Monday, 17 May 2010

Some interesting news.....

Hello dear HECSU bloggers,

Disregarding the recent election results - and the possible effects of the new coalition government's policies on higher education and the graduate labour market in general - there are a few bits of news that caught my attention last week, which I think are worth noting; and they all point not only to the hastening pace in which the UK HE sector is transforming into a producer of "knowledge economy" skills, but also to an evident need to increase this pace further more - at least according to recent research which suggests that employers are already fearing the lack of adequately skilled graduate labour in the wake of economic growth and recovery.

In their different ways, the following bits of news make a strong point of the perceived need to enhance the supply/ demand economic relationship between business and the UK higher education sector :

  1. The importance of STEM subjects for business and industry: Employers fear the lack of adequately skilled STEM trained labour: A recent CBI study, Ready to Grow: Business Priorities for Education and Skills surveyed 694 employers, and found that more than half would not be able to find adequate staff to fill the "high-level jobs" of the coming years. These employers feared that they would not be able to fill in these essential roles that needed mathematics, science and technology graduates. 45% felt that they were already having problems filling in these positions, and %59 believed that the situation would worsen once economic recovery is in full swing. The report, according to The Times Higher Education supplement, also found that, though these employers are in a working relationship with universities, nonetheless there is still a long way to go as far as a proper relationship is established between the two sectors. For example, most employers felt that, though their training needs could be addressed by universities, nonetheless most of them use other means of delivering such skills training. Employers believed that the problem lay with the university administration: often, these employers would not have information over who to contact to establish links between the two sectors, and - most strikingly - that the red tape processes required by univerities to initiate and mantain fruitful contact are currently detrimental to business/ HE sector working relationships.
  2. Russel Group wants students to start paying off their loans sooner, and at higher interest, to help avert off a university funding crisis: It strikes me that this new demand by the administrative elite of our top research institutions has taken us even closer to the model advocated by recent skills and employability policy - the one that (heavily based on human capital theory) views higher education as an "investment" with "premium" public and private returns once entering the labour market. Accordingly, the fear of further state fund cuts in HE, has promted the group's chiefs to urge for the sustainement of variable fees, and the enforcement of less lose and more substantial student repayments upon graduation; apparetly 1/3 of a Russell Group institution's fees revenue goes into worldleading teaching, and in order to sustain and enhance the traditionally outstanding quality of UK HE research intensive institutions in the context of global "knowledge intensive" economic competition, and in the face of the state's gradual "withdrawal", this fees based source of revenue now needs to tighten its grip. Although this would all seem very strange 15 years ago, it is hard to see how otherwise these universities can find the revenue they need - unless, of course, business/ university links become yet more easily accessible...
  3. The very possibly closure of Middlesex University's world leading postgraduate European Philosophy department: The subject has been making HE news headlines for the past two weeks. Philosophical and Humanities societies have made very public their support of the students (alongside, of course the 10,000 strong petition and an equally potent facebook support group) that have locked themselves in the department - using their self-learning abilities to sustain the department, as a symbolic gesture against the pending closure (until, that is, thrown out by court order this Saturday). Many have seen the decision of the universities administartion as hypocritical, bearing in mind the department's strength in providing long term funding for the university, the staff's leadership at the university, in terms of productive output, and the department's world renound statues that has given the university (so some commentators have said) it's credential to be called a "university" at all...The first uneccesary victim of "knowledge economy's" "needs", in favour of STEM subjects? Perhaps.... It does, however, bring up the issue that more public debate needs to be had concerning the skills inherently developed in a student of philosophy, or history - analytical, evaluative, conceptual, comparative - which still form the core of those "new" skills needed by employers in the years to come...Lets see, how a much needed such debate will evolve...
  4. Bristol University launches volunteering award: The University has launced this award in order to produce graduates that can show employers - directly - their employability. Volunteering and work experience has been part of the higher education experience for many years, however recently - and considering the "new" soft skills sought after by employers - it has gained more momentum than ever. The latest addition is this student award (Outstanding Achievement Award) , which is based on 50 hours of work experience, attendance to at least 4 skills and employability workshops (involving interview techniques,related skills intensive activity, etc) and, crucially, the writing of a summary of skills gained - specifically aimed at employers.
  5. And finally.....The one word (graduate) entrance exam to All Souls College, Oxford is axed: It has been thought that this one exam - part of a five-part entrance exam taken by the brightest of graduates to secure a postgraduate place in All Souls College, Oxford, - has been the hardest in history. The task is to write a coherent essay - in the space of three hours- on the topic of : one word (past words have been: water, innocense, for example)- as given to each candidate written in a piece of paper, stuffed in an envelope, at the beginning of the exam. It has been said that often, just one candidate will pass this said exam in a given year (as, for example, did Sir Isaiah Berlin). Now, the infamous one word exam is said to be obsolete....another victim of the new skills agenda? Perhaps the new standards by which to measure intelligence (and labour market usefulness) are way ahead of "stuffy" oxford public schoolboy/ debating society conventions? Perhaps All Souls is "modernising" in favour of choice-based assessment? Or perhaps we have missed amore substantial point ( like, arguably, the administartors of Middlesex University have) : indices of abstract thinking do not merely denote pastimes or middle class pseudo-intellectual pursuits: they are the very stuff of human nature and its resulting goods.

That's all for now.....

Friday, 14 May 2010

More news on Education/ Work Pensions ministers just in:

New Ministers announced by Cameron government 14th May 2010: Department for Business, Innovation and Skills:

Vince Cable is the new Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
David Willetts has been appointed as Minister for Universities and Science, attending Cabinet.
Mark Prisk and John Hayes appointed as ministers of state.

Department for Education
Michael Gove
is the new Secretary of State for Education
Sarah Teather (Liberal Democrat) and Nick Gibb appointed as ministers of state.

Department for Work and Pensions:
Iain Duncan Smith
is the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Chris Grayling and Steve Webb (Liberal Democrat) appointed as ministers of state

Vince Cable: New authority for Higher Education/ Return of the Department of Education

Department for Education returns in coalition rebrand
Michael Gove has started as Education Secretary by ditching Labour's rebranding of his department. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) will be known once again as the Department for Education. The DCSF's rainbow logo has also disappeared from the department's website and Westminster headquarters.
It is still in charge of children's services but higher education stays in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills under Vince Cable