as a doctor, pharmacist or engineer.

“If you didn’t know what you wanted to do… then the arts and the humanities were what you chose because they were useful, we were told, for all kinds of jobs,” she said.

“We now know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. That the subjects to keep young people’s options open are STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.

“Because the skills gained from studying these subjects will come in useful in almost any job you care to mention; from the creative and beauty industries to architecture.”

She said that even the legal profession was “crying out for science graduates” because patent law was becoming “big business”, adding: “That’s why I believe it’s so important that young people are aware of the opportunities these subjects bring, because they aren’t nearly as popular as they should be.”

The campaign, which is backed by companies such as BAE System, Shell, Nestlé, Carillion and Ford, will also seek to push more girls into maths and science courses.

Figures show that less than a fifth – 19 per cent – of girls who scored an A* in GCSE physics went on to study the subject at A-level in 2011. For boys, the figure was just under half.

Mrs Morgan said that “too many young people are making choices age 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives”.

She insisted “significant” progress had been made in recent years, with maths now the most popular A-level subject but more had to be done to encourage pupils – particularly girls – to study STEM subjects to a high standard.

“We must make sure that teenage girls don't feel, and certainly are not told, that certain subjects are the preserve of men," she said.

Read more at The Telegraph

Getting a place at a selective university has become around one A-level grade easier since the trebling of tuition fees, new analysis shows.

School leavers with A-level grades of between AAB and BBC were much more likely to enter a “higher tariff” university last year than they were in 2011, the final year before annual fees rose to £9,000. While applications dipped in their first year of the new fees, demand for places has recovered to reach record levels after universities...

Read more at The Times 

This research report, prepared between January 2014 and July 2014, assesses how the management of the undergraduate student experience in English higher education (HE) is changing as a result of a more competitive environment, and in particular the impact of the new tuition fee regime introduced in 2012.

Download the research report 

Read more at Higher Education Academy 

Students starting university this term are stressed out, worried about how they look and harbour concerns about their mental health. This is according to the findings of a survey carried out by Birmingham City University, which found 91% of new arrivals experienced stress or anxiety in the months or years before arriving at..

Read more at Ri5

Nearly two-thirds of UK firms plan to recruit graduates over the next year, with many employers investing more time in supporting graduate recruits with mentoring and career guidance. The number of recruiters looking to hire graduates has increased by 22% year-on-year, according to the latest Graduate Employment Index published by 

Read more at Ri5

An initiative to better prepare graduates for the world of work has been launched today, by graduate careers site Prospects and corporate training provider Propeller Training. The scheme, Work Ready Graduates , is supported by Teach First, and will be working with universities across the UK to improve the work skills of students...

Read more at Ri5

Applications for university courses with an October deadline have fallen by three per cent, according to the latest statistics published by UCAS. The figures highlighted a fall on 1,840 applicants on the previous application cycle. October is the deadline for most medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses, as well as...

Read more at Ri5

Just over half (52%) of companies currently offer no work experience, despite 76% quoting a lack of experience as the primary reason young people are unprepared for employment, according to a report by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

The BCC Workforce Survey is based on a poll of 2,885 British companies. It suggests 88% of business leaders think school leavers are unprepared for work – while 54% believe the same of graduates.

Despite this, only 48% offer work experience and 39% offer apprenticeships. The main reason given for not offering work experience is a lack of time and money (25%), followed by administrative burden (23%) and lack of available information (22%).

More than one-quarter (27%) of employers admit that they have not recruited one young person (aged between 16- and 24-years-old) in the past year due to fears over workplace readiness. The main concern is a lack of soft skills (57%) such as communication and teamwork.

More than half (54%) of employers say that additional funding for training would encourage them to hire more young people in the future.

BCC director general John Longworth stressed that when looking at work-readiness it’s not a case of “pointing the finger at young people” but encouraging closer collaboration between all parties.

"It is a joint responsibility between businesses, the education system and government to provide the right skills and support that young people need to make it in the world of work,” he said. “It is vital that we proactively build a pipeline of young talent who will go on to become the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs.

“Failure to do so could damage the UK’s future growth prospects and risk a lost generation of young people.”

Read more at HR Magazine

Young people lack workplace skills such as communication and team working, a study among employers has suggested.

The British Chambers of Commerce survey of 3,000 firms found nine out of 10 thought school leavers were not ready for employment, and more than half said it was the same with graduates.

The chambers called for universal work experience in all secondary schools.

The Department for Education said it was looking at more ways to help schools and businesses co-operate.

Three-quarters of the companies surveyed put the situation down to a lack of work experience, and more than 50% said young people did not have even basic skills such as communication.

However, half said they did not offer work experience placements themselves.

'Employment outcomes'

BCC director general John Longworth said many businesses took the view that hiring a young person was a "risky" move.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

Firms need young people that are resilient, good communicators and understand how to work as part of a team”

John LongworthBritish Chambers of Commerce director general

"Business people tend to favour more skilled and experienced applicants - and while they do sympathise, their primary function is to run a business which means making business decisions," he said.

"Firms need young people that are resilient, good communicators and understand how to work as part of a team.

"We believe that successive governments have failed our young people by not properly equipping them for their future careers."

He added: "Government and educational institutions must be more focused on equipping young people for the workplace and in turn businesses must be more willing to give them a chance.

"In practice, this means introducing business governance into schools, proper careers advice with direct links to business and measuring the success of schools and universities based on the employment outcomes of pupils."

The BCC said assessments of educational establishments should include information about employment as well as exam results.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Our plan for education is designed to give every child the knowledge and skills they need to prepare them for life in modern Britain, and getting them ready for the world of work is part of this.

'Rewarding career'

"We have already updated guidance for schools to encourage closer links with employers to deliver career insight talks, mentoring and work tasters in order to open pupils' eyes to the opportunities available to them and help them to make the right choices at the right time.

"New University Technical Colleges and studio schools are also giving young people a better chance than ever of developing a specialism that will help build a rewarding career.

"But there is more to do and we are looking closely at how else we can encourage employers and schools to improve how they work together."

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said growing numbers of school pupils were left "ill-equipped and unprepared to make informed decisions about the range of career routes open to them - whether that be through academic or vocational learning".

He said that vocational education had been a "blind spot" for this government.

He added: "Ministers have consistently refused to show leadership, despite a tirade of criticism from the business community and from groups representing young people.

"Under Labour, all young people will be guaranteed exposure to the workplace, with a real focus placed on schools and colleges raising their game when it comes to delivering the advice and support that young people need for successful careers and further study."

Read more at The BBC

'HEFCE has informed us that it intends to consult on the future of its quality assessment arrangements in fulfilment of its current statutory responsibilities, and then to put its contract for quality assessment out to competitive tender.

'The UK higher education sector is world class. The arrangements adopted to fulfil HEFCE’s statutory responsibilities should build on the established principles and strengths of the current system of independent quality assurance and co-regulation, which serves the needs of the funding councils and higher education institutions, is always on the side of the student and underpins the strong international reputation of UK higher education.

'A core strength of the current UK-wide framework is that it goes beyond the statutory duty of individual funding councils, and embraces standards, enhancement and the quality of public information. This provides independent assurance for students and safeguards the public interest in the quality of higher education. This is what QAA, an independent charity, was established in 1997 to do.

'QAA has internationally recognised expertise in providing quality assurance and enhancement to an exceptional standard. In recent years, we have continued to adapt the quality assurance framework to meet the needs of a growing and dynamic sector, working with HE, FE and alternative providers. We look forward to continuing the development of quality assessment, protecting the public interest and supporting the UK higher education sector's international reputation for excellence.'



  • QAA is an independent charitable body established in 1997 (see further note below)
  • QAA is the only quality assurance body in Europe judged to be fully compliant with all the European Standards and Guidelines for higher education quality assurance.
  • QAA's Board includes nominees from the representative bodies, the funding councils and NUS, together with independent members. Its company members are UUK, GuildHE, Universities Scotland and Higher Education Wales.
  • HEFCE has a legal duty, under the terms of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, to secure that provision is made for the assessment of quality of education provided in institutions for whose activities it provides (or is considering providing) financial support, as are the other funding councils under different legislation.
  • Higher education institutions with degree awarding powers are autonomous bodies responsible for setting and maintaining their own academic standards.
  • QAA owns and maintains the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, which includes The framework for higher education qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and The framework for qualifications of higher education institutions in Scotland.
  • The most recent national consultation on the shape of the quality assurance system was conducted in 2012, led by HEFCE and implemented last year.

Further note on the establishment of QAA

The Joint Planning Group for Quality Assurance in Higher Education* published a report, Assuring the Quality of Higher Education, on 17 December 1996. It recommended the establishment of a new quality assurance agency, with service level agreements with representative bodies and funding councils.

QAA was founded in April 1997, bringing together the Higher Education Quality Council and the Quality Assessment divisions of both the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW). QAA later agreed to work with the then Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

QAA's role was further developed by the Dearing Report (1997). In addition to carrying out reviews and audits, QAA was now called upon to:

  • provide assurance about standards and quality
  • set up a higher education qualifications framework
  • develop a code of practice
  • provide subject benchmark information.

This consolidated QAA as the UK's single quality assurance agency, with responsibility for assuring and enhancing standards and quality in higher education.

* The Joint Planning Group was chaired by Sir William Fraser and included representatives from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the UK (CVCP), Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (COSHEP), the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP), HEFCE and HEFCW.

Read more at The QAA

Everyone knows the feeling when a call or e-mail comes in from a potential employer, acknowledging your job application and asking you to appear for an interview.

Immediately, you ponder your potential future with that employer, dream of your resignation letter to your current employer, and start thinking of what to wear and what to say at the upcoming interview.

Few people, however, give much if any thought to a tool that could send them to the top of the interview panel’s list: The portfolio.

Portfolios mostly come to mind when people think of artists or graphic designers, or those who work in advertising, journalism or some other type of creative role. But it can apply to virtually every field.

Simply put, a portfolio is a physical or electronic collection of some of your best work samples. For many roles, it can be used to enhance your work, and interest others in the work that you have done. Portfolios are a great way to illustrate your work, so you not only tell the interview panel about your accomplishments – you show it to them as well.

The portfolio, a physical accompaniment to your job interview, could be the one thing that takes you to the next level in the selection process, and perhaps secure the job itself.

There are three things you should keep in mind when assembling such a portfolio.

1. Use an appropriate format

Portfolios can come in two formats, electronic or hard copy. If you choose to bring samples of your work electronically, make sure your portfolio is on a tablet or something that can be easily passed around to the people on the interview panel. Never use a laptop, as they are too large and heavy, and never bring anything that requires IT support, such as a projector.

Although an electronic portfolio may seem to be the most up-to-date method of presenting your work, a simple, hard copy version works really well and is usually stress-free, as it does not require any boot-up time, nor do you run the risk of technological glitches.

Make sure you display your individual portfolio pieces in a separate folder or artist’s workbook, with plastic covering each sample to protect it. These supplies can be found at art supply stores. They can be costly, but you can use it each time you interview, now, and later.

2. Select content carefully

Think carefully about what you bring with you. It should not only be a reflection of your best work, but most important, it should encompass samples of the kind of work you are interviewing for.

For example, if the job requires business planning, include a sample business plan you did for a project. Take out all sensitive and confidential information and ensure you have a variety of samples relevant to the types of questions you predict will be asked of you.

Do not bring more than eight different pieces to show the interview panel.

3. Show while you tell

Always, always display portfolio pieces as you talk about them. Use the piece to illustrate what you are talking about, at the time you are talking about it. For example, if you are talking about a risk analysis, bring out the sample and pass it to the interviewers as you talk about it. It will help you discuss it fully, and help answer questions the panel will have.

The biggest mistake people make is saving the portfolio until the end of the meeting, when the interview panel has completed its questions and would like to move on to the next candidate. Time, and attention span, has run out.

Portfolios should be an important part of your interview strategy. They can be designed to illustrate your work as a professional, as well as demonstrate your utmost professionalism to the panel.

Without one, it could be a missed opportunity and, in today’s highly competitive job market, that is a chance no one should take.

Read more at The Globe and Mail 

By 2016, students entering UB may not be puzzled by phrases like “integrated clusters” and “e-portfolios” – the terms are the key to UB’s proposed general education overhaul.

The majority of students aren’t satisfied with UB’s current general education requirements – a UB survey showed 68 percent of students surveyed thought the required classes were just something to “get out of the way.”

On Friday, the General Education committee – which is leading the charge for a new curriculum – hosted its second open forum about the suggested new program, which emphasizes critical thinking and communication skills as well as capstone projects and studying aboard. Overall, the proposal was well received by attendees of the forum who feel an overhaul is needed.

“Our desire was to build an unapologetic, student-centered program built around high-impact educational practices to reassert UB’s commitment to the liberal arts and focus on delivering knowledge, skills and experiences that will enable our students to flourish in a diverse, dynamic and rapidly changing world,” said Andrew Stott, dean of undergraduate education.

The proposed curriculum has 35-39 credits worth of classes compared to 39-48 in the existing program. Currently, one-third of a student’s courses are general education requirements – but many students are getting exempt from certain classes like foreign language and writing skills. Stott said the current program has gradually eroded.

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Zukoski said at Friday’s open forum he has set aside $3 million annually to invest in the program.

“That is new money on the table above and beyond what we’re already putting into general education across the campus,” he said. “It is an indication of our will – the will of the faculty – to grow this program because we think it’s so valuable to the students that we educate and call our alum once they leave us.”

Only 19.35 percent of students said they “strongly agree” that the current program “enhances” their academic experience, according to a UB survey of 3,000 students. The survey shows 35.21 percent “moderately agree” with the same statement.

The new program reinforces students’ interest by offering classes potentially related to their fields of study.

Breaking down the proposed curriculum

The program proposes a first-year seminar for freshmen and transfer students. A communication literacy sequence – that in addition to writing skills focused on oral, digital and visual presentations – will replace the current writing and composition requirement.

Students also may have to take fewer science credits than the current seven to 10 under a new scientific literacy and inquiry requirement. The proposed math and quantitative reasoning class may allow students to fulfill their math requirement with classes that could focus on things like credit card debt or personal finance, according to the proposal.

The proposed curriculum also has students complete three classes within two “clusters,” one categorized as “thematic” and the other as “global.”

Students in the future may be making decisions about what type of “cluster” track they want to take. These classes are related to each other under the same theme, which doesn’t exist in UB’s current setup.

The thematic integrative cluster will have students take three classes connected by topic – students would potentially have a choice of five topics: health, humanities, innovation, justice and environment. This cluster would take the place of the current social science and history requirements.

About 49 percent of students surveyed found World Civilizations – which currently exists as a required history sequence – not to be a valuable class.

The global integrative cluster would allow students to pick one of three tracks: a global/diversity track, in which students would have a choice of three connected classes similar to the “thematic” cluster, another that allows students to take at least nine credits of a single language or one that allows students to study abroad for six credits.

As part of the proposed general education requirements, students will have to create a digital portfolio called an “e-portfolio.” Each student will need to complete an “integrative capstone,” which uses the e-portfolio, to graduate. Students will start the portfolio, which will archive a student’s academic career, at college orientation.

Stott said he wants to promote “folio thinking,” which means thinking about “ideas, concepts, classes, content in relation to other things.”

UB community concerns

At Friday’s open forum, the e-portfolio caused a lot of questions among the present faculty, as they wondered how effectively students might use the platform.

Barbara Bono, an English professor, suggested the digital platform couldn’t replace human interaction.

“I want to suggest that the marvelous tools that we have that enhance efficiency like present-day learning platforms or the e-portfolio aren’t going to substitute for that thought and continually renewed human effort that we’re going to need,” she said.

Bono said if tools like the e-portfolio substitute for human interactive learning, students would eventually feel they are just learning from a “screen.” She said the platform would require periodic in-person meetings to be successful.

Michael Cowen, a mathematics professor, asked the panel of seven faculty members present at Friday’s forum to elaborate on how the e-portfolio will be overseen. He said he worries about how consistently the suggested digital portfolio would be used.

Stott agrees there is potential for the e-portfolio to become “another electronic sign-in” for students to “fritter it away.” He said the first-year seminar would work closely with the e-portfolio as a part of the syllabus to ensure students understand the goals of it throughout their academic career. Faculty could also use the e-portfolio as a required mode to submit assignments so students could start using it consistently, he said.

Stott said there are still some unknown elements about how exactly the e-portfolios would work, but the committee is running a pilot program of it with more than 800 students this semester.

Colleen Culleton, an assistant professor in Spanish, asked if most undergraduate students will end up finishing their general education requirements in their chosen discipline or go beyond their major.

“I’m wondering if the intention here is for students to step out of their comfort zone or if it’s to explore the breadth of one particular area on campus?” she asked at Friday’s forum.

UB is still required to follow the SUNY General Education Requirements, which provides the guidelines for every student to graduate in compliance with the State of New York, Stott said. The clusters fulfill the SUNY requirements and allow students to branch out to different departments through the various themes if they so choose.

While it may be possible to have students fulfill the clusters only within their major, Stott hopes there will not be many “incurious students.”

Walt Hakala, an English assistant professor, asked the panel for the “reason behind a one-size-fits-all approach” instead of separating the requirements for different schools.

Stott said this is for “clarity of purpose” and to create a “distinctive UB flavor” for the curriculum. This will allow all UB students to share intellectual experiences and simplify the program for students, faculty and staff, he said.

Jeri Jaeger, a professor of linguistics and former associate dean of undergraduate education, asked about the potential “massive number of new courses” that departments would have to create to fulfill the new cluster themes.

Stott said the proposal is meant to just absolve the undergraduate college courses, or UGC prefix. World Civilization classes, for example, could still be offered but under an existing department rather than be a UGC class, Stott said.

“Those very big service courses that float free of any departmental ownership has caused trouble in assessment and wide variation across the sections and some of them are not even compliant with SUNY,” Stott said.

Stacy Hubbard, an English professor, said she and others are concerned about the potential for students to avoid taking a foreign language under the “global” cluster.

“Like many people, I’m still pondering the elimination of the language requirement or the potential elimination,” she said. “I’m not sure in the context of the larger world and the university’s emphasis on global and international education, whether that’s really wise. I don’t think we should go more parochial, I think we should go the other way.”

The committee’s proposal is 117 pages long. The university has made no formal decisions on how and when the curriculum will be revamped.

Stott said the committee will take suggestions for the final proposal up until Oct. 2. The proposal will then be presented to the Faculty Senate. If the body passes the proposal by December, the soonest the new curriculum could be in place is fall of 2016. 

Read more at The Spectrum

Undergraduates in the UK are becoming less confident about their future job prospects, with students in the final year of their courses least confident of all. This is according to the latest set of data from the Trendence Graduate Confidence Index, which sets out to track undergraduates’ confidence and expectations

Read more at Ri5

Universities have been urged to forge closer links with employers to produce graduates equipped to fill skills gaps in the economy.

The call, in a study for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, came as new figures from the Good University Guide 2015 showed that more than half of graduates of five universities failed to find a professional job within six months of leaving.

Read more at The Times

Growing numbers of teenagers with top-class vocational qualifications are being recruited by UK universities while the number with A-levels dwindle, according to figures released today.

A report by UCAS, the university admissions service, show the number of pupils with top A-level passes (a minimum of one A grade and two Bs) has fallen by three per cent this year compared with 2013. Meanwhile, the number holding the BTEC equivalent in passes have risen by 16 per cent to 34,580.

The drop in top A-level students coincides with a fall in the number of candidates obtaining A* to B grade passes, as growing numbers of students switch to traditional academic subjects such as maths and science. In addition, it coincides with a fall in the average age of people taking the exam.

The growth in students with vocational qualifications comes as ministers and employers have been pressing the need for more students to opt for courses giving them the skills the UK needs to compete in the global market.

The Government this year increased the number of places available by 30,000 as a first step towards removing student number controls altogether in 2016. As a result, many of the country’s newer universities have been able to recruit students with vocational qualifications while the more selective universities have remained concentrating on the those coming through the traditional academic route.

This year’s enrolment shows a record number have signed on for university courses, with 499,730 applying for courses within a month of getting their exam results. The final figure is expected to exceed the half-million mark by about 10,000.

A breakdown shows the increase in recruitment has been more marked amongst EU recruits where there has been an eight per cent rise - compared with an overall increase of just four per cent.

A report last week by the highly respected Higher Education Policy Institute warned an influx of EU students would make it more difficult for the Government to recoup the loans they have paid. Already EU students owe about £690m in unpaid loans.

“Government reforms have made it possible for record numbers of young people to enter university this year,” said Universities Minister Greg Clarke. “Increasing the number of places by 30,000 was an important feature of an orderly transition to uncapped student numbers.”

Read more at The Independent

Undergraduate students should be given the opportunities to “experience real work during their degree” if graduate employability is to improve.

That is the view of Ruth Helyer, head of the Workforce Development Team (Research & Policy) in the department for academic enterprise at Teesside University.

Dr Helyer is part of the contributing panel for a conference that will take place next month, organised by the Society for Research into Higher Education and entitled “Supporting University-Work Transitions?

Exploring the Impact of Work Placements and Internships”. She said that the job market is so “fast-moving” that students need to be exposed to some sort of employment experience before their university years are behind them.

“I think the main way to help them is for all types of degree programmes to have some kind of placement in them,” she said. “People find all sorts of reasons not to do this, but the closest we’ve seen for getting all students employed are the likes of Aston [University] and [the University of] Surrey, where students get some kind of work experience within the degree.”

She added that even within three years of graduation, some degrees become “not topical”, with students finding that their qualification is not the direct route to the type of job they had been anticipating.

“New job roles and sectors are developing all the time, faster than you can train people to be useful in them,” Dr Helyer said. “[Employers] want people who are adaptable - because the job market can be so harsh.”

At Teesside, Dr Helyer is involved with the Graduate Internship Scheme, which places 100 recent graduates on a three-month paid internship. She acknowledged that, despite her university actively helping its graduates “who are no longer our students”, she said she felt it would be better for the help to be given “during the degree”.

Alternatives, she suggested, include “bolt-on modules” where you gain a type of “employability certificate”. But unless that is compulsory, Dr Helyer continued, “students just don’t have the time or inclination to do it, because they’re very assessment- and time-driven”.

However, she noted that for anything tangible to be put in place the sector would have to “get people meaning the same thing” when they talk about graduate employability.

“When people say ‘employability skills’ everyone means something different,” she said. “When I think of [it], I mean the things that will help you get a job and keep a job, get you promoted and allow you to change; very similar to the sorts of things you would try and do in your own professional development.

“Some people think ‘employability skills’ means writing a good CV and being good at interviews, which to me are job-seeking skills.”

Dr Helyer also suggested the sector could look overseas for answers. “Sandwich programmes, which fell out of favour here, are massive in other countries,” she said. “They are called ‘cooperative learning’ in the US and Australia, and they [the programmes] are huge.

“I know a lot of international colleagues and they think they do really well with those programmes and that they are tied to good employability outcomes.”

Ultimately, Dr Helyer knows that you “can’t please everybody” but that nevertheless, there are aspects that “could be tweaked to make it slicker”

Read more at Times Higher Education

Two well-established, if rather narrow, surveys of employers both support the idea that the jobs market for London-based financial firms has improved. More significantly, the recent annual Destination of Leavers of Higher Education survey confirmed that graduates who left university last summer entered a rather better jobs market than their peers from the year before.

As the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows with this chart, the overall employment rate for UK and EU graduates from a full-time first degree after six months was up from 68.5% last year to 70.7% this year, and unemployment after six months was down from 9.1% to 7.8%.

There's a recovery on. Some of it will be the result of better job conditions, some of it will be the result of resourceful students making the best of their chances, some of it will be down to the hard work of institutions and careers and employability services. But things are getting better.

This recovery doesn't yet cover the whole country. Like the recovery in general, it seems to be happening more in London and the South East, although other cities, most notably Manchester, also seem to have seen improvement. If you're in a smaller town, or in parts of the country where an upturn in the jobs market is a little more sluggish, you may well not have seen much of a graduate jobs recovery so far. When – or if – the recovery reaches those areas, we will see further improvement.

While the graduate jobs market looks like it is recovering, it has not yet recovered.

Looking at data from previous downturns, a large drop in unemployment rates after six months – and the drop this year is comparatively large – usually signals the beginning of a genuine recovery in the graduate jobs market that lasts another year, or sometimes two, and then levels out as the jobs market finds a new status quo.

This has only been disrupted once, in 1993, where a sharp drop in unemployment after a particularly bad recession for graduates (unemployment rates were higher than this time around) was followed by a rise in 1994 and 1995. That was probably due to the sudden increase in the number of degree holders entering the jobs market after the 1992 expansion of the university sector.

This time around, nothing like that has really taken place. It's probably reasonable to expect a couple more years of modest improvement and then things may level off a little. That means it will have taken nearly a decade to get back to whatever normal might be, post-recession – the slowest graduate jobs recovery we've seen.

And there's the other question. There are people who think this recession was so awful that it will mark a step change in the jobs market and that graduates will never enjoy the same conditions they had back in 2007. Could that be the case?

The honest answer is that we won't really know until the jobs market starts to level off and we know what the new normal looks like for the graduate jobs market. But, we can make some comparisons. After a recession, the proportion of the workforce with a degree is always higher than previously. That's not just because there are more of them. It's also because, in bad economic conditions, the people with the least qualifications, skills and experience always bear the brunt of it, and those with higher qualifications can be more able to adapt.

This recession is just like previous recessions in that respect. Technically it began in 2008 although it was plain we were in for hard times earlier than that. At the end of 2007, 41.3% of the UK workforce was in professional-level roles – these crudely equate to graduate jobs. By 2013, that proportion had gone up to 44%.

In fact, by the end of the recession, over a million more people were in professional-level employment in the UK than there were at the start of it. In 2013 alone, the data suggests that there were over 250,000 more people in professional occupations in this country than in 2012. This does not speak of a significantly reduced demand for graduates in the UK as a result of the recession.

The jobs market got better for graduates in 2014, but it's still not where it ought to be. At present, the data suggests we may get back to where we were before the recession (at least for university graduates – I'm really not so confident for young people with lower qualifications, but that's not my field), but almost certainly not for at least 12 months, probably a little longer.

We are not out of the woods yet, and there's still a chance things will never get back to where they were. There will still be students and graduates who struggle to forge a career, and good information, advice and guidance will be crucial to many of them. And some time in the next three or four years, we will, hopefully, finally find out what the new normal looks like.

Read more at The Guardian 

It is hard to imagine, looking around Mulberry’s factory in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, at young people on sewing machines, pattern cutting stations and leather stores, that seven years ago half of its 100 workforce was over 50 years old and 13 per cent were over retirement age. Now the average age of the 240 craftsmen and women is 34.

In 2006 Ian Scott, the group supply director, realised how badly the luxury bag-making business needed to attract young people to revitalise its workforce. The problem was that ‘no one wanted to come into manufacturing’, Scott said. So he worked with local schools and colleges to devise a programme to encourage them into the industry. ‘They said, thank God someone’s doing something to help the young people in this area. Previously they had to tick a box to show they were sending them off to higher education of some kind, and as there were no other options they were packing them off to university, knowing they could well fail. Now they can send them to us.’

Mulberry is one of a growing number of companies that offersapprenticeships: in 2005/6 there were 175,000 apprentices starting on new schemes; by 2012/13 there were 510,200, according to government figures. It is easy to see why apprenticeships are so attractive: now that the average student leaves university with £44,000 of debt and no guarantee of a job, why not earn while you learn?

In 2006 the Telegraph Magazine covered the first year of the new Mulberry apprenticeship scheme when it took on 10 apprentices. Since then Mulberry has employed a total of 70 apprentices (including six who started this month), who work towards a level 2 technical qualification in leather goods manufacturing over 18 months. Forty-six are still employed by the company. Mulberry has a waiting list of would-be apprentices. When we revisited the original apprentices last May, eight were still with the company.

Career progression is encouraged. Eight former apprentices are now off the factory floor, in departments such as accounts or development, like Jon Tout, 25, who joined in the first year of the Mulberry apprentice scheme and now uses computer aided design (CAD) programs to create prototypes. ‘I always wanted to work in IT but school wasn’t for me. I found it tough working on the factory floor, but it’s so useful for my job now because you need to know how the bags are constructed – a Bayswater is made up from 34 parts,’ he said, turning from a computer with the design he created for the Bayswater’s buckle on its screen. (After working on the new Cara Delevingne range of bags, Tout was commissioned to make a customised bag for her friend the pop star Rihanna. ‘I was asked to take it down to London,’ he said smiling.)

One apprentice has gone further. Lawrence White, 26, joined in 2009 and is the first former apprentice to break into a management position, in charge of a team of 30. ‘I’m not a very academic person,’ he said, ‘but I like learning and I wanted to get a qualification. I came into this looking for a career, not just a job.’

Aside from a dislike of the classroom, other reasons for not going to university include a fear of incurring debt, along with the need to secure a job. A recent report by the Sutton Trust found that many university students – of which there are more than 412,000 starting this year – will be paying off their loans into their 40s and 50s, while figures from the Office for National Statistics last year showed that half of recent graduates are in non-graduate jobs. Max McCarthy, 21, one of Mulberry’s newest apprentices, said that was what put him off university. ‘I’d rather not be in debt – my sister went to uni and now, two years later, she doesn’t have a job. I didn’t think it was for me.’

Not that apprentices make a fortune: the minimum wage for an apprentice aged 16-18 and those over the age of 19 in their first year is £2.68 per hour. Mulberry apprentices are paid £5.06 an hour, about £170 a week. Part way through the programme they get an uplift of £15 per week, and are eligible to earn 50 per cent of bonuses awarded to their team if they beat their targets. (The factory produces about 1,200 bags a week.)

The benefits to young people are obvious but, as Mulberry found, having an apprenticeship scheme can also transform a business. Eight years after the introduction of its scheme, and with an influx of young people who ‘have refreshed the business’, Mulberry opened its second UK factory, in Bridgwater, in March, allowing it to maintain its British product manufacturing level at 50 per cent of total output.

Scott said this would not have been possible without the apprenticeship scheme and the regeneration the apprentices brought to the workforce. ‘Before, we didn’t have the people and skills available to us but now we do. I could have hired some temporary workers as a quick fix, but I wanted to reinvest in the local community and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.’

The crash tester: Emma Wilding, 20, is one of six women out of 160 apprentices at Jaguar Land Rover in Coventry

‘From a very early age I wanted to know how stuff worked,’ Emma Wilding, 20, said. ‘And I’ve always had an interest in cars – I used to walk along the pavement with my mum when I was little and name the makes and know all the badges.’

Wilding was applying to study material science at Sheffield University when a friend told her about apprenticeships at Jaguar Land Rover. ‘She told me I could get a degree while doing the job,’ Wilding said. ‘I hadn’t really considered doing an apprenticeship before then but I thought I’d apply alongside my uni application and see what happened.’

Had she gone to university Wilding would have been among the first intake of students to pay £9,000 tuition fees. ‘It was a worrying thought that I would be paying that off for the rest of my working life,’ she said. ‘Theoretically you’re more likely to get a higher-paid job if you have a degree, but that’s not guaranteed. The apprenticeship sounded a better option.’

Wilding, who lives with her parents in Rugby, less than 20 miles away from the factory, is one of 160 apprentices at Jaguar Land Rover; only six are female. ‘It is a male environment, but my manager is a woman and she’s been very encouraging.’ Wilding is a higher apprentice in vehicle safety and has just started her third year of the six-year course. One of her jobs has been to crash-test cars. ‘You get to drive at a target at set speeds and hope the vehicle brakes in time. It is a lot of fun.’ She has also been testing systems and writing reports. ‘I have a computer model of a car crash and I look at how various components in the car react. I can alter those components to improve the performance of the car.’

After two years Wilding already has a foundation degree in engineering; when she graduates in four years’ time she will have a Bachelor of Engineering degree with honours, and various NVQs in safety. She started on £16,000 and can expect to finish, when she is 24, on £32,000 and is likely to have a job at the company. ‘I can’t go travelling like all my friends did this summer because like everyone else in the working world I have normal holidays. But here we’re at the forefront of technology. Things are always moving and changing.’

The carpenter: Jordan Malcolm Taylor, 20, is studying carpentry as one of 360 apprentices at Crossrail in London

After finishing school at 16 Jordan Malcolm Taylor completed a two-year BTec and national diploma level 3 in music. The next step might have been university, but Malcolm Taylor was not sure. ‘I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life and I didn’t want to go to uni for the sake of it. I decided it would be better to learn a trade – then you have a guaranteed job for life,’ he said.

After an open day in May, Malcolm Taylor applied to Crossrail, which employs 360 apprentices. He impressed the carpentry foreman with his knowledge about the company and was offered a place, starting in June. ‘I began with the basics – I made a toolbox and fixed a bench – now I’m putting up the lining walls in the tunnels.’

Morning briefings on site start at 7.30am, work starts at 8am and the days are long – until 6 or 7pm. Working in the heat of the summer has, he admitted, been draining. ‘It definitely looks like an easier life at uni,’ he said, ‘but I think about the people who are struggling to find work once they’ve got their degree, and here I am, in a job now, being paid to do what I want to do and getting a qualification.’

From September Malcolm Taylor, who lives with his mother in Tottenham, north London, will join three other Crossrail carpentry apprentices at Stratford Building Crafts College, studying formwork NVQ level 2 one week a month for the next 18 months.

Malcolm Taylor started on £4.44 an hour; after the first month his pay went up to £4.52 ‘and I get bonuses now and then’. The site was, he admitted, daunting at first. ‘It was really surreal. I thought, where am I going to fit in? I don’t know what to do. But it was all explained to me. Now I feel that it’s a privilege to be working here – I know there will be a lot of people who will benefit from it in the future.’

The prop maker: Lewis Boulcher, 20, is a prop-making apprentice at the National Theatre

‘Every day is different, but this morning I’ve been making a fake meat pie,’ Lewis Boulcher said proudly. ‘It’s a play about King James of Scotland, and in the play the pie is torn apart by actors. So I modelled the pie in clay, cast it in a plaster mould, filled it with latex and cut it into sections. Someone else then made a filling and put magnets in the segments so we can put it back together every night.’

Boulcher is one of the National Theatre’s eight apprentices; he is an apprentice prop-maker. After completing his GCSEs he went to sixth form college but dropped out. ‘It wasn’t for me,’ he said. He had previously considered university, but ‘I don't like debt and it seemed the way the current climate is going that I’d be spending all this money and time at uni and getting out of it and getting a job at McDonald’s or something.’ He found the apprenticeship online. ‘I had zero experience in the theatre – I’d never even been – or with prop making but it sounded fun.’

After studying one day a week for a year at Tower Hamlets college for a level 2 design support apprenticeship and a BTec in design, he achieved a distinction and was awarded Apprentice of the Year at the college. ‘I preferred college when I was working for a purpose,’ he said.

Boulcher, who lives at home with his mother in Lewisham, south London, earns £12,000 a year. He starts work at 8.30am and finishes at 5.30pm. ‘Maybe I’ve missed out on some of the social aspects of uni, but I don’t think so. I still see my friends, but I have money that I can keep rather than money that I have to pay back.’

He will graduate from the apprenticeship in January, ‘and then I’ll be well set up to be a freelance prop maker,’ he said. ‘I’ve fallen on my feet – it’s something I really enjoy doing so I love putting in the effort.’

Read more at The Telegraph 

What do graduates do? presents findings from the Higher Education Statistics Agency's Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE). It examines first degree graduate destinations six months after they graduated. The publication is produced by HECSU and AGCAS.

Latest edition: September 2014

Employment prospects for 2012/13 first degree graduates dramatically improved compared to 2011/12 graduates. The proportion of graduates working in professional and managerial jobs in the UK had increased and the unemployment rate decreased from 8.5% to 7.3%. Read more about the outcomes of 2012/13 graduates from six subject areas covering 28 subjects. Find out more about how mature graduates do in the labour market in a new article.

Overview of 2014 destinations data

Of the 256,350 UK-domiciled graduates who responded to the survey:

  • 70% were in employment and 7.3% were unemployed
  • 5.6% were working and studying at the same time
  • 12.6% had continued with further study or training
  • Average salaries of graduates employed full-time in the UK ranged from £18,615 to £22,785, depending on their occupation.

Due to the methodological changes to HESA's DLHE survey we can only compare the 2012/13 graduate cohort with the 2011/12 cohort. However, comparisons haven't been made between the cohorts of computer science and IT graduates due to the change in the disciplines included for What do graduates do?. For more details about the DLHE survey see the HESA website and see more What do graduates do? for supporting information about the 2014 edition of What do graduates do?

To find out more visit the HECSU website 

Four out of 10 employers admit they have thrown away CVs because they do not understand the candidates’ qualifications, new research reveals.

Job seekers are putting off potential employers by using acronyms and flowery language to describe their qualifications, according to a new survey which found that almost half did not know that BA stands for Bachelor of Arts. It comes as City & Guilds today launches a new vocational curriculum to cut through the confusion and help candidates to stand out from the crowd.

More than half (57 per cent) of employers questioned by City & Guilds said they found acronyms on CVs confusing, and almost two-thirds said they had to look them up on the internet, while the same percentage said they believed candidates who use jargon on their CVs do it to cover up a lack of skills or qualifications.

As many as 95 per cent of employers were unable to identify the most advanced qualification from a list including BTEC and NVQ, while two-thirds of the 1,000 employers questioned in the survey believe today’s qualifications do not properly prepare candidates for real work.

Chrissie Maher, the founder and director of the Plain English Campaign, said: “Plenty of employers won’t have a clue about a candidate’s ability to do the job if they don’t know what a qualification is worth or even what it means. Acronyms are never a good idea, and all qualifications surely need to be written in full and, if they’re relatively new, with an explanation about how they compare with more traditional, well-known qualifications.”

A spokesman for the City & Guilds TechBac®, a new vocational curriculum and qualification developed  with industry, said students who complete it will show businesses that they are “work-ready”.

It is aimed at 14- to 19-year-old students who must complete a technical qualification and an accredited project qualification, as well as carrying out work experience. Students will also be paired with a mentor to give them practical advice about finding a job. From today, students can take a TechBac® in engineering, construction, land, early years and digital/IT, and more subjects will be added each year.

Kirstie Donnelly, the UK managing director of City & Guilds, said: “The education young people are receiving is not helping them to develop relevant skills or enough understanding of the workplace to successfully compete and find employment, and our research shows employers are not getting what they need.”

Read more at The Independent 

The vast majority of universities – including many leading institutions – are still recruiting students more than a month after the publication of A-level results, the Telegraph has learnt.

Universities are advertising clearing vacancies on almost 22,000 degree courses even though the academic year has already started for large numbers of undergraduates.

Figures show that a quarter of members of the elite Russell Group including Southampton and Queen Mary, University of London, had availability for British and European students at the end of last week.

Some institutions were advertising places through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) on large numbers degree courses, with Keele, Sunderland and Hertfordshire making more than 700 available.

Courses with vacancies include economics, law, history, chemistry, biology, engineering and history.

It underlines the scale of the competition between institutions to recruit students following the introduction of government reforms giving them powers to expand this year.

But the sheer scale of late recruitment will prompt concerns that some students may be admitted despite being unfit for the academic demands of their course.

It also emerged that some universities are operating a two-tier clearing system by closing courses to British students while keeping them open for those from outside the EU who can be charged far higher fees.

Birmingham, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Essex were among those with large numbers of vacancies through UCAS exclusively for foreign students.

Under Coalition reforms, institutions can take unlimited numbers of British and EU students with good A-levels this year – an A and two Bs or better – as well admitting up to 30,000 more candidates with lower grades.

Universities also have complete freedom to recruit foreign students who do not count towards existing number controls, with these students being charged up to four-times as much as their British peers.

But admissions experts have already claimed that some universities are lowering their entry requirements by one or two grades to boost their numbers this year.

One vice-chancellor told how students who “slip by a grade or even a couple of grades may well find that universities are more willing to accept them than in the past because they have more places”.

Last night, the head of careers at a private school in the south east told the Telegraph: “We’ve been really surprised by the number of offers some of our students have been getting.

“We’ve had some BBB students getting offers on courses that were advertised as AAB. It has been unprecedented.”

Figures show that by the end of August some 476,540 students had been placed on degree courses starting this academic year – up by four per cent compared with a year earlier.

It is believed that numbers will top 500,000 when final figures are published by UCAS later in the autumn – the first time total admissions will have broken through the half-a-million barrier in one year.

Figures supplied by UCAS showed 21,616 universities still had courses listed with one or more vacancy at the end of last week. It means the equivalent of two-thirds of the 30,000-plus courses made available on A-level results day in mid-August still have vacancies.

Students have until September 30 to use the UCAS clearing system to search for courses provided they registered by 6pm on Saturday, September 20.

But UCAS insisted it was the not a record number of vacancies for this time of year. Some 26,000 courses were available at the same time in 2012 – the year that £9,000 tuition fees were introduced for the first time.

Of the 24 Russell Group universities, Southampton still had availability on 286 courses on Friday, including disciplines such as chemistry, computer science, economics and physics. Queen Mary had 195 and Queen’s University Belfast had 197.

The largest number of vacancies was at Keele, where students could still choose between 778 courses at the end of last week, while Sunderland had 763, Hertfordshire 728 and Manchester Metropolitan 467.

Figures showed some universities were continuing to make places available to foreign students that were not available to their British peers.

Birmingham had 323 courses for international students but none for those from the UK, while Edinburgh had 124, Essex 391 and Nottingham 322.

Read more at The Telegraph

Google has revealed the most popular searches for people around the world looking for universities.

This ranking of online searches is very different from the traditional map of the global powerhouses of higher education.

There is a strong interest in online courses, rather than traditional campus-based universities, says Google.

And there are five Indian institutions in the top 20 of most searched-for universities.

The top search worldwide is for the University of Phoenix, a US-based, for-profit university, with many online courses and a sometimes controversial record on recruitment.

The University of Phoenix, founded in the 1970s, comes ahead of famous US academic institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and Columbia.

Online students

In second place in this league table of university searches is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - last week ranked as the world's best university and also an institution with a strong record for pioneering online courses.

The top European university is not some ancient institution, but the UK's distance learning pioneer, the Open University.

It has been developing online courses, including for the US, and is in third place in the Google most-searched rankings.

University College London and the London School of Economics are both ahead of Oxford and Cambridge among UK universities.

The University of Calicut, in Kerala, India, is fourth in this ranking of online searches. And Anna University in Chennai is the second Indian university in the top 10.

Liberty University, an evangelical Christian university based in Virginia in the US, with many online students, appears in the top 20.

Shopping channel

The internet has become a key marketplace for universities to reach potential students, says Google's analysis.

It is also increasingly the medium for delivering courses, including massive open online courses or "Moocs". In 2013, searches for online universities overtook traditional universities.

Taking the UK higher education system as an example, Google's search patterns show a globalised and fast-changing market.

Among searches worldwide for UK universities, 40% are from outside the UK. The biggest international regions for searching for UK universities are Asia Pacific and western Europe.

This has helped to put five UK universities in the top 20 - but Google's report on search data shows the volatility and pace of change.

In 2011, the most searched-for universities in the UK, apart from the Open University, were conventional campus-based institutions, headed by Oxford and Cambridge.

By 2014, all of these UK campus universities had been overtaken by Coursera, the US-based provider of online courses. Other Mooc providers, such as edX and FutureLearn, had also emerged as bigger than many traditional UK universities.

"The growth that they've experienced has been phenomenal," says the Google analysis. "Higher education institutions must decide whether to embrace and adapt or risk getting left behind."

The Khan Academy, which has been providing online teaching material since 2006, has more search activity than Cambridge University, teaching since the 13th Century.

'Tip of the iceberg'

Universities are acutely aware of the importance of their online presence, says Ronald Ehrenberg, director of Cornell University's Higher Education Research Institute in New York.

The internet is the "primary way" that universities market themselves to potential students and to alumni, says Prof Ehrenberg.

"We update our web page multiple times a week to broadcast all the news that is going on at the university and all of the achievements, including research, of our faculty and students, and showcase all the visitors to the university.

"But this is only the tip of the iceberg in the way that the internet has changed how we behave.

"Many institutions are heavily into online instruction as a way of expanding enrolments... many institutions are moving to expand revenues by growing professional masters programmes in a wide range of areas."

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute in London, says the impact of Moocs has been "over-sold".

But he says university websites have an important role in recruiting, particularly for overseas students.

The Google data suggests that academics, accustomed to university terms, will also need to pay attention to search terms.

"The internet is playing an ever increasing role in the decision making. Students are online searching and consuming content in all forms when they are deciding whether or not to go to university and deciding which universities to apply for," said Harry Walker, education industry head at Google.

Top 20 most searched universities by Google users worldwide, 2014

1. University of Phoenix

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

3. Open University

4. University of Calicut

5. University of California, Los Angeles

6. Anna University

7. Stanford University

8. London School of Economics

9. Columbia University

10. New York University

11. University of Mumbai

12. University College London

13. University of Oxford

14. Florida State University

15. Harvard University

16. University of Cambridge

17. Liberty University

18. University of Rajasthan

19. University of Michigan

20. Annamalai University

Read more at BBC News

We've all heard the statistic that 70 per cent of change programmes are doomed to failure. So maybe it's time for us to review how we approach change and take advantage of new and relevant insight. Here I'll share ten themes which focus on how you can land transformational change in your organisation, based on research conducted by the University of Bath, published by the CIPD.

The ten key themes

A comprehensive literature review of academic and practitioner research was conducted to identify ten key themes relevant to L&D and OD practitioners leading transformational change programmes.

These fall under three key areas:

1) Designing change

In many organisations there can be an under-appreciation of the importance of understanding the true context, and the need to comprehensively lay the groundwork for change. The themes connected toDesigning change explore how the quality of up-front activities can make or break transformational change.

Reading and rewriting the context

Before embarking on a change initiative it's critical to really understand the organisational context. In doing so you can then design initiatives which rewrite or rewire the context. This in turn can help you to begin to overcome obstacles to change.

Aligning strategy and culture

Often there can be a disconnect between the future strategy and existing culture. If this is the case then working out how to align the two is an important step in planning transformational change. The new strategy may require a very different culture, necessitating robust focus on new ways of working and behaviours.

Delivering radical change opportunistically

Fostering organisational agility can help avoid the need for large-scale transformational change. By continually scanning the horizon for opportunities executives can enable the organisation to regularly adapt, at speed. This approach requires a culture which enables productive difference of opinion and encourages innovative thinking to promote proactive change.

2) Building understanding

Engagement is key to landing change successfully. But often so-called tried and tested change models provide little focus on how we actually build engagement and understanding. The themes connected toBuilding understanding provide innovative ideas for encouraging employee participation and gaining crucial buy-in.

Ambiguity and purposeful instability

During change programmes, there can often be a drive towards presenting the 'finished product'. Actually 'working out loud' might be more effective. Introducing an element of planned ambiguity and instability can encourage employees to make sense of the situation for themselves, and therefore develop a deeper connection with the change.

Narratives, storytelling and conversations

Increasingly techniques such as storytelling are being used in change initiatives, because they intuitively make sense. Telling stories has been part of the human experience for eons. They are our method of understanding the world around us and making connections with each other. Introduced at the right stage, they can help build understanding and engagement during periods of change.

Physical representation, metaphors and play

Many organisations are now seeking new ways to bring change to life; to really help employees understand what it means in practice. Rather than presenting dry PowerPoint presentations L&D professionals can now make use of objects, metaphors, symbols and pictures to help employees make sense of the change.

3) Managing and leading change

Developing effective leadership capability is of upmost importance during change initiatives, meaning that L&D professionals have a critical role to play in the process. The themes related to Managing and leading change explore why great leadership is so important.

Relational leadership

Transformational change is a negotiation process, necessitating effective social interactions between employees. Demonstrating a relational leadership style can help leaders establish stronger connections with employees, to help influence the culture of the organisation to drive change.

Building trust

In order to land change employees need to trust that it is the right thing for the organisation, and for themselves personally. This requires trust in middle managers and senior leaders and a belief that their actions are benevolent. The level of trust in the organisation may determine how quickly changes are accepted and adopted.

Voice, dialogue and rethinking resistance

Frequently 'resistance to change' is labelled as negative and counterproductive. But actually if we reframe resistance and view it as a valid expression of employee voice, we can tap into a great source of potential ideas and solutions.

Emotion, energy and momentum

Change can be an emotional process. It can also be energy sapping, as employees try to make sense of what it means to them. Understanding how to manage emotion, and to keep up momentum during transformational change are critical capabilities for L&D and OD professionals.

Ultimately, landing transformational change requires clear alignment between learning initiatives and the business strategy. Combining this alignment with the application of the latest change research and thought leadership could significantly increase your chances of success.

Download the research report, Landing Transformational Change, at:

Read more at The Training Journal

Undergraduates in the UK are becoming less confident about their future job prospects, with students in the final year of their courses least confident of all. 

This quarter we surveyed 3,000 UK undergraduates, and we asked them two questions:


1 How long do you think it will take you to find your first graduate job?

2 How many applications do you think you’ll have to make?


We use their answers to calculate the Graduate Confidence Index, the key indicator for how confident the UK’s undergraduates are about employment.


Read the full report here

The UK's massive expansion in university education has not led to a parallel increase in skills, an international study has discovered, with only a quarter of the country's graduates reaching the highest levels in literacy, well below other top-performing nations.

The annual education report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) notes the "quantum leap" the UK has made in higher education access – for the first time, more people now gain a university or college qualification than have GCSEs or A-levels as their highest qualification. However, it says this has not been wholly matched by better skills, or by increased social mobility.

Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills for the Paris-based club of industrialised nations, said it was notable that while the UK had a high proportion of people with university or college qualifications – for 2012 it ranked eighth among 36 countries listed – the skill level for graduates was only average.

The increasing availability of degree courses means that for the first time the proportion of working age people with a university or college qualification, now 41% of the total, outnumbers the 37% who finished their education at 16 or 18.

The 566-page report, somewhat hopefully titled Education at a Glance, also highlights the relatively low impact on social mobility brought by the UK's revolution in higher education.

The study ranks countries by comparing the number of people with better educational attainment than their parents against those who achieved lower qualifications. This league table places England and Northern Ireland combined at a relatively lowly 15th out of 23 countries listed, though still above wealthy nations such as Germany and Austria.

Comparing for the first time the OECD's own skills tests against qualification levels, the organisation found 25% of university- and college-educated people in England and Northern Ireland – the only parts of the UK with comparable data – reached the top attainment levels for literacy, more or less the OECD average.

In contrast, 32% of better-educated Australians attained that level, while the figures were 36% in the Netherlands and 37% in Japan and Finland.

One possible explanation for this was the variability of post-school qualifications, said Schleicher. "Not all further education qualifications really deserve that name, because often those individuals are not actually better skilled than people who have just passed school," he said.

Nonetheless, he added, the skills gap, which is even bigger whennumeracy is tested, was a puzzle given the stellar reputation of many UK universities, which draw disproportionate numbers of foreign students paying significant fees for the privilege.

Schleicher said it could be partly the fault of UK schools. "One of the things which may of course be true is that literacy and numeracy reflect things that you learn well before university. In Japan they build the foundations for literacy and numeracy at high school, and universities can build on this. It's not true for the UK. This may be a reflection of this – universities assume those skills are there, but they might not be."

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the sector recognised complaints from some employers about graduates' skills, and argued that some of this was down to schooling. She added: "However, higher education can have a role in developing students in key areas of employability." Universities were addressing this challenge, she said, in part through increased links with employers such as work placements.

Schleicher said: "Access and social mobility are not the same thing. The UK has seen a huge increase is access, but it has not translated into a degree of mobility you see in places like Finland, Korea, the Russian Federation and so on."

The report notes the relatively significant UK investment in education overall. Despite the tricky financial climate, it found that from 2008-11 the UK increased public spending in education as a proportion of national income by a greater figure than any other OECD nation.

With university funding, Schleicher said, the system of students taking out publicly backed loans to pay for tuition appeared to strike a good balance between access and financial viability, even though the report only considers data up to 2011, just before annual maximum fees were raised to £9,000.

"The UK is one the very few countries that has figured out a sustainable approach to higher education funding," he said.

Despite the cost, the report argues, university education in the UK remains a good investment, with the career premium for graduates totalling about $250,000 (£155,000), and bringing an extra $130,000 (£80,000) in tax receipts for the government.

"One of the most compelling outcomes from this is that the increase in university education has not seen a decline in pay," said Schleicher, noting regular warnings of an imminent glut of British graduates.

"It simply hasn't happened, year after year after year," he said. "So far it seems it seems that the demand for better skills is rising faster than supply."

panel on class sizes to go with pweduoecd

Peter Walker

For many years British governments of all stripes have boasted of efforts to cut class sizes. It could thus be seen as something of a surprise for a major study on international education to both note both the UK's relatively high pupil-teacher ratio and to argue it in fact bethat it could be a good thing.

The annual report on education in richer nations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OSCEECD) puts the average class sidze in the UK state sector in the UK at 26, well above the OECD average of 21.

Separately, the report finds British teachers are reasonably well paid by OSCEOECD standards, enjoying above-average salaries relative to thatthose of other graduates in their countrythe UK.

This, according to Andreas Schleicher, the OSCE'sOECD's director of education and skills, cancould be the right balance for education systems with finite resources, particularly when it comes to older pupils.

He said: "If you have a certain amount of money, that's the sort of trade-off you have to make. Smaller classes limit your capacity to pay your teachers well. If you have a limited budget that's basically your choice.

"In upper secondary education it's what we see in high-performing countries like Japan, Singapore, and Korea. All of those countries prioritise teachers and teaching over infrastructure and class size."

Good news for UK schools? Not necessarily. Even tThe OSCEOECD says the benefits are less obvious with younger children, and its data also finds big . The UK has the sixth biggest classes in UKits primary schools, which are ranked sixth out of 34 nations on this measure.

Dylan William, emeritus professor at London University's Institute of Education, warns that the OECD's take version is "simplistic, to say the least" as there are so many factors at play.

"The class size issue revolves around the quality of additional teachers that you bring in," he said. "If you have smaller classes you will have higher achievement, because smaller classes do do better. But, you generally need to bring in more teachers to raise more classes.

"It's crucial how good those extra teachers are. If they're in the bottom 10% then class size reduction actually makes things worse. You get an extra four months' learning per year from the smaller class sizes, but you close five months' learning per year because now you've got so many bad teachers in the system. It's really hard to predict how this will play out in a different country."

hile controlling larger classes might be easier for teachers in traditionally more compliant East Asian schools, this would be different in the UK.

He said: "You can't separate out teacher quality from the social context. Larger classes in much of the UK would be disastrous because the student behaviour would be so poor, which is not a problem they have in the high-performing countries."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it had "a range of measures in place to identify and resolve quality issues identified in higher education institutions".

He added: "This report reinforces the UK's reputation as a true world leader in higher education, and confirms that a university degree is an excellent return on investment for the individual and for the country's economic growth. However we cannot be complacent in the face of growing international competition."

Read more at The Guardian 

Graduates have endured a freeze in starting salaries for the sixth year running, despite the improving economy and an increase in graduate recruitment. This is according to the latest graduate labour market research from XpertHR, in which two-thirds of employers reported a freeze in graduate starting salaries between 2013/14 and...

Read more at Ri5

Labour is calling for technical universities to be created as part of a blueprint for reshaping the higher education system to support a hi-tech, high-income economy.
Shadow universities minister Liam Byrne says he wants more options for young people than traditional degree courses.

Technical universities would be partnerships with industry and would support local enterprise zones. "Unless we get smarter as a country, we will get poorer," said Mr Byrne. "We've got to build a bigger knowledge economy, home to better-paid jobs and open to anyone with talent, no matter whether they want an academic or a technical path in life," said Mr Byrne. But a Conservative spokesman dismissed the proposals as "political posturing".'Learn while you earn'Mr Byrne said the university sector should be aligned with the needs of a globalised, digital knowledge economy.

He called for closer links with industry and more investment in research hubs.Mr Byrne said there needed to be a "variety of ladders" into higher education, moving beyond three-year academic degrees.This could include developing "learn-while-you-earn" courses, which would allow people to upgrade their skills while still working. There could be more use of online courses, such as the so-called Moocs (massive open online courses), in which universities put course material online, said Mr Byrne. "We need to think more radically about how we provide access," he said.

The traditional model of a three-year academic degree "doesn't work for some young people".'Student premium'Mr Byrne also raised the idea of a "student premium" that would provide a financial incentive for universities to recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in the way that schools get extra funding from a pupil premium. Setting out higher education as a key political battleground, Mr Byrne said universities were critical to any economic ambitions to have "more high-skill, more high-wage jobs and fewer low-skill, low-wage jobs".

But Mr Byrne's proposals, put forward in a pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation, do not tackle the controversial question of tuition fees. Labour leader Ed Miliband has previously spoken of reducing fees to £6,000. The Russell Group of leading universities supported Mr Byrne's calls for more investment in university research. But it rejected any major changes to the current mechanism of funding and fees, saying that the system was working.'Challenge set'Its director-general, Dr Wendy Piatt, said: "In the face of significant public funding cuts, it has helped Russell Group universities in their commitment to providing a world-class education and it has supported all students, whatever their background, to access higher education."

Prof Steve West, chair of the University Alliance, said that "access is not just about getting young people into elite universities" and that already there was "positive work that is going on right across the higher education sector". Prof Michael Gunn, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University and chair of the Million+ group of modern universities, said: "A challenge has now been set for other political parties clearly to outline the key areas they want to address in higher education and to begin work with universities in exploring them."'Woeful record'A Conservative spokesman said: "This is just political posturing from Labour. They did nothing for 13 years to broaden higher education, neglecting apprenticeships and presiding over a growing gap between rich and poor in access to university.

"In contrast, this government is taking the necessary decisions to make sure Britain's higher education system remains the envy of the world - and equips our young people with the skills they need to succeed in life. "We've launched apprenticeships that are every bit the equal of a degree and all the while abolishing the cap on university places. "Once again Labour have no new ideas - just a cosmetic attempt to paint over their woeful record in government."

Read more at BBC News

Having a degree means you are now likely to earn £500,000 more during your working life compared with someone who did not go to university.

New analysis of the employment market by jobs search engine Adzuna found that those without a degree can expect to earn £15,000 less a year when they start their career than those who have graduated.

Although this differential narrows as employees working lives progress, the difference over a career totals half a million pounds, according to Adzuna.

Degrees in engineering, computer science and maths deliver the best average salaries, ranging from £40,000 to £45,000.

At the other end of the scale, students who have completed university studies in hospitality and tourism, can expect an average salary of just £18,000.

Across the UK in June this year, there were 54,206 jobs available to degree holders, with nearly 250,000 graduates competing for these positions according to Adzuna’s analysis - an average of 4.38 applicants per vacancy.

However, this ratio was much higher in the capital and the South East, with more than 30 degree-holders chasing each position, thanks to an average starting salary of about £28,000, some £3,000 above the national average.

There are other pockets of highly remunerated graduate jobs around the country, including Cambridge, where there is strong demand for science and technology skills in the area around the city known as “Silicon Fen”, and Aberdeen, where the UK’s oil industry is based. University leavers looking for their first jobs in these areas can expect to find roles with average salaries of up to £42,000.

Employers are becoming less particular about the class of degree a student attains, with demand for firsts dropping. According to Adzuna’s data, the number of vacancies open only to those who gained a first-class degree has fallen 80pc over the past two years.

Andrew Hunter, co-founder of Adzuna, said: “In June 2014, Adzuna data shows graduate salaries turning a corner, with the highest year-on-year salary increase of any sector in the UK, increasing by 5pc.

“And the good news for graduates doesn’t stop there, as employers increasingly open up top jobs to candidates with the right attitude, regardless of their final degree classification.”

However, not going going to university does not necessarily rule out a high paying job. Working in mining construction delivers an average salary of almost £70,000, nearly three times the national average wage of £26,500.

Other well paid jobs that do not require a university education include equity and commodity trading and offshore oil platform work, with average annual pay ranging from £63,000 to £46,000.

Read more at The Telegraph 

This report forms part of the CIPD’s Learning to Work programme, which aims to promote the role of employers in reducing youth unemployment, and build the business case for investing in the future workforce. The programme also promotes direct contact with young people via two youth volunteering programmes: Steps Ahead Mentoring and Inspiring the Future.

Research exploring volunteering typically focuses on the impact on the recipient organisation or individual. This research turns the tables by considering the impact on the employee. In our November 2013 report,Youth social action and transitions into work: what role for employers?, we identified a connection between volunteering and employee development. The aim of this research is to delve deeper into this link to understand how employees develop through participating in volunteering schemes.

The research is relevant for learning and development (L&D), HR and corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals seeking to maximise employee development. It provides insight alike for those who are new to employee volunteering or those with established employee schemes. It also provides insight for charities and not-for-profit organisations seeking to connect with employers. The research was conducted between April and June 2014 with 13 case study organisations of a range of sizes and industries, including M&S, National Grid, Nationwide, UBS and PWC.

Contents of the report:

  • Introduction
  • Existing research into volunteering and learning
  • Overview of employee volunteering schemes
  • The link between volunteering and learning
  • Development of skills and behaviours
  • Measuring impact
  • Facilitating volunteering and maximising the benefits
  • Conclusion

Find out more about the Learning to Work programme.

To download the full report please click here 

Read more at CIPD 

Two-thirds of grads regret taking job as soon as they start, findings show

Employers are wasting money on untargeted graduate recruitment campaigns as research has revealed that a fifth of graduates apply for jobs that do not interest them just to secure their first job.

The report from advisory firm CEB explained that new degree holders are using their first job after university to fill their CV while they search for the career they really want.

Further findings in the report ‘Driving New Success Strategies in Graduate Recruitment’ showed that two-thirds of university leavers said they regretted accepting job offers as soon as they start in the role. And one in four expected to leave their first employer after less than 12 months.

In addition to this, employers told CEB that despite investing millions of pounds a year in the UK graduate recruitment market they cannot find the talent they need.

With new graduates struggling to find the job and the employer that really motivates them to achieve, the report’s authors compared the situation to “a game of roulette” for both groups.

The report also highlighted an issue with graduate recruitment strategies that appeal to the masses to fulfil application quotas. It suggested that this approach is based on the idea of attracting lots of ‘top’ graduates rather than targeting candidates that are the strongest fit for their business. The result is “massive sunken costs against graduate recruitment programmes” with employers paying more than necessary to initially attract graduates and then paying again to replace graduates that leave 12 to 18 months after they start, the report said.

CEB estimated that in the UK the total amount “sunk” in campaigns that fail to deliver quality return on investment was around £112 million on a national spend across UK organisations of £888 million in 2013.

Eugene Burke, one of the report authors and chief science and analytics officer at CEB, said: “Today’s graduate recruitment market is stuck in a vicious circle. Graduates are struggling to wade through generic company messaging to find their way to the right job while businesses are wasting millions chasing high numbers of graduates who leave within the first year.”

He urged employers to rethink their approach to graduate recruitment and challenge their recruiters to show they are delivering the graduate talent that will drive organisational goals.

“Employers need to break down the silos between recruitment and learning and development functions to maximise their investment in acquiring and developing graduate talent. That’s what today’s graduate want – to understand what opportunities there are to develop and grow, demonstrate the talents they have and progress in the organisation. Many firms simply lack clear intelligence on their graduate talent to know what is going to make them stay and be high-performing employees,” Burke added.

The report’s findings are based on analysis of research conducted by CEB and research from external sources including the Association of Graduate Recruiters and Highfliers.

Read more at CIPD 

The UK is "deeply elitist" according to an analysis of the backgrounds of more than 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders.

Small elites, educated at independent schools and Oxbridge, still dominate top roles, suggests the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study.

It says key institutions do not represent the public they serve.

The Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference of top private heads called the study "unreasonable and unfair".

HMC chairman Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School, said that to suggest that a high number of people in positions of influence were there simply because they went to private schools was "lazy stereotyping and underestimates the diversity within the sector".

'Elitist Britain'

Educated at private schools

  • 71% of senior judges

  • 62% of senior armed forces officers

  • 55% of top civil servants

  • 36% of the Cabinet

  • 43% of newspaper columnists

Source: Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission

'Cosy club'

Commission chairman Alan Milburn said the UK's top jobs remain "disproportionately held by people from a narrow range of backgrounds".

"The institutions that matter appear to be a cosy club."

Mr Milburn told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the report serves as a "wake-up call" to schools, universities and government.

He said: "We want the best people in the top jobs, the concern of this is the dominance they exercise.

"If there is one thing that unlocks this huge challenge for the country about the excessive dominance at the top it is the improvements in education."

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

That is not a recipe for a healthy democratic society”

Alan MilburnSocial Mobility and Child Poverty Commission

'Stark' elitism

"Locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain's leading institutions less informed, less representative and ultimately less credible than they should be," warned Mr Milburn in his foreword to the report.

"This risks narrowing the conduct of public life to a small few who are very familiar with each other but far less familiar with the day-to-day challenges facing ordinary people in the country.

"That is not a recipe for a healthy democratic society."

The commission says its findings are based on one of the most detailed analyses of its type ever undertaken.

It found that those who had attended fee-paying schools included:

  • 71% of senior judges
  • 62% of senior armed forces officers
  • 55% of permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servants)
  • 53% of senior diplomats.

Also privately educated were 45% of chairmen and women of public bodies, 44% of the Sunday Times Rich List, 43% of newspaper columnists and 26% of BBC executives.

In sport, 35% of the England, Scotland and Wales rugby teams and 33% of the England cricket team also went to private schools.

In politics, half the House of Lords attended independent schools, along with 36% of the cabinet, 33% of MPs and 22% of the shadow cabinet.

This compares with 7% of the UK population as a whole.

Figures for top people who went to Oxford and Cambridge paint a similar picture.

Some 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords, 33% of the shadow cabinet and 24% of MPs hold Oxbridge degrees.

In contrast, less than 1% of the whole population are Oxbridge graduates while 62% did not attend university, says the study.

The report describes the figures as "elitism so stark that it could be called social engineering".

The authors recognise that many talented people attend independent schools and top universities, with 32% of those with AAA or better in last year's A-level results attending private schools.

National effort

However, they ask whether top jobs are about what you know or who you know and whether some talent is being locked out.

The report calls for a national effort to "break open" Britain's elite, with:

  • employers publishing data on the social background of staff
  • university-blind job applications and non-graduate entry routes
  • the government tackling unpaid internships that disadvantage those too poor to work for nothing
  • senior public sector jobs being opened up to a wider range of people.

Sir Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College in Berkshire, says every independent school should start an academy - something his school has overseen.

He said: "We need to be more radical than [Alan Milburn] is currently proposing.

"If we look more at those state schools that are doing very well, they are very heavily dominated by the middle classes.

"They are the grammar schools, they are the academies and comprehensives in strongly middle class areas.

"I think to be obsessed, as Alan is by private schools, is just a little bit out of date."

Mr Harman said the key to improving social mobility was to allow more young people to access independent schools through bursaries and scholarships.

He said their strength was in developing pupils' talents, creativity, character and individuality, as well as achieving high academic results.

"We are part of the solution not the root of the problem."

'Major rethink'

The Sutton Trust, which campaigns for greater social mobility through education, welcomed the recommendations.

"It is clear more needs to be done at government level to address the issue," said policy director Lee Elliot Major.

Prof Steve West, chairman of the University Alliance group of business and technology-focused universities, urged a "major rethink of what success looks like in the 21st Century".

"There is a massive breadth of routes to success and huge diversity of opportunity in the global, technology-rich graduate employment market."

A spokeswoman for Oxford University said the institution devoted "a huge amount of resource to widening access and student support" but added that diversifying intake would require wider action.

"Social mobility is an issue stretching back to birth and beyond and early inequality of attainment is one of the major barriers to progression."

Read more at BBC News

Teenagers awaiting their GCSE results tomorrow can console themselves: it’s not the grades they get that future employers will look for, but their attitude.

A can-do approach is more important than an A*, a survey of employers found. Almost half said that the most important quality they looked for in a young person was their attitude.

One in five said their key criterion was the level of qualifications that the applicant held such as an honours degree, A levels or GCSEs. 

Read more at The Time Education

Record numbers of bright pupils are shunning university and opting for enticing apprenticeships that offer salaries of up to £30,000 on completion.

Soaring university fees, student debt and the uncertainty of finding a job when they graduate are pushing many A-level students away from higher education and into training programmes with big companies including PwC and National Grid.

With 40 per cent of students who graduated last year saying they “regretted" going to university, dissatisfaction with the experience is rife. 

Read more at The Times Education

Britain will have more people with degree-level qualifications than almost any other country in the world in 2020 after overtaking the US for the first time, according to official forecasts.

Almost half of people aged between 25 and 64 will have a degrees or higher level qualifications within the next eight years, a 10 per cent increase which will see Britain rise from 11th in the international rankings to seventh.

However, Britain is expected to fall behind other nations in international rankings for the number of people with GCSEs and A-level equivalent qualifications amid growing concerns that a generation of young people will struggle to get jobs.

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, the public-funded body behind the forecasts, hailed the rise workers with more skills as "good news" but warned that the opportunity for young people searching for jobs will "diminish".

A spokesman for the commission said: "The rise in the number of people with higher level skills is good news as there has been an increase in roles requiring higher level skills such as managers, directors and senior officials.

"However, the labour market has also seen a long-term decline in the number of entry level-jobs in the economy and unless recruitment patterns change young people will see their chances of finding a job diminish.

"Creating more non-graduate routes such as apprenticeships and school leaver programmes would offer ladders of opportunity to young people, and feed the talent pipeline for employers. Those with higher level skills will be able to progress, but those with lower levels of skills will struggle."

According the official forecasts, Britain will overtake the US, Switzerland, Finland and Norway for the proportion of people with higher-level qualifications by 2020.

Based on current projections it will be seventh in the world, although it will still be behind nations including Canada, Kore, Ireland and Japan.

However, Britain is expected to fall behind Australia, Belgium and Ireland for the proportion of people with GCSE or A-level qualifications, with its ranking going from 24th to 28th.

This week record numbers of students gained university places amid claims that admission tutors had been required to lower entry grades to drive up acceptance rates.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed almost 400,000 students accepted places on A-level results day – up by 11,000 in a year.

The total number of undergraduates starting degrees is expected to exceed half a million for the first time when all places are confirmed later in the summer.

It comes after the Coalition granted universities greater recruitment powers this year, with institutions allowed to admit unlimited numbers of applicants with at least an A and two Bs at A-level and 30,000 additional students with lower grades.

However, there are concerns that many students are studying so-called "mickey mouse" degrees at university while the sciences and engineering are increasingly neglected.

Read more at The Telegraph 

With thousands of students waiting to receive their GCSE results, the government is launching 40 new apprenticeships in England.

The new opportunities will be in areas in areas like engineering, hospitality and journalism, and is part of a drive to increase the number of young people in apprenticeships.

BBC Breakfast's Leah Gooding has been finding out how well they work.

Read more at The BBC

A quarter of A-levels will be graded at least an A next week as the number of students accepted into British universities exceeds 500,000 for the first time.

Just days before the publication of results, it emerged that record numbers of students were on track to win places on degree courses this summer.

The rise is being fuelled by an increase in applications combined with Coalition reforms to the higher education system that will give universities powers to admit extra students in 2014.

Universities have already made more offers this summer, with the number of students holding provisional places at the end of July up by more than 12,000 in a year.

Competition is particularly fierce for the recruitment of bright students – those with at least an A and two Bs at A-level – after universities were told they could admit unlimited numbers of candidates with good grades.

In all, around 26 per cent of A-levels are likely to graded A* or A when results are published next Thursday.

A survey of universities by the Telegraph found that:

• Most universities, including members of the elite Russell Group such as Newcastle, Sheffield, Nottingham, King's College London, Southampton, Warwick and York, confirmed they will have places available in clearing this year – the system that matches students with spare courses;

• Many institutions are offering lucrative – non-means tested – incentives to all students who apply with good grades to tempt them onto courses, including cash awards of up to £10,000, tablet computers and cut-price accommodation;

• More students have already secured places a week before A-level results after being given “unconditional offers” – the promise of a place irrespective of final grades – with universities such as Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester making use of the system this year;

• Around half of universities that provided figures suggested they would create additional places this year compared with 2013, with Bath alone increasing its entry target by almost 10 per cent and numbers at the London School of Economics also reaching a new high.

The rise in university entry rates is likely to be recorded despite a predicted small drop in the number of students gaining top grades in A-levels nationally.

Last year, some 26.3 per cent of exams were graded A* or A. It was the second annual drop in a row following 13 years of consecutive increases seen under the last Labour government.

This summer, the proportion of good grades is likely to fall again to 26 per cent, with 53 per cent of papers given at least a B and three-quarters marked C or better.

It follows a pledge by Ofqual, the exams watchdog, to stamp out “grade inflation”. This year, January exams have also been abolished, forcing all students to take tests in one sitting in the summer, reducing chances to bump up their grades.

Experts said much of the increase in university admissions seen this summer would come from students with lower A-level grades and those applying armed with BTECs and other vocational qualifications.

The move will place a renewed premium on the recruitment of bright students by top universities, giving ABB candidates a greater choice of courses through clearing.

In a statement, Newcastle encouraged bright students “who are not currently holding a Newcastle offer” to get in touch on results day, while Sheffield said it “wants to ensure that students who achieve better grades than expected… are aware that Sheffield is an option for them”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said: “The nature of clearing has changed in recent years. It has become a key recruitment period for all kinds of universities, including higher tariff institutions.

“Students who might have missed a grade or two in their A-levels will find plenty of opportunities available in clearing and will have a good chance of securing a place this year, not least because the number of applicants holding any A-levels has been tracking down with the recent falls in the population of 18-year-olds.”

In 2013, some 496,000 students were accepted onto university courses, including a record 433,600 from the UK. It was the highest number ever accepted in one year, eclipsing the previous high in 2011 – just before the hike in tuition fees.

This summer, it is predicted that the admissions rate will easily exceed 500,000, including close to 450,000 British students.

Separate figures show 544,600 British students have made applications, up by almost 17,000 in a year, with candidates much more likely to make use of the full five applications permitted by UCAS.

It also emerged that more students were holding conditional offers of places by the end of last month, with numbers standing at 367,500 compared with 355,200 in 2013.

The move comes after the Coalition gave English universities powers to recruit unlimited numbers of applicants with at least an A and two B grades at A-level combined with more flexibility to admit students with lower-level qualifications. It will create an extra 30,000 places.

The Telegraph surveyed 40 universities and found that just over half that supplied figures suggested they were intending to expand their places this year. Bath said it was planning to increase admissions from 2,980 last year to a record 3,250 in 2014, while the London School of Economics will target almost 1,500 students – a new high.

Competition between universities to secure students onto courses is now so intense that many institutions offer cash awards – irrespective of family income – to boost numbers.

Newman University, Birmingham, will offer an “academic achievement scholarship” of £10,000 over three years for all full-time students who apply with three Bs or better.

The University of East London said all new undergraduates were given a £1,200 “progress bursary”, which includes a brand new Samsung Galaxy tablet computer loaded with their core textbooks and a further £900 of credit to spend over the duration of their course.

Read more at The Telegraph

Employers are increasingly using a range of methods to improve their talent pipelines and help young people into work, according to research released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The CIPD’s ‘Employers: Learning to Work with Young People’ report highlighted a number of findings

Read more at Ri5

Silicon Valley has a famously rocky relationship with higher education. While many of the brightest minds in the tech industry were educated at prestigious universities such as Stanford and Harvard, many more take pride in having dropped out of their degrees to pursue start-up glory, including Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, is so disdainful of university education that he established a fellowship offering several young people $100,000 (£60,000) per year to drop out and start a company instead.

Ben Nelson, the 38-year-old former CEO of the online photo firm Snapfish, is as sceptical as his peers of the classic American college experience. "Too much time at college is spent on disseminating knowledge which is already freely available," he says. "Too much money is spent on costs that have nothing to do with student outcomes, like lavish campuses and sports programmes. There's too little focus on actually educating students – and too much on maintaining the job security of their professors."

Yet Nelson has taken an even more radical approach than Thiel to reforming what he believes is a flawed but fixable higher-education system: he has created his own university from scratch. The Minerva Project, which expects its first intake of 33 undergraduates to begin their studies in San Francisco this autumn, barely resembles a traditional university. For starters, there will be no lectures – all the teaching will take place in intensive, interactive seminars, many conducted online using Minerva's specialised video-conferencing system.

After their freshman year in California, the student body will be split into several groups and sent to spend each of their remaining six semesters (a total of three years) in a different world city, cycling through Buenos Aires, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, New York and Mumbai. Though they must go without many conventional college pleasures – fraternities, sports teams, debating societies – Minerva undergraduates, says Nelson, "will get to live in the greatest cities on the planet".

Billing the project as "the first elite American university to be launched in a century", Minerva's founder says that its curriculum is "designed to train those individuals who will create or run the major institutions of the world. We don't necessarily know how to teach you to be a better orthodontist or a better tax accountant. We innovate in teaching you how to think, how to be creative, how to communicate effectively – and how to lead."

Nelson's ambition is to create not only a functioning new model for university education, but a university to rival the Ivy League. "The primary motivation is to impact systemic change in higher education on a global basis," he says. "The only way to do that is to come in at the top. If you create a perfectly OK university that does things differently, nobody cares. In higher education, everybody looks up."

Professor A C Grayling, who in 2011 left his teaching position at Birkbeck, University of London, to found an independent undergraduate college, the New College of the Humanities, says Nelson's is a welcome addition to the higher-education landscape. "The global middle class has mushroomed over the past half century and yet elite higher education has scarcely expanded at all," Grayling explains. "There's massive demand for good-quality, high-end education and the world is hungry for innovative institutions."

Minerva, says Grayling, "brings attention back to the people who count most: the students themselves. It's predicated on the idea that we are a global world, and it's about preparing people for a very complicated century."

Nelson comes from a family of academics: both his parents are scientists; one of his sisters is an art historian, the other has a PhD from Stanford's business school. Though resolved to avoid an academic career, he became obsessed with the failings of modern higher education while taking a course in the history of universities during his first year at the University of Pennsylvania. As the chairman of Penn's student committee on undergraduate education, he spent his remaining time there attempting to reform its curriculum. "I received very positive feedback for my ideas, but then was immediately told that they would never be implemented," he recalls.

Somewhat disillusioned, he departed for the West Coast, where he spent 10 years working at Snapfish, five of them as its CEO. Under his leadership the firm grew into the leader of a crowded market, and was bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2005 for a reported $300m. By the time he left in 2010, Nelson felt sufficiently confident to contemplate creating a new kind of university – taking the same approach as a tech start-up. Two years later, the Minerva Project secured a whopping $25m in seed funding from the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Benchmark.

Meanwhile, Nelson persuaded Professor Stephen Kosslyn, the former Dean of Social Science at Harvard, to come on board as Minerva's founding dean. With Professor Kosslyn's help, he has assembled a formidable faculty across the five "concentrations" from which Minerva students will eventually be awarded BA or BSc degrees: natural sciences; computational sciences; social sciences; arts and humanities; business.

The annual tuition fees for Minerva students are set at $10,000, a fraction of the approximately $44,000 currently demanded by Stanford and Harvard. A third of this year's first Minerva cohort are also receiving financial assistance in the form of grants and loans. Yet Nelson insists that the institution will be sustainable without any further big investments, as soon as it attracts enough undergraduates – he is aiming to build a typical Ivy League-sized student body of between 7,000 and 10,000.

"We can deliver a higher-quality education in a sustainable fashion for a quarter of the tuition costs of a traditional university, because we strip out all of those costs that don't benefit the student," he says.

The project received almost 2,500 applications for the founding Minerva class, and Nelson insists that those offered places were selected purely on merit. The 33 who are headed for California in the coming months hail from 13 different countries and five continents. Only 20 per cent are American. Almost two-thirds are female. Though most will arrive directly from secondary school, several have dropped out of other prestigious universities to switch to Minerva.

"They're a spectacular group of kids," Nelson says. "We set an outrageously high bar: students that didn't make the Minerva cut wound up matriculating at places like Harvard and Cambridge. We eventually accepted 69 applicants and expected that to yield 15 to 19 students, but in the end almost half of them ended up matriculating. That's a higher rate than five of the eight Ivy League universities. And we were twice as selective as Harvard."

The student's view

By Kayla Human

My friends were surprised when I told them I was going to university. They were less surprised when I told them I was the first person to accept a place at this university. Ever.

There is something unreal about being part of an educational pilot, especially one that will span San Francisco, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mumbai, London and New York. I struggle to describe what I will be doing and what process led to this unexpected situation. All 33 founding class members seem to be negotiating this liminal space in which we are committed to Minerva's potential but unsure of its reality.

I make no pretences, there are aspects of Minerva that unnerve me, such as its emphasis on self/peer-teaching and how its seminars are virtual. Most people I consulted were cautious of Minerva's novel method and, of course, my parents had qualms of their own. So why go? Why was Minerva the only university that I applied for?

Our education system needs to change. And I don't mean in the form of ex-Education Minister Michael Gove's personal tribute to "the good old days". We need to tear it from national interests and start respecting the rights of young people to emerge as independent thinkers. At 17, I was so disillusioned with school that I effectively left to study in less oppressive environments – using London as my classroom. I felt disinclined to apply to the Russell Group universities, sceptical of their underlying conservatism. Surely, institutions at the forefront of human knowledge should be updating themselves according to their expert findings? There is an entire branch of academia focused on the science of learning, which remains largely unapplied.

This is what Minerva promises – a contemporary education, not only in its deployment of technology to its full pedagogical potential but in its meta-attitude of people as global citizens, encouraging learners to transcend divisive and narrow national constructs. My enrolling at Minerva is my joining the movement for radical change in education. In September, I, one of 33 people from 13 countries (and one of two from the UK), will arrive in San Francisco, and I expect we'll be a feisty bunch. Aware of our responsibility and privilege as Minerva's founding class, we will no doubt be just as challenging to it as we are committed to our collective mission."

Read more at The Independent

In 2015, universities in England will be able to recruit as many students as they like. But a new report looking at what happened in Australia when that policy was rolled out in 2012 warns that it’s naive to think uncapping student places will be a simple process in the UK – especially if the sector suffers further cuts after the election next year.

The report, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), draws a contrast between the decades taken to prepare the ground for a demand-driven system in Australia and the speed with which the decision was taken in England.

Nick Hillman, director of Hepi, says: “Removing student number controls is a logical conclusion of the liberalisation of higher education that has taken place in England under the coalition. In effect, undergraduates hold vouchers worth £9,000 and universities are expected to fight much harder to recruit them.

“But the policy of removing student number caps was put together quickly and remains fuzzy,” he says.

“There are uncanny parallels between the English and Australian higher education systems. And, when Australia followed a similar path, the results were unexpected. More students enrolled than were predicted, the costs spiralled, and there have been knock-on consequences for the whole higher education debate.”

Hillman says there are strong arguments for giving applicants and universities more freedom to find the best possible match. But if England’s policy is to be a success, he adds, it needs to be based on an analysis of the positive and negative lessons in the Australian experience.

“A free-for-all approach may be attractive in principle but, as Australia shows only too clearly, it is by no means plain sailing,” says Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank million+. She is concerned that a deregulation of student numbers in England will leave ministers without any means to promote initiatives in the national interest.

How does it work in Australia?

The policy was officially introduced in 2012, but universities started to recruit more students from 2009 – before the legislation came in.

It applies to bachelor courses at public universities, except in medicine. It excludes non-university higher education providers, sub-bachelor courses (such as diplomas) and postgraduate degrees.

What were the perceived benefits?

Competition was intended to encourage innovation and promote better teaching, thus improving the student experience.

Did this happen?

An Australian review panel found that quality of teaching had not been affected. However the removal of constraints on student numbers did create the opportunity for a growth in online and off-campus learning. Previously, unless universities were awarded new places through the bureaucratic allocation system, new online courses required reducing student places in on-campus courses.

Five things England can learn from the Australian experience

1) Costs were bigger than expected

When the cap on student numbers was lifted, it triggered big increases in higher education spending. The following year, the government announced it was to make cuts to the higher education sector – universities would have to contend with 2% cuts in 2014 and 1.25% in 2015.

Source: Department of Education portfolio budget statements, various years

2) Student numbers increased across the board

Enrolment grew across all socioeconomic groups, among country- and city-dwellers, for all types of university and in the vast majority of disciplines. From 2012 to 2013 – the first two years of the policy – student numbers increased by more than 5%.

3) Increase in students with low prior attainment provoked concerns over quality

The Group of Eight (Go8) – a lobby group representing Australia’s leading research universities – raised concerns about the quality of student intake, when the number of low-performing applicants increased. Research suggests they will continue to rise.

Australia ranks students academically in relation to their cohort - according them each an Atar score (Australian tertiary admission rank). Despite few school-leavers with low Atar scores enrolling at university, the Go8 has called for its members to impose a minimum Atar of 60, thereby excluding all but the top third of school-leavers.

Research shows that around half of students enrolling with below 60 Atar are likely to complete their qualification. The G08 proposal would deprive these students of a potentially life-transforming educational opportunity that could open up better employment options and new social networks, says Andrew Norton, co-author of the report and programme director on higher education at the Grattan Institute, an independent think tank.

So what are the alternatives for low-performing students? The report says one strategy is for them to start out at a pathway college, which offers higher education diploma courses based on the first year of a university degree course. Research shows that students who have been to pathway colleges tend to do better at university than would have been expected given their school results.

The only snag is that these colleges teach sub-bachelor degrees, which fall outside the new policy, limiting their scope for expansion.

4) The system opens up opportunities for alternative providers

Removing curbs opens up the market to the possibility of a wide range of higher education providers. At the moment, only publicly funded universities are covered by the legislation. But work is being done to allow non-university higher education providers to enter the system.

Those who oppose the extension of the system are concerned about issues of quality in the non-university sector, but to date there’s no research to support these fears. A stronger line of criticism is that the regulator may not be able to cope.

5) The removal of number controls must be linked to tuition fee levels

The report suggests that with the sort of demand-driven system already in place in Australia, there should be a broader range of fees than has thus far been allowed in England.

The cap for full-time undergraduate fees for home /EU students at English universities was raised from £3,000 to £9,000 in 2012. When announcing this back in 2010, ministers said the maximum £9,000 would be “exceptional”. 

However, because the number of student places was firmly fixed, there was no real market, and universities could get away with charging the maximum, which most of them did. Students still rolled up in large numbers and there was a somewhat higher income for educating each student than under the old system.

In Australia, places are deregulated and now fees are set to be too. So there will be more freedom for fees to find their natural level – at least in theory. Hillman says this is because universities will find it harder to recruit students than in the past as there is more competition. England could find itself in the same situation.

Fee deregulation however brings with it new policy and political problems, including more student debt. What’s happened to England is a warning to Australia, says Norton.

With Australia’s top eight universities pushing for higher fees and fewer students, it will be interesting to see how these two policies play out alongside each other, as well as the impact they’ll have on the sector, student application rates and social mobility.

Read more at The Guardian

Apprenticeships are failing to help young people find work and improve their skills, a report has found.

Rather than helping to boost young people's economic prospects, the majority of apprenticeships are "low skilled" and "dead end", according to Dr Martin Allen and Professor Patrick Ainley from the University of Greenwich.

One of the major problems is that too many people are taking an apprenticeship at intermediate level – equivalent to GCSEs – according to Allen. "Last year, figures from the Skills Funding Agency showed that 56% of people on the programme were at intermediate level and provisional figures for the first half of the 2013-14 financial year show it to be at 70%," he said.

"With 80% of the population already qualified at this level, including most school leavers, it's questionable whether apprenticeships are helping to upskill the workforce and make the economy more competitive."

The number of advanced-level apprentices has increased, but they are still in the minority. Of the 891,600 apprentices in 2012-13, just 12,900 were training at the higher level.

The report also criticises the fact that many apprentices are adults, arguing that it contradicts the government's claim that the scheme is focused on helping young people find work. In 2012-13 40% of apprentices in England were over 25.

Matthew Hancock, the skills and enterprise minister, said the government is focused on improving the quality of the scheme and has stripped out nearly 200,000 apprenticeships that don't meet "tough new standards". He added that, along with the record number of private-sector jobs created, apprenticeship reforms have contributed to the 32.8% fall in youth unemployment over the past year.

In the German apprenticeship system, which is held up as an ideal model, 90% of apprentices secure employment by the end of the scheme. But in England, there is often no guarantee that the apprenticeship will secure a permanent job or higher training. Allen would like to see a number of changes to how England's system works.

"We need to make sure apprenticeships are of sufficient quality to be a real alternative to university. In order for this to happen, we've got to improve the level of training, we've got to guarantee employment at the end and we've got to look at other countries like Germany and take on some of their approaches.

"When an employer takes on an apprentice, they should have to show that there is actually a role for them to go into at the end of the scheme," he said.

Allen would also like apprenticeships to give people a licence to practise, as they do in Germany. "Rather than our ad hoc system that depends on an individual employer, we need to provide apprentices with transferable skills that they can take elsewhere."

In response, Hancock highlighted rule changes that mean apprentices must now be formally employed and have the same employment status as other employees. He said: "Apprenticeships must involve meaningful on-the-job training, as well as English and maths for young people who haven't yet achieved good GCSEs in these essential subjects.

"And where a licence to practise is a requirement of an apprenticeship, this should have been specified in the apprentice framework developed by the sector."

The minister also pointed to the trailblazer scheme, that gives employers the power to design apprenticeships for their industry.

More than 220,000 workplaces in England now employ apprentices, while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills says 70% of employers report that apprenticeships have improved their productivity or the quality of their product.

"These business benefits ripple throughout the economy," Hancock said. "The National Audit Office has estimated that, for every pound the government invests in apprenticeships the economy gets £18 back. And when wider benefits are included this return is even higher, at £28."

But in the report, Allen and Ainley disputed that apprenticeships are boosting the economy.

"The idea that simply creating more apprenticeships will rebuild the economy is highly questionable," said Allen. "Without policies for creating real, secure employment opportunities, it isn't clear if employers will really want to spend time and money training more apprentices, especially when there continue to be huge numbers of graduates to choose from – surveys show up to a third of university leavers end up in jobs for which they are overqualified."

Read more at The Guardian

Universities are moving away from the idea that bursaries are the key to widening participation, diverting money instead to outreach events such as visits to local schools

Just over half (56%) of the money universities expect to spend on widening participation by 2018-19 will be dedicated to financial support – which includes bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers – down 15 percentage points on 2013-14. 

For the first time, nine institutions in England – including Teesside, Middlesex and Roehampton universities – will spend no money on bursaries specifically for underrepresented groups.

Instead, universities have committed £146m to outreach work – up from £125m under the 2014-15 access agreements – while £131m will be spent supporting students during their studies through induction and buddying schemes. 

Institutions have also begun recording how much they intend to spend helping students find employment – £46m under the new agreements – as greater emphasis is placed on ensuring disadvantaged groups benefit from their time at university.

The spending predictions are included in the 2015-16 access agreement which universities are obliged to submit to the Office for Fair Access (Offa) if they intend to charge more than £6,000 in fees for full-time courses. Each access agreement states how universities will attract and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Why are universities spending less on financial support?

The amount spent on bursaries has dropped from £465m under the 2014-15 access agreements, to £412m. This is partly because the government has decided to end the National Scholarship Programme after 2014-15, meaning universities will no longer be obliged to offer financial support such as bursaries or fee waivers. In total, the number of institutions providing fee waivers has dropped from 30% under the 2014-15 agreements to 6%.

For years, the lion’s share of access money has been dedicated to financial support, but Offa feels such spending has not proven to be cost-effective. While disadvantaged students are more likely to drop out of university, a study published by the body found that, under the old fee regime, bursary schemes do not make them any more or less likely to complete their course. Earlier research carried out by Offa in 2010 indicated that the precise amount of bursary awarded by a university or college did not affect a student’s choice of university.

report published by Offa last week showed that while universities spent nearly £140m extra on attracting disadvantaged students in 2012-13, there had been little progress in recruiting poorer students to the most selective universities.

Today's report indicates that universities are moving away from the idea that bursaries are the key to widening participation.

Claire Callender, professor of higher education studies at the Institute of Education, told the Higher Education Network’s recent debate on widening participation: “One of the biggest problems with bursaries is that prospective students very rarely know if they will get a bursary when they are thinking about which universities to apply to. They need to know if they will get a bursary before they apply to a university.”

Offa has welcomed the “rebalancing” of institutions’ budgets. Professor Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, said: “We’ve seen a clear change in investment patterns, with universities and colleges following Offa guidance to identify the areas in which they most need to improve and then to focus the balance of their effort accordingly, making sure they are investing in approaches and activities likely to have the greatest impact.”

Universities which have low numbers of students from underrepresented backgrounds should invest in outreach projects according to Offa. Those that have a greater proportion of disadvantaged students should spend more on supporting the “student lifecycle” – which means helping them to complete the course successfully and progress to a good job. 

There has been a rise in the percentage of young English students from low-participation neighbourhoods starting a full-time course – but as the graph indicates, the increase has been slight.

Last year Offa warned of dramatic falls in numbers of mature and part-time students.

Read more at The Guardian 

As the new e-portfolio services coordinator at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Paul Wasko is hitting the ground running. Recently, the institution and four affiliated colleges issued an e-portfolio RFP, with the intention to be in pilot mode by spring 2015. Wasko's job will be to define, implement and support the use of portfolios, including promoting the use of them in courses and programs across campus.

Wasko spent nearly 11 years at Minnesota's college and university system as director of eStudent Services — with a particular emphasis on eFolioMinnesota, an ambitious play to bring portfolios to every man, woman and child in the state. That effort collapsed between 2010 and 2012 when a change in state and institutional leadership came with a different set of priorities. The state portfolio system still exists (earlier this year the site announced it had reached 100,000 accounts), but it's no longer run by schools; it has been taken over by Avenet Web Solutions, the company that built it in the first place. "Most of the folks who were part of the core effort have either faded into the woodwork or left the organization," said Wasko. "It's a very different place."

Here he explains why e-portfolios still matter; how they're different now from what they were even two years ago; and what the work at UAA will be.

CT: Why do e-portfolios still make sense?

Wasko: Education is still very much concerned with how we know students are learning, that we're getting through to them, that they're walking away with knowledge, skills and abilities.

Read more at Campus Technology

A-level grades have edged down this year, as pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive their results.

There has been a slight fall in A* and A grades and the pass rate is down for the first time in over 30 years.

But there are a record number of university places available and students could still get places even if they miss their grades.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan says the government is "lifting the cap on aspiration".

Exam officials say the results of this year's A-levels are broadly "stable". But for the third successive year the A* and A grades have fallen slightly - down from 26.3% to 26%.

There were also marginal falls in the proportion of entries in the A* to B grades. But the very highest A* grade has risen from 7.6% to 8.2%.

Competing for students

For school leavers planning to go to university, this could be an unusually good year to apply, with a "buyer's market" in which universities are competing to attract students.

A student contacting the BBC had achieved two C grades and a D, but had still gained a university place for which the original offer had been three grade Bs.

It could also mean students who have achieved higher grades than expected "trading up".

Umar Burhanudin, a student at City and Islington College, achieved two grades As and an A* and says he is going to shop around for a "higher-ranking university".

There are an extra 30,000 university places available and it is expected that for the first time over 500,000 places will be allocated for courses this autumn.

Universities continue to have a flexibility over recruiting students who achieve AAB grades or better.

2014 A-level grades2013 A-level grades

Grade A*



Grade A*-A



Grade A*-B



Grade A*-E



The Ucas admissions service says that so far 396,990 students have been accepted on degree courses at UK universities - up 3% compared with this point last year.

Universities Minister Greg Clark says the expansion in places is an "important source of social mobility".

The Joint Council for Qualifications, issuing the results, said there was a trend for more students to take so-called "facilitating subjects" at A-level, such as maths and physics, which can help university applications.

Maths is now the most popular A-level subject.

But there have been big falls in the take-up of subjects outside this mainstream group, such as a 47% drop in critical thinking and 24% fewer entries in general studies.

Graphic:  A-level entries awarded A and A* grade

Nick Foskett, vice-chancellor of Keele University, says students will have more options than in previous years, even if they do not get their expected grades.

"More students are likely to be accepted into their first choice, even if their grades are slightly lower than universities requested," said Prof Foskett.

More flexibility

"Many universities that have plans for growth will be using this year to expand their numbers, so will be keen to accept students that may have been rejected in previous years."

The Ucas admissions service says initial figures show a 2% increase in students getting their first choice place.

The Russell Group of leading universities has indicated that there will be more flexibility than usual.

"Some Russell Group universities may still have places available in some subjects for students who have done better than expected," said the group's director general, Wendy Piatt.

"There may also be places available for highly-qualified students who have narrowly missed out on their first choice."

More universities than usual are expected to take part in the clearing process, which matches students looking for a place with any available courses.

For students doubting the accuracy of their grades, the Information Commissioner's Office says they have a right to see how their exams were marked. This is an addition to the exam boards' appeals process.

This year's results included the first A-level grades from a free school, the London Academy of Excellence, with 43% of pupils achieving top grades of A* and A.

Labour's shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said he would scrap the government's plan to remove the link between AS and A-levels. This de-coupling of the exams would limit young people's "opportunity to realise their full potential", said Mr Hunt.

The CBI's director general John Cridland said after so much concern over grade inflation "we should not beat ourselves up if grades and overall passes don't go up each and every year".

But Mr Cridland raised concerns about the continuing decline in students taking modern languages.

Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman said this year's results were a "real good news story".

"It shows how hard students and teachers have worked in the face of changes to exams to achieve results that are as high as ever."

Read more at BBC News 

With graduation looming and inspiration yet to strike about your future plans, it's easy to get stuck in a cycle of despair. All of your friends are starting fancy grad schemes or llama-herding in Peru, while the only thing you've got lined up is a Breaking Bad marathon and scheduled panic attacks about the dwindling graduate jobs market.

Your student discount card is about to expire, and if another family member asks you about your career plans then you might just have a breakdown. Sound familiar? These six points might help to reassure you.

1. We're still young

Those who started a three-year course straight from school will have only just turned 21, so there's no rush to accept the first 9-5 job that you're offered. Becky Dnistrianskyj, a recent graduate from Cardiff University, turned down several graduate jobs in favour of continuing with bar work.

She says: "I don't see the point in accepting a poorly-paid graduate job that I'm not even sure I want to do, just because I'm expected to. I'd rather save up until I've had time to decide what I really want to pursue."

2. Comparing yourself to other people is a waste of time

Just because your housemate has secured their ideal job doesn't mean that you're a failure by contrast.

3. You can't discover who you want to be until you find out who you are

Personalities often change at university, which can be daunting beyond the bubble of campus life. Challenge yourself by experiencing something new, while you still have the chance. Chris Jenkins of Southampton University has just returned from Southeast Asia, in time for his graduation:

"I had wanted to travel and experience different cultures for a while, and the summer before starting work provided that opportunity. It was the best experience of my life. I thoroughly recommend going out into the world and seeing it for yourself, regardless of whether you have a job lined up for your return", he said.

4. Many successful career-people have 'fallen into' their line of work

Recent statistics from the New College of the Humanities found that 19 out of 20 graduates had switched jobs within three years. Be confident enough to accept that your dream career might not be as you had hoped, and devise a new plan according to the aspects that you enjoyed.

5. Your degree won't go to waste

Deciding that you don't want to be a psychologist doesn't necessarily mean that the three years and thousands of pounds spent on a psychology degree was all for nothing – any university education teaches a desirable skill set. According to Prospects, many graduate employers seek degree-level candidates rather than those disciplined in a specific subject.

6. You're not alone

Marcus Zientek, a careers adviser at Sheffield University, says that many students are unsure of their plans after graduation:

"How uncertain they are does vary, from those who have an interest in a general area of work but have not yet decided about it, to those who describe themselves as not having any ideas at all.

"Panicking doesn't help and is unnecessary anyway. Don't let things drift – keep calm and make a plan. Realise that you're not deciding what to do with the rest of your life, but choosing a good next step for you."

Read more at The Guardian

Most higher education institutions had graduate employment levels between 90 and 95 per cent, with 25 institutions having rates above 95 per cent, the latest destination statistics for university-leavers showed last week


Small infographic (10 July 2014)

Outside small and specialist institutions, Robert Gordon University had the highest rate for graduates in employment or further study (97.7 per cent), according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data looking at the activity of 2012‑13 graduates six months after leaving university.

Next most successful were the University of Buckingham (97.3 per cent), the University of Derby (96.7 per cent) and the University of Surrey (96.9 per cent).

At the other end of the scale, the data showed five institutions with a graduate employment rate of 85 per cent or lower. They included London Metropolitan University (81.4 per cent), the University of Bolton (82.4 per cent) and Staffordshire University (84 per cent).

In 2012-13, the overall graduate employment rate rose for a second successive year to 92.1 per cent, up from 90.8 per cent in the previous year. However, it remains below pre-recession levels.

Read more at The Times Higher Education

Mr Clark, who has been the Conservative MP for Royal Tunbridge Wells since 2005, replaces David Willetts, who announced his resignation last night as part of the government’s pre-election reshuffle.

In addition to the universities and science brief, Mr Clark will keep his role as minister of state for the Cabinet Office, responsible for cities and local growth.

He was born in Middlesbrough, attended a comprehensive school, and went on to study economics at the University of Cambridge and then obtained a PhD from the London School of Economics.

Before entering Parliament, he was director of policy for the Conservative Party for three successive leaders – although not under David Cameron.

In opposition, he held the shadow brief for energy and climate change, and charities, social enterprises and volunteering.

In 2011 he was appointed minister for cities before becoming financial secretary to the Treasury in September 2012.

Prior to entering politics he had an international career working for American strategy firm the Boston Consulting Group.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “We wish Greg Clark well in his new role and look forward to discussing the challenges facing the sector with him. Mr Clark picks up an important brief with enormous significance for both our economy and our society.

“Many higher education reforms from this government have been controversial and unpopular with the sector. Now is a good time to re-evaluate them and for all parties to make clear exactly what they will be offering the electorate at the next election.”

As well as Mr Clark’s appointment, it has also been announced that George Freeman, Tory MP for Mid Norfolk, has been made parliamentary undersecretary of state for life sciences. The new brief will sit across the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Health.

Greg Clark’s acceptance by scientists may not be helped by the fact that he was among 206 MPs who signed an Early Day Motion in 2007 calling on the government to support homeopathic hospitals, which it describes as “valuable national assets”.

The motion says complementary medicine “has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic, difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome”.

The signatories also include current health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, business secretary Vince Cable and Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who at the time chaired the Commons Science and Technology Committee and is now a member of the Lords Science and Technology Committee.

David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London and a critic of homeopathy, said it would “obviously be absurd if a science minister were really to take seriously something as anti-scientific as homeopathy”.

“Let’s hope Mr Clark signed it unthinkingly to please a constituent, [while] realising how silly it was - though it would have been better if he’d thought before signing,” he said.

Paul Jump

Read more at The Times Higher Education 

David Willetts has resigned as minister for universities and science as David Cameron carries out a major cabinet reshufffle that has also seen Michael Gove lose his job as education secretary.


The news follows speculation on a number of previous occasions that Mr Willetts was at risk of losing the universities brief, and comes as part of a wider change in government with a number of long-serving ministers losing their jobs.


It was announced on 15 July that he is to be replaced by Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, who will also hold the post of minister of state at the Cabinet Office.


Mr Willetts, who has overseen four years of major reform in higher education and was also shadow universities minister before 2010, has announced that he intends to leave Parliament next year.


Figures from the UK higher education sector have been reacting to the news.


Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group of universities, said Mr Willetts was “strong advocate of higher education, science and the merits of international students and waged a long battle in the Cabinet on their behalf”.


“What is not so widely known is that he won the argument that international students should be taken out of the migration numbers only to have the Cabinet agreement scuppered by the Home Office, which announced something completely different.


“It is unusual for ministers tasked with introducing highly controversial reforms to be remembered fondly but David Willetts ticked the boxes in terms of integrity, and as a result won respect even among those who were strongly opposed to the government’s policies.”


Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said he had been “an outstanding science minister, respected not only in the UK but throughout the world”.


“He has kept science centre stage in the Cabinet and has helped position science at the forefront of UK industrial strategy and economic recovery. His commitment, energy and pure enthusiasm for science will be sorely missed.”


On Twitter, Mark Pegg, former chief executive of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, described the departing minister as a “very rare example of a minister who actually cared what happened to his brief and not just his career”.


Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute and former special adviser to Mr Willetts, said it was “nice to see plaudits” on the social network for his former employer, “including from people who disagree with him”, adding “he was an inspiring boss”.


However, Rachel Wenstone, former vice-president for higher education at the National Union of Students, tweeted that Mr Willetts would be remembered for “his inability to challenge [home secretary Theresa] May on net migration”, and “incompetent funding decisions”.


Aaron Porter, who was president of the NUS when tuition fees were increased to £9,000, tweeted that Mr Willetts would be remembered for a “big error” regarding the resource accounting and budgeting (RAB) charge – the estimated portion of loans that will never be repaid by graduates, which has increased to a level that could soon eclipse the expected financial benefits of the fee increase. He added that the former minister was a “decent man”, but that his reforms “will need correcting in 2015”.


Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, said Mr Willetts’ biggest legacy would “always be the increase in fees and the funding system that underpins it” and whether it turns out to be sustainable.


“But he deserves credit for a wide range of things: protecting the science budget - even if only in flat cash terms - and for persuading George Osborne and the Treasury that they should expand HE numbers and get rid of number controls,” he said.


“At GuildHE we will always be especially grateful for his decision that enabled a number of small and specialist institutions to gain university title.”


University leaders also took to social media to pay tribute to the outgoing minister. Craig Calhoun, director of the London School of Economics, said Mr Willetts’ departure was “a loss as UK’s universities and science minister”, describing him as “a thoughtful leader whether one agreed with all his policies or not”, while Sir Richard J. Evans, president of Wolfson College, Cambridge, said he was “sorry David Willetts is leaving his post”. “I hope his replacement also values universities,” he tweeted.


Patrick McGhee, former vice-chancellor of the University of East London, tweeted that the fees reforms had “been a disaster, but [Mr Willetts] genuinely believed in a diverse sector, students, mobility and the importance of teaching”.


“My worry is that a new HE minister will have a remit to keep the cost of HE via loans down. This could be bad news for the post-92 sector,” Professor McGhee said.


David Willetts won acclaim from many in the science community during his four years as minister.


He won a cash ring-fence for the science budget – although many have raised concerns at how inflation is now eroding this settlement – and helped to boost long-term investments in science capital after initial cuts.


Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, expressed gratitude at his “tireless work” and for “proving himself a progressive force in the argument for open access to research”.


“His common sense and clear commitment to research and higher education has been a breath of fresh air. He will be sadly missed across government,” he said.


Sir Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience and philosophy at the University of London, added that the scientific community owed Mr Willetts “a huge debt”.


“Despite the fact that he’s not a scientist, he went native. His personal affection and enthusiasm for science have been crucially important in sustaining the government’s commitment to science through challenging times,” he said.


Imran Khan, chief executive of the British Science Association, said that he is “one of the UK’s sharpest and most talented politicians” and that “you’d be hard-pressed to find many in our sector who have a bad word to say about him”.


One of Mr Willetts’ more controversial policy decisions was to channel £600 million of investment into selected innovations, known as his eight great technologies.


Many criticised the move for “picking winners” by concentrating research and development funding in specific fields while other promising technologies missed out.


But Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said that the eight great technologies policy has “helped mobilise the joint efforts of universities and business working together”.


Sarah Main, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said of Mr Willetts: “He was liked and respected throughout the sector for ‘getting it’, whether each policy was welcomed or not.


“He has set the scene for his successor to capitalise on the high level political support for science he engendered by securing substantial long-term investment.”


Holly Else

Read more at The Times Higher Education

According to the latest (May) JobsOutlook survey from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, 83% of employers plan to increase their permanent headcount over the next three months, while 81% plan to increase it within the next four to twelve months. The survey also revealed that the proportion of employers saying they need - 

Read more at Ri5 

Does this university pay the living wage to all its staff? What's the student:staff ratio? And what is the ratio of the vice-chancellor's salary to the pay of the lowest paid member of staff?

These are just some of the questions that the University and College Union (UCU) is encouraging students to put to universities when they attend open days.

As part of the campaign for greater transparency in higher education, which launched on Monday, UCU members will hand open day attendees a leaflet with 10 questions they would like students to ask.

The questions cover how much teaching is done by staff on zero-hours contracts and how much more the vice-chancellor or principal earns compared to the lowest paid staff.

The leaflet will also include questions about whether students working at the university will get paid a living wage and how much the university would really like to charge students in fees.

UCU has said that the aim of the campaign is to expose the number of staff that are forced to work on insecure temporary contracts.

It also wants to challenge the poor pay of many staff and students who work at universities and to expose the universities who see students as "little more than cash cows".

Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, says: "We are encouraging students to ask the questions that universities would rather they didn't.

"Students have a right to know what universities would really like to charge them in fees and whether or not they can expect a fair wage if they end up working in the campus shop during their time there.

"Students should find out whether or not their lecturers are on decent contracts or being held back by zero-hours deals. Students are bombarded by information these days, but so much of it is just advertising. So it's difficult to see the wood for the trees.

"We need far greater transparency in the higher education sector and prospective students should exercise their critical capacities even before they join a university."

Would you ask your university these questions on an open day?

1. How much of my teaching will be given by staff employed on zero-hours and temporary contracts?

2. What is the student:staff ratio at the university?

3. Does the university pay the living wage to all staff it employs, including staff on casual contracts?

4. If I take a job working at the university while I am a student will I be paid the living wage?

5. Are the open day guides who show me around paid the living wage?

6. What is the ratio of the vice-chancellor's salary to the pay of the lowest paid member of staff?

7. What will the university do if proposed cuts to Disabled Students' Allowance are implemented in 2015?

8. Does the university want to see tuition fees rise above their current maximum of £9,000 a year?

9. Does the university believe that student loans should be sold to a private company?

10. What would this university do if the terms of their students' loans changed for the worse after they had started their course?

Read more at The Guardian

It was not so much how hard people found the challenge, but how far they would go to avoid it that left researchers gobsmacked. The task? To sit in a chair and do nothing but think.

So unbearable did some find it that they took up the safe but alarming opportunity to give themselves mild electric shocks in an attempt to break the tedium.

Two-thirds of men pressed a button to deliver a painful jolt during a 15-minute spell of solitude. One man – an outlier – found thinking so disagreeable he opted for a shock 190 times.

Under the same conditions, a quarter of women pressed the shock button. The difference, scientists suspect, is that men tend to be more sensation-seeking than women.

The report from psychologists at Virginia and Harvard Universities is one of a surprising few to tackle the question of why most of us find it so hard to do nothing.

In more than 11 separate studies, the researchers showed that people hated being left to think, regardless of their age, education, income or the amount they used smartphones or social media.

Timothy Wilson, who led the work, said the findings were not necessarily a reflection of the pace of modern life or the spread of mobile devices and social media. Instead, those things might be popular because of our constant urge to do something rather than nothing.

The first run of experiments began with students being ushered – alone, without phones, books or anything to write with – into an unadorned room and told to think. The only rules were they had to stay seated and not fall asleep. They were informed – specifically, or vaguely – that they would have six to 15 minutes alone.

The students were questioned when the time was up. On average, they did not enjoy the experience. They struggled to concentrate. Their minds wandered even with nothing to distract them.Even giving them time to think about what to think about did not help.

In case the unfamiliar setting hampered the ability to think, the researchers ran the experiment again with people at home.

They got much the same results, only people found the experience even more miserable, and cheated by getting up from their chair or checking their phones.

To see if the effect was found only in students, the scientists recruited more than 100 people, aged 18-77, from a church and a farmers' market. They too disliked being left to their thoughts.

But the most staggering result was yet to come. To check whether people might actually prefer something bad to nothing at all, the students were given the option of administering a mild electric shock.

They had been asked earlier to rate how unpleasant the shocks were, alongside other options, such as looking at pictures of cockroaches or hearing the sound of a knife rubbing against a bottle.

All the students picked for the test said they would pay to avoid mild electric shocks after receiving a demonstration.

To the researchers' surprise, 12 of 18 men gave themselves up to four electric shocks, as did six of 24 women.

"What is striking is that simply being alone with their thoughts was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid," the scientists write in Science.

Jessica Andrews-Hanna at the University of Colorado said many students would probably zap themselves to cheer up a tedious lecture. But she says more needs to be known about the motivation of the shockers in Wilson's study.

"Imagine the setup – a person is told to sit in a chair with wires attached to their skin, and a button that will deliver a harmless but uncomfortable shock, and they are told to just sit there and entertain themselves with their thoughts," she said.

"As they sit there, strapped to this machine, their mind starts to wander, and it naturally goes to that shock – was it really that bad?

"What are the experimenters really interested in? Perhaps this is a case where curiosity killed the cat."

Read more at The Guardian

University freshers struggle to remember most of their A-level course, according to a study published today.

Researchers tested nearly 600 students at five universities in their first week and found that even A-grade students could remember only two fifths of the A-level syllabus. They blamed schools “teaching to the test” for the undergraduates’ failings. Since many degree courses build on knowledge learnt at school, it suggests some students may struggle at university.

Read more at The Times

Most of today's graduates have already changed careers at least once by the age of 24, new research found.

New research showed only half work in the same field that they graduated in but a staggering 19 out of 20 have changed jobs at least once within three years of graduating.

A tenth have even had three different jobs and a third spent on average only three to six months in each job.

A third blamed financial reasons for changing jobs while one in ten went to start their own business.

But two out of five savvy graduates said they the main reason for changing role or industry was to acquire new skills and continue learning with communication and creative skills deemed to be the most valuable transferable skills acquired in professional life.

While half choose a degree with the intention of working in a particular field, one in seven fail to find a job of their choice on graduating.

The poll of 2,000 graduates was conducted by New College of the Humanities.

Swatee Jasoria said: "With the current economic climate and a number of sectors destined for growth, the traditional career path has evolved into more of a long and winding road.

"Graduates need to become adaptable, and build a personal portfolio of skills, which increasingly takes them into different roles and industries."

A C Grayling, Master of New College of the Humanities said: "One of the main motivations for the enriched curriculum of studies at New College of the Humanities is to address the need for a higher education that equips graduates for the diverse and complex careers they will pursue through life.

"This survey confirms that the aims of the College's innovative educational model are the right ones."

Read more at The Telegraph 

Almost nine-in-10 of Britain's leading employers are failing to fill vacancies amid concerns over the poor quality of graduate job applications, according to research.

Figures show that 87 per cent of leading public and private sector organisations still have vacancies for university leavers months into this year’s recruitment cycle.

A study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters found that the largest number of vacancies was being found in IT, engineering and management posts, despite record numbers of students leaving university with good degrees.

It was claimed that many candidates “fall down at the application stage” after failing to take enough care over CVs, covering letters or personal statements.

Many students take a “scatter gun approach” to applications by sending them out en masse without tailoring each one to a specific employer, it emerged.

The comments were made despite a large rise in the university population, with increasing numbers of school leavers now taking a degree and leaving with good grades.

Last year, almost one-in-five undergraduates – around 70,000 – finished degree courses with first-class honours, more than triple the number in the late 90s.

Many have been forced to take unskilled jobs in pubs, cafes and building sites because of a shortage of graduate-level jobs.

But an AGR poll found that many employers “still have unfilled vacancies for 2014” after struggling to recruit.

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the AGR, which represents Britain’s 750 leading employers, said: “Much is being made at the moment about the ‘value’ of a university degree in the job market, but we know anecdotally from our members that most candidates fall down at the application stage – so often graduates are not taking enough time over their applications and thus not representing themselves in the best possible light.

“First impressions really do count, and in most cases the first impression an employer receives is a CV or job application.

“I’d urge all graduates to really research sectors and roles that they’re applying for, tailoring each approach to show why they want that particular job and what relevant skills they can offer an employer.

“There are graduate vacancies out there and making fewer, targeted applications rather than taking a scatter gun approach to finding a job will pay dividends in the long run.”

According to the poll, 87 per cent of employers have at least one unfilled position for graduates.

The largest vacancy rate was in IT (26 per cent), electrical engineering (23 per cent) and general management (18 per cent).

When asked to cite why the positions remained unfilled, 67 per cent of employers said that the applications they have received “have been of insufficient quality”.

One company boss told researchers: “It is important that graduates take their applications seriously and not just assume they will get an interview because of their grades, school and university attended.”

Another said: “We see too many generic applications.”

One personnel officer said graduates “need to make real efforts in researching before answering the application questions”, adding: “We do sometimes see that an answer might have been copied and pasted from another application they may have submitted.”

Read more at The Telegraph

Making sure graduates use their skills in the workplace could become as important to education policymakers as the quality of university learning in the first place, according to a report that warns that skills “atrophy” if left dormant.

The Learning Curve: Education and Skills for Life, published by the education firm Pearson on 8 May, uses the example of South Korea, which shows a particularly sharp drop in problem-solving skills for adults once they pass the age of 24.

Part of the explanation is that a higher than average proportion of the country’s graduates do not go on to employment or further training, “a situation in which their hard-won skills are more likely to atrophy”, it suggests.

It cites Eric Hanushek, an educational economist based at Stanford University, as saying that whether or not skills are put to use in employment – and so kept sharp – will be as big a part of the future education debate as formal education itself.

Sir Michael Barber, Pearson’s chief education adviser, told Times Higher Education that in the 21st century “it’s clear that however great your first degree is, you’re going to have to keep learning”.

Because there is so little certainty about what the jobs of the future will involve, universities must train graduates with the right “attitudes and attributes” to keep learning for life, he said, noting that this was something the “best” higher education already did.

Universities should focus on this when trying to improve employability, he added, rather than on “preparation for a specific job”.

Although some universities and institutional leaders are “thinking radically” about this, he said, “individual academics” found it “harder” to accept this idea.

Sir Michael added: “If graduates leave with a love of learning, that’s good for employability.”

The report also warns that widening access to education through technology – massive open online courses, for example – “appears to be not enough” to retrain under-skilled adults because those likely to take Moocs are already highly educated.

This is because people who have already learned a lot will have the confidence to continue, Sir Michael said. “That goes into reverse for people who struggle at school.”

Read more at The Times Higher Education

The response I receive from many uninformed people when I reveal that I went to university in Sheffield ranges from surprise and polite mumbling about steel to a not remotely concealed it's-grim-up-north face, along with a confused "why?"

Well, those who have been a student in Sheffield, or indeed have visited the city for a significant amount of time, will know the answer. Rated number one in this year's Times Higher Education Student Experience survey, the University of Sheffield is quite rightly being recognised for being a fantastic place to study in a poll that isn't exclusively focused on academia.

Aside from writing essays and making PowerPoint presentations at 3am, being a student is also about learning to live independently, getting along with people you would never normally choose to live with and managing a workload without anybody breathing down your neck to do it. These are all a significant part of the student experience and living in Sheffield makes them a great deal easier.

Sheffield is a strikingly friendly city: you don't feel like a little fish in an inconceivably big pond, like so many of my friends who went to university in London did, and that is perhaps a contributing factor towards the underperformance of London universities in this survey. It is a joyfully cheap place to live: rent is cheap, beer is cheap, transport is cheap, which makes the transition from home to student digs that little bit easier – your student loan goes that bit further.

As well as the city, the university itself is inclusive and welcoming with the student's union being one of the best in the country, consistently putting equality policies at the forefront of its agenda, for example being one of the first to introduce gender-neutral toilets – a small but significant step for an all-too-often overlooked and under-represented portion of the student population. The union also hosts the city's most popular gay night.

Student experience not being exclusively about academia obviously plays an important part, especially now undergraduates are paying up to £9,000 a year. My academic experience at the University of Sheffield was excellent, which is one of the reasons I chose to stay on and complete my MA there. I can only speak for the history department, but despite suffering cuts like everywhere else, the tutors were dedicated, available, and are leaders in their field. For the BA, teaching time averaged at six hours a week, as with every other humanities course, but there were study groups and other academic opportunities for those who wanted to take advantage of them.

I cannot speak for the students of universities such as the London School of Economics, which scored comparatively low on student experience, despite having a great deal of academic prestige. But perhaps it is a lack of a community feel which adds to this: the feeling of living in an anonymous city and not really belonging to something, as well as other more tangible reasons such as expensive housing and living costs.

It's this sense of belonging and close-knit community, as well as the academic experience, which gives Sheffield its edge when it comes to excelling in student experience and why, two years after graduating, I'm still here.

Read more at The Guardian 

The number of students complaining over the quality of university degrees increased by 10 per cent following a hike in tuition fees, according to research.

Figures show more than 20,000 students lodged complaints last year over grades, academic feedback, the content of courses and fee levels, compared with around 18,000 in 2010/11.

The rise coincided with a move to almost triple tuition fee levels for the majority of undergraduates in Britain to up to £9,000-a-year in 2012.

David Willetts, the Universities Minister, welcomed the findings, saying it showed students were demanding more for their fees.

"When there's a fee of £9,000, the university is obliged to show what they're doing and provide a decent service,” he said.

The BBC gained data through the Freedom of Information Act from 120 British universities.

It emerged that Anglia Ruskin university received the most complaints, with 992 in 2012/13. This was followed by Staffordshire (948), the University of the West of England (703), London Metropolitan (656), Manchester Metropolitan (627) and Salford (545)

Raechel Mattey, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said some undergraduates felt they had “been lied to".

"I think the decision to raise the fees has had an impact on student thinking,” she said. “Students do see themselves more as consumers than they used to. They want the best possible degree they can get."

Complaints made to Anglia Ruskin included a group that signed up to take a trainee solicitors’ course in Chelmsford – only to find out it was running 45 miles away in Cambridge. They were also told only have two days of face-to-face lectures, being required to watch others online.

The university did not comment on the case but insisted it allowed larger numbers of students to appeal than some universities.

"If anything, our process has been overly generous,” a spokesman said. “With a student population of more than 31,000, our numbers are not particularly surprising.”

Read more at The Telegraph

In 2010, one of the country’s largest private-sector graduate employers took a brave swipe at what has been termed the “tyranny of the 2:1″; consulting group PwC launched “Inspired Talent”, a graduate programme aimed at those who may have failed to reach the gold standard degree class, but who offer other special achievements, such as charity involvement.

Four years on, the list of employers prepared to embrace – for at least some entry routes – the thousands of graduates who leave university without an upper second or first degree has widened to include such stellar names as the Civil Service Fast Stream, the NHS, Jaguar Land Rover, Unilever, Debenhams, Nestlé and Siemens.

Yet the debate over what constitutes graduate talent, and how it can be measured in a way which moves the social mobility agenda forward, grows ever more passionate.

An end to privilege?

As recently as five years ago, insurance giant Lloyds of London, which maintains a 300-year-old tradition of recording any loss of ships in quill pen, operated an Oxbridge-first recruitment policy twinned with a heavy reliance on personal connections.

HR and recruitment manager David Banner says that, today, academic and socioeconomic diversity, rather than privilege and nepotism, are seen as critical weapons in the war for talent.

“Far from selecting only from Oxford and Cambridge, we nowadays look at 40 universities altogether and are careful to include non-Russell Group [the elite group of universities] institutions with a broader socioeconomic mix as well as the traditional red-bricks.

“While a 2:1 remains the baseline for the present, we are actively considering whether this is necessary when it comes to bringing in the flair we need for the future,” he adds.

For recruiters faced with thousands of undergraduate applications each year, efficient filtering is a crucial part of the hiring process. Yet for consultancy company EY, where 35 tried and tested universities form the basis of the annual undergraduate trawl, a strict reliance on degree class for the initial sift poses significant problems in terms of widening access.

“We have a responsibility as an employer to not only help redefine what talent is but to question our current benchmark of a 2:1 or 300 UCAS points,” says Julie Stanbridge, head of student recruitment.

“Research tells us that the majority of male Afro-Caribbean graduates get a 2:2 degree, not a 2:1, and if we genuinely want to represent these people in our organisation, then our selection criteria may have to be re-examined.”

That said, in most cases, the 2:1 floor is inviolate. “Given that we get 17,000 applications per year, we do need to operate a filter,” Stanbridge adds.

Blunt benchmark

To Gillian Smith, head of the Civil Service Fast Stream (where a 2:2 is the minimum requirement), the 2:1 remains “a very blunt recruitment instrument indeed”.

Despite handling 25,000 applications last year, Smith says that the service’s quest for ethnic and socioeconomic diversity demands a far less rigid approach.

“While we do our own verbal and numerical reasoning tests, we take the view that a 2:2 baseline not only encourages a more diverse range of applicants both in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic background, but also offers sufficient evidence of a candidate’s ability to learn and develop if and when they are selected,” says Smith.

Katerina Rudiger, head of skills and policy campaigns at the CIPD, says that more high-profile employers need to champion the issue of widening access: “The tide is turning when it comes to opening up or ‘democratising’ employer brands and in my view, most organisations are already really engaged with this issue.

“It may well be that the 2:1 benchmark is very much the wrong measure if firms want to attract a more diverse talent pool, but what nobody has really hammered out thus far is what HR can use instead. Until we reach that point, each firm is very much doing its own thing.”

Rudiger believes that detailed questions around volunteering, rather than narrow academic achievement, may be a sensible way forward for the many employers “who recruit for attitude and train for skills”, but she questions how easy it would be to compare candidates with very different experiences in the voluntary sector.

There may also be an issue in gaining buy-in with line managers, who could claim to be uncomfortable managing hires with different education profiles.

“Widening access is an ongoing project which needs some really brave employers to turn current thinking on its head and ensure that their entire organisations are behind the drive for more diversity,” Rudiger says.

Data from online job board Monster suggests that the majority of employers are not screening candidates based on university results. According to its statistics, a “higher class degree” is only specified in about 20% of searches when a recruiter is looking for a graduate.

Andrew Sumner, Monster’s managing director in the UK and Ireland, says: “It’s long been argued and proved that businesses flourish when the workplace is diverse. Perhaps this trend suggests that diversity is now a necessity instead of a banner that companies wave to show their commitment to embracing differences and change.”

He argues that the crucial step to widening access to graduates who have the specialist skills required but did not attended an “elite” university, is to ensure diversity is ingrained in company policy: “This will inevitably open people’s minds and encourage them to seek beyond the obvious to find the best possible candidate.”

Trailblazers needed

Toyota GB, which keeps a 2:1 benchmark on paper but says that in practice there are no hard and fast rules, finds that it is as important to fit in with the corporate culture as it is to have kept your head down while at university.

Recruiting its graduate talent at the intern stage – and mostly from “newer” universities such as Nottingham Trent, Aston and Bournemouth – a spokesperson says that if an intern “displays the core competences that the business requires, and adapts to the Japanese way of doing things”, their eventual degree classification may be unimportant.

Fertility expert Lord Winston made headlines last year when he said that he deliberately discriminated against jobseekers with first-class degrees on the grounds that lower achievers tended to have more interpersonal skills and worked better in a team.

To Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, however, it would be unfair for lead employers to replicate such attitudes.

“Many organisations choose to spend their marketing budgets with the 30 or maybe 40 campuses that have tended to be the most fruitful in the past – both Russell Group and non-Russell Group, increasingly – but that doesn’t mean that they restrict their intake to those institutions.

“Employers often set baseline academic benchmarks – two As and a B at A-level plus a 2:1, for example, and as long as candidates meet them, it doesn’t matter where they come from or indeed how they got there.”

Potential problems

He believes that, although widening participation is a strong topic of conversation among employers at the moment, the removal of the 2:1 “floor” poses real problems for larger employers seeking to ensure fair and equal access to roles when application numbers reach tens of thousands.

“Employers can use all sorts of measures to ensure they are being more representative, be it recruiting from areas where free school meals are common to finding out whether candidates’ parents went to university, but in the search for greater socioeconomic representation, there are real fears that young people who work hard and got decent grades at school and university may suffer,” adds Isherwood.

Nationwide may be one of the employers loathe to abandon the 2:1 benchmark, but by asking current graduates to take ownership of campus talent spotting, the firm believes it can tap into new reserves of talent.

Head of resourcing Julie Collier says: “Nationwide has always had a very strong [corporate social responsibility] agenda and of course we want the diversity of our customer base reflected in our workforce.

“From this year, we are forging a far closer relationship with seven particular universities based on their state school intake and their ethnic and gender diversity (including non-Russell Group Bath, City University in London, Oxford Brookes and Aston) and are asking our current year two graduates to take ownership of the scheme by going out to these universities and engaging with potential recruits.

“We don’t know at this stage whether the new approach will find a whole new set of people or not, but we’re pretty confident that we’ll find sufficient talent to make the scheme a success.”

Outcomes, not inputs

Last month, the liberal thinktank CentreForum proposed a new approach to social mobility measurement based on “outcomes” rather than “inputs”. It believes that the current focus on the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds admitted to each university must now switch to the quality of jobs secured on graduation.

The proposed Social Mobility Index, which could be used in conjunction with other league table information in helping less well-off students make an informed decision as to which university to choose, would use official student and employment data to reflect the destinations of leavers six months after they graduate.

While the Government is committed to lifting student quotas in 2015, the report Higher education as a tool of social mobility, written by Professor Michael Brown, suggests that this is a mistake. It argues that quotas must be maintained and that universities sending a large number of disadvantaged students into graduate-level jobs, particularly the professions, should be rewarded with extra student places.

Brown, vice-chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University between 2002 and 2011, says that university recruitment is “no indicator” of social mobility and that recruiting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds could be a retrograde step if the extra tuition fees are not set off by better than average jobs on graduation.

The proposed index, which features 153 institutions, is led by the School of Pharmacy, the University of St Mark and St John in Plymouth, Ravensbourne College in London, University Campus Suffolk and Edge Hill University. Only two Russell Group universities feature in the top half of the index (Cardiff at joint 59th place and Newcastle at 74th), reflecting the “high level of social privilege” in the group as a whole.

Read more at Personnel Today

University leaders are far less convinced about the value of the Higher Education Academy than rank-and-file academics, according to an independent review credited with the decision to strip its funding.

In a report commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the lack of support from institution heads is identified as a serious problem for the organisation, which was told in April that it will lose all its funding council money by 2017.

The loss of this cash, worth about 83 per cent of its £20 million budget last year, has raised serious doubts over the future of the teaching excellence champion, which will make about half its 180-strong workforce redundant this summer.

Written by Capita Consulting, the Independent Review of the Higher Education Academy says that the organisation “has to better communicate, to institutional leaders, the impact and value of its work with their institutions”.

Although only about 15 per cent of the 224 individuals from 82 organisations surveyed said that they were “unsure about the impact of the HEA’s work”, they were more likely to include senior university figures than academics who had worked with the HEA, the report says.

“What may be valued by individual academics and disciplines does not necessarily reflect the preoccupations of institutional leaders,” says the report, published this month, four months after it was initially due out.

“It is clear that the HEA needs to give more attention to how it adds value to institutions’ senior teams,” it adds.

On a related note, the HEA “has yet to establish a clear approach to demonstrating value for money and the impact of its work”, despite having a “wealth of data” about successful projects, the report says. There is, however, much praise for the “increasingly efficient and effective organisation”, which has “devised and, for the most part, successfully implemented a new and more resilient business model” after a 30 per cent cut to its budget.

But the closure of subject centres to cope with the cuts is criticised in the report by several people in the sector, who argue that the new discipline experts introduced in 2011 are “spread fairly thinly” across the sector, have reduced the organisation’s profile and made it seem “remote”.

“Staff feel that the one part of the HEA with which they engaged has been removed,” said one person cited in the report. “There is…the perception that perhaps the support for disciplines is not as strong as it used to be through the subject centres,” said another.

There were also “mixed” views on the value of HEA-funded research, which “does not always provide a clear focus for understanding potential solutions for key issues”, some of those surveyed say.

The report calls on the HEA to “focus on to fewer key strategic priorities” by “concentrating on a smaller number of themes, or rotating themes on an annual basis” after some criticised its desire to be “experts in everything”.

Stephanie Marshall, chief executive of the HEA, said that she was pleased with some of the “very positive and encouraging feedback from the sector” outlined in the report.

“The findings reinforce our plans to develop the four clear, targeted and evidence-based workstreams to enhance learning and teaching,” said Professor Marshall.

She added that she was determined to “have the measures in place to demonstrate the…difference that we will help bring about to the student experience in learning and teaching”.

Read more at Times Higher Education

Comprehensive school pupils should be allowed into universities on the back of lower GCSE and A-level grades than students from grammars and fee-paying private schools, according to new research.

A study commissioned by the Department for Education concludes that students from comprehensives with equivalent GCSE and A-level grades outperformed their more expensively educated peers at university.

Claire Crawford of Warwick University and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the author of the report, said: "If you have in front of you a student from a state school and one from a private school with the same A-level grades, on average – and I should emphasise it is on average – it does appear that the student from the state school background or less effective school will go on to do better given the grades that they are entering with."

An independent school-educated student was 10% less likely to get a first or a 2:1 degree than a student educated at a comprehensive when they had the same A-level results and were studying the same subject at similar universities.

Crawford's research suggested that Oxford, Cambridge and other universities "may wish to consider lowering their entry requirements for pupils from non-selective or low-value-added state schools". But she was careful not to propose any specific difference in grade requirements.

Traditionally, Russell Group universities, such as Cambridge and Manchester, have insisted that A-level grade offers should remain the same for all applicants, regardless of school background.

Crawford added that the fact that "there are these systematic differences" in student performance means that "one thing that could be done is for universities to recognise that in the offers they are making to students… I'm definitely not saying everybody should do it, universities need to make their own decisions."

The research also found that comprehensive pupils with equivalent grades were less likely to drop out, failing to complete their degrees.

Crawford's study comes after research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England found that pupils from non-selective state schools outperformed their independent-school peers with the same A-level grades at university. It used a wider data set from the national pupil database of students who sat GCSEs between 2001 and 2008 and then followed their university career.

The study also finds that the bulk of university access campaigns, aimed at boosting the comprehensive school intake into some of Britain's best universities, - appear to be misdirected, and that more effort could instead be put into improving GCSE results and subject choices to widen participation.

University access schemes "targeted at students beyond the end of compulsory education are unlikely to be able to eliminate the differences in [higher education] participation that we observe between pupils from different types of schools", it says.

"This valuable research confirms the importance of students getting good advice on their subject choices at school," said James Turner, director of programmes at the Sutton Trust, which campaigns on the need to widen university participation.

"It also shows there is an 'achievement against the odds' effect – students getting to university in spite of attending a poorer school are more likely to do well once they get there."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group said: "Candidates' academic success is already considered in a broader context, and admissions tutors are skilled at assessing applicants individually and holistically to identify real talent and potential. The bottom line is we want to give places to the pupils with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed.

"Admission to university is and should be based on merit, and any decisions about admissions must also maintain high academic standards."

In the report Crawford concluded it should be "of particular concern to policymakers interested in widening participation in higher education" if pupils from certain backgrounds were less likely to go to top universities, especially if those same students "outperform those from elsewhere once they are at university, even after accounting for their qualifications, subjects and grades on entry".

Read more at The Guardian 

According to New York Magazine, the traditional CV and its often-so-dull covering letter ought to be declared dead. And let me tell you: I'll be sending flowers to the funeral, because most resumés which cross my desk, certainly, tend to be worthy of immediate cremation.

In my experience - much of it, granted, in the creative world - traditional resumés are less-than-helpful for a potential employer: bland, standardised and full of clichés (let's face it, everyone's going to be 'enthusiastic' or 'helpful' on Day One, but how's it going to pan out over the longer term...?)

It's extremely hard to sort fact from fiction, and the assumption has to be that everyone's bigged themselves up to a certain degree. (Well, maybenot the actual degree. Although I do point out that only very rarely will someone actually be asked what class of degree they were awarded, unless they're ex-Oxbridge, the mention of whose hallowed cloisters seems still to make people sit up and take extra notice. Not that I want to disincentivise anyone currently working on their thesis, but this is a simple, if rather unfair, fact of working life.)

The very best job applications I've come across certainly didn't fit the usual three page of close-typed white paper blueprint we've come to expect. There was the mocked-up magazine cover sent by a very ambitious 17 year-old would-be writer, with her photo on it, and the cover line: 'What this magazine needs is Doretta'. I actually created a junior role for her (ah, those were the days...)

Someone else delivered scroll, tied up with one of the most beautiful ribbons I'd ever seen; maybe not the best approach if you're after a desk job in a bank, but it could work in media circles. When my grown-up stepdaughter asked me to work on a CV for her recently, I took the qualities she'd listed and created a 'wordcloud' which also featured her name, for the covering letter, to help it stand out in the pile.

Interestingly, the new thinking in the States is that the 'resumé-and-cover-letter-bundle' (as they put it) also biases our thinking. People may still make (shameful) assumptions based on name (which can be a clue to ethnicity), university (my point about Oxford and Cambridge), perhaps even where someone lives: Hoxton says one thing, Toxteth another. Following age discrimination legislation, I've noticed that age rarely appears on a CV any more, which is one potential discriminatory factor out of the way, praise be. But oh, this all assumes we can be bothered to wade through it all in the first place: page after page, pile after pile (instantly discarding those with typos if you're me - which translates as: a surprising number).

And as Frank L. Schmidt, a University of Iowa professor emeritus (and a leading researcher of prospective-employee evaluation methods), notes: "Even when resumés are honest, an emphasis on (resumés) often leads employers to focus on credentials per se - which have extremely low validity for predicting future job performance." And that's the nub of it: the traditional, old-fashioned list of every exam you've taken, every workplace you've ever made tea at, just doesn't convey someone's roll-up-the-sleeve-ness, or the good humour that makes them pleasant to share an office with, their knack for problem-solving or their ability to come up with snappy marketing straplines.

So: personality tests, IQ tests, 'vocational interest measures' and 'integrity tests' are already deployed, in some firms - and an increasingly data-focused world, will surely become more popular. And my hunch is that in future, we'll be screening more and more candidates on the basis of an online pre-interview test, rather than CVs.

If you know what you are looking for in an employee, it's perfectly possible for a web person to formulate a psychologicallly-profiled questionnaire which sorts the wheat from the chaff, in terms of what the job demands.

This whittles it down to a handful of potential candidates, completely eliminates the risk of unwitting prejudices, and puts everyone on a level playing field in that respect - while also avoiding a lot of sifting through paper for employers.

There's another trend, in these changing work-times, which the New York article flags up: having someone fulfil an actual assignment - a writing task, an editing task, a design task. And like interning, it's just something else that people trying to get on - or up - the career ladder are going to have to factor in. And for an employer, it's got to be much, much more helpful than knowing how many AS-Levels someone notched up eight years ago

So the traditional CV? Going the way of the ra-ra skirt. And I'm not mourning either of them.

Read more at The Telegraph

Twenty-five years ago, at the co-ed comprehensive in Newcastle-upon-Tyne that I attended, my history teacher set us a memorable assignment. We were each to interview the oldest woman we knew and then to write history from her point of view. The task developed our emotional intelligence, imagination and interest in our community. It also sparked my interest in history, and has shaped my career as a historian.

If you glance around the dining hall of St Hilda's College, Oxford, where I work, you might spot the first-year history student who is standing for election as JCR president while earning tutors' praise for her first-class potential. Or the second-year historian who has achieved a first in prelims (first year exams), edited the Cherwell newspaper and successfully mentored a new, mature history student who left education 40 years ago. Then there is another second-year student I know, an articulate campaigner for social justice, who is evading pressure to enter politics because she wants to gain life experience as a social worker.

These students have "moral character", as espoused by the prep school head who recently said that state schools fail to turn out students with a "moral compass". These students were all educated at comprehensive schools, in common with over 80% of history undergraduates at St Hilda's. Their A-levels testify that all of them received excellent teaching at the very wide and diverse range of comprehensives and sixth-form colleges from which they come.

Academic study does require a wider range of qualities than simply being able to pass exams. To be offered a place to read history at Oxford they must also demonstrate critical engagement, a capacity for hard work, intellectual curiosity and historical imagination. Comprehensives develop these skills better than any other form of education. On my regular school visits, I see that the highly trained teachers employed in comprehensive schools work hard to engage the interests of all of their diverse intakes. Community schools often involve their pupils in local history and reminiscence projects. Family history is valued at schools with large numbers of migrant children or looked-after pupils. The other pupils learn how displacement provokes a burning need to know about one's past.

Comprehensives of course reflect the society in which we live, and they cannot solve children's alienation, anger, poverty or lack of opportunity – but they do encourage children to develop questioning and critical faculties as they encounter the world around them.

The alternative to comprehensive education is bleak. Politicians speak of the postwar golden age of the grammar school. In my research for my latest book I learned to call it the age of the secondary modern school, where over 80% of children were educated. The stigma of "failure" could last a lifetime. One man in his 60s still recalled his mother's disappointment at his "failure" at 11. "I'm just factory fodder," he told me: hardly an advertisement for the meritocratic society we're told we've left behind. Only a minority of people ever had – or have – access to selective grammar schools, and most working-class children who attended them left, alienated, at the earliest possible age. Little wonder that Labour's support for comprehensive education received widespread support in the 1960s.

The ethos of comprehensives encourages pupils to develop critical thinking, an interest in others and imagination. Private schools often declare they are educating "future leaders". But this assumes that most people will be followers: and who should educate them is a question private and selective schools evade. Comprehensives, by contrast, educate people for a different society. In today's neoliberal world, their commitment to educate everyone, regardless of background, income, religion or "aptitude" is a radical statement. We badly need to cultivate this ethos if we are to help the next generation to overcome the frightening levels of socio-economic inequality with which we live.

Read more at The Guardian

"Intelligent people leave their brains behind when it comes to technology," says Diana Laurillard, professor of learning with digital technologies at the Institute of Education.

I would say that very intelligent academics and researchers leave their brains behind when defending what has become a lazy and damaging pedagogy – the face-to-face lecture.

Imagine if a movie were shown only once. Or your local newspaper was read out just once a day in the local square. Or novelists read their books out once to an invited audience. That's face-to-face lectures for you: it's that stupid.

What's even worse is that, at many conferences I attend, someone reads out an entire lecture verbatim from their notes. Is there anything more pointless? It's a throwback to a non-literate age. I can read. In fact, I can read faster than they can speak. The whole thing is an insult to the audience.

Here are 10 reasons why face-to-face lectures just don't work:

1. Babylonian hour
We only have hours because of the Babylonian base-60 number system, which first appeared around 3100 BC. But it has nothing to do with the psychology of learning.

2. Passive observers
Lectures without engagement with the audience turn students into passive observers. Research shows that participation increases learning, yet few lecturers do this.

3. Attention fall-off
Our ability to retain information falls off badly after 10-20 minutes. In one study, the simple insertion of three "two-minute pauses" led to a difference of two letter grades in a short- and long-term recall test.

4. Note-taking
Lectures rely on students taking notes, yet note-taking is seldom taught, which massively reduces the effectiveness of the lecture.

5. Disabilities
Even slight disabilities in listening, language or motor skills can make lectures ineffective, as it is difficult to focus, discriminate and note-take quickly enough.

6. One bite at the cherry
If something is not understood on first exposure, there is no opportunity to pause, reflect or seek clarification. This approach contradicts all that we know about the psychology of learning.

7. Cognitive overload
Lecturers load up talks with too much detail, with the result that students cannot process all the information properly.

8. Tyranny of location
Students have to go to a specific place to hear a lecture. This wastes huge amounts of time, especially if they live far away from campus.

9. Tyranny of time
Students have to turn up at a specific time to hear a lecture.

10. Poor presentation
Many lecturers have neither the personality nor skills to hold the audience's attention.

Most of these faults can be addressed by one simple adjustment: recording the lecture and delivering it online – a well-established model in distance learning courses.

An effective alternative

The recorded lecture has some straightforward practical advantages. Students can rewind if their attention has lapsed, or if they don't understand what they've heard, or if English is not their first language. They can pause to take better notes or if they need to look something up.

Students can also choose to watch the lecture when they're in an attentive state, rather than when they're feeling tired or distracted. They can watch again for revision or improved retention, or fast-forward through anything they're already familiar with. They don't need to waste time travelling to or from the lecture hall.

There are also deeper pedagogical benefits. Paradoxically, a student watching a lecture online may be able to forge a closer connection with the lecturer than one watching the lecture live.

One advocate of the recorded lecture is Stanford University professor of mathematics Keith Devlin, who delivers his "introduction to mathematical thinking" module as a massive online open course (Mooc). He argues that a recorded lecture gives students control over the lecture, making it a "self-evidently better" method of teaching.

Devlin believes that many students lack the confidence to ask academics questions face-to-face and that, for students who are more shy, the ability to ask questions via social media helps them to perform better.

He writes: "The fact is, a student taking my Mooc can make a closer connection with me than if they were in a class of more than 25 or so students, and certainly more than in a class of 250."


It's not just students who benefit. Recording lectures can free up lecturers' time to spend on research and to take part in higher quality teaching experiences, such as seminars and tutorials.

It can also improve a lecturer's performance, as the act of being recorded encourages them to raise their game.

Student feedback can be used to improve future lectures. Research shows that students are more likely to watch a recorded lecture than attend a lecture in person.

So why retain the face-to-face lecture when its value as a pedagogical tool is so limited? There seems to be no other reason than the old justification: "We've always done it this way."

Read more at The Telegraph 

The UK might well have one of the strongest education systems in the world – but when it comes to professional skills, they often take lower priority. There's a pathway from school to college and university, but then people often drift away from learning altogether.

Getting more young people – as well as career changers and returners – back into learning to develop work skills is one of the toughest challenges in education.

There's always an issue of cost. Do I really need to put more time and money into learning skills – isn't that the job of my employer? Businesses, of course, baulk at the idea of what they see as patching up CVs and sometimes just delivering basic skills in their recruits.

Also, higher education institutions continue to favour academic study such as arts and humanities over more professional skills like accountancy, marketing, human resources and IT, ironically, the subjects that are most valued by employers.

As a result we have unfilled jobs and what's regarded as a 'low' training culture compared with other countries. A McKinsey report recently found a quarter of employers had entry-level positions they couldn't find people for.

It's a problem that will worsen as technologies and systems become more complex and the actual jobs available become more specific and need technical expertise and skills. Youth unemployment is still relatively high, and the situation won't change by relying only on a generalist education.

We need radical change. The Government has clear plans for a new skills system that's more rigorous (fewer and higher quality skills courses so they have a higher standing) and more responsive (so that employers feel involved in shaping what's provided).

The missing ingredient here is the role of technology, and in particular, the potential to take advantage of the new everyday role of mobile devices.

Professional development and adult learning continues to be dominated by traditions of classrooms, textbooks and exams that are inflexible, and create barriers and doubts in the minds of potential learners.

MOOCs – the massive open online courses – have taken off in Higher Education, with excitement at the opportunities to reach huge audiences internationally and build stronger global Higher Education brands.

These courses, so far, have focused on academic subjects. They also demand browser access and a live Internet connection that limits the where and when of learning.

The first mobile-only MOOC platform launched today, and it has picked up support from Matthew Hancock, the minister for skills and enterprise,

There are two things in particular that make this platform, Qualt, an interesting development: Firstly, all courses cover a professional subject, backed by a recognised industry body; and secondly the courses are entirely mobile – meaning you can study anywhere with or without an Internet connection – on the bus to and from work, for example.

The issue is whether this kind of free mobile learning can change attitudes and motivate people to invest their time in self-development. I believe it can.

Higher Education MOOCs have been questioned in the same way, and there are ongoing concerns about their relevance to employers, being typically academic in focus.

But professional qualifications are very different, much more concrete in terms of what needs to be learnt and how that can be applied.

An app isn't necessarily going to provide large-scale, intricate programmes of learning – at least not yet. What matters is that more people get onto the first rung of the qualification and that attitudes change: in the same way I use my mobile to catch-up easily with my friends and with work, it's also easy access to something that's useful to my career and my future.

The platform is purposely based on new ideas of engagement, drawing on what's familiar to social media users, the ability to learn together as part of a community, share progress and compete over tests.

As is so often the case, the problem with 'upskilling' is cultural, which makes change that bit more difficult and complex. In countries like Japan and South Korea, mobile learning is just part of daily life.

What mobile MOOCs can do here is disrupt the norm, offer a taster, and start to build a new way of thinking about professional qualifications.

Read more at The Telegraph

The future of the Higher Education Academy looks uncertain after the UK’s funding councils decided to withdraw support for the champion of university teaching.

Times Higher Education understands about 100 of the HEA’s 180 staff could lose their jobs after the York-based organisation announced that its central funding, worth £13.5 million this year, would gradually be slashed to zero by 2016-17.

Its funding council grants are to be cut by £4 million in 2014-15, reduced by another £4 million in 2015-16, and “it has been indicated” that there will be no money from the bodies, including the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the following year.

With the grants accounting for about 83 per cent of its £20 million income last year, the cuts may jeopardise the future of the organisation, which oversees and accredits most higher education teaching qualifications.