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In the news: 17 November

17 November 2017

Panorama exposes how private colleges are still scamming taxpayers' cash

On Monday the BBC's Panorama programme uncovered evidence of fraud in the student loan system. One education agent was secretly filmed offering to get bogus students admitted to a private college for a £200 fee. This was to allow the bogus students to fraudulently claim student loans. Then for £1,500 a year, the agent offered to fake attendance records and to provide all their coursework.

The BBC spent 10 months investigating dishonest education agents and bogus students who are committing frauds that target private colleges which offer courses approved for student loans. Agents were secretly filmed supplying fake documents, including a qualification certificate to a BBC undercover researcher posing as a bogus student, who wanted to cheat their way on to courses and apply for student loans.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Private colleges have been beset by scandals involving the fraudulent claiming of public money, yet the government's response has been to make it even easier for them to recruit students and access taxpayers' money.'


Up to 75 jobs at risk at University of Southampton

Up to 75 lecturers' jobs across six departments are at risk at the University of Southampton in a restructuring process described by UCU as "rushed and dangerous".   

The university says it wants to reduce staff costs, but it has already slashed the proportion of money it spends on staff. A decade ago 60% of the university's income went on staff costs. That figure is now just 53%. UCU regional official Moray McAulay told the BBC that you cannot deliver world-leading education by cutting staff.

Times Higher Education noted that Southampton was one of only three Russell Group universities to receive the lowest ranking for teaching in a recent assessment and that its vice-chancellor was singled out for criticism over his salary. Moray told the Times Higher that students cite lecturers as the key factor when it comes to teaching excellence, so the university is unlikely to improve its ranking by cutting staff.


Jeremy Corbyn backs UCU call for investment in further education

UCU this week welcomed a call from Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn for chancellor Philip Hammond to use next week's Budget to invest in infrastructure, technology and training.  Speaking at the Association of Colleges' conference, Mr Corbyn said it was time for the government to halt cuts to education and end decades of under-investment.

Corbyn's call comes after the further education sector united to call on the chancellor to deliver to ensure a "stable and well-resourced further education sector" which can meet different needs and ambitions. In a letter to the chancellor, trade unions, students and other organisations from the further education sector warned that cuts have reduced the availability of learning opportunities for young people and adults, leading to the loss of over a million adult learners and thousands of staff from the sector in recent years.


While college principal puts call for cash in song

TES reports that while there have been numerous attempts to get the attention of ministers and the chancellor in the run up to the Budget, none have been quite as creative as that of the principal of Bedford College. Ian Pryce has reworked one of Dolly Parton's biggest hits Jolene as a plea to education secretary Justine Greening not to cut funding.

Pryce's version, called Justine, bemoans the financial struggles and staff recruitment difficulties faced by college He sings: "Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine, please don't hurt us just because you can". The song adds: "Our funding it does not compare with schools it's really so unfair, if only you would show you care, Justine." You can listen to it here, but don't blame us if it gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day.


Six universities told to stop making misleading marketing claims

The Advertising Standards Authority has told six UK universities to take down marketing claims that could be misleading, reported the BBC. The universities of Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and West London have all had complaints upheld against them. The complaints have mainly been about how information from rankings or comparison tables has been presented by the universities.

Falmouth University has been told to stop describing itself as "the UK's number one arts university" or "the UK's number one creative university". Teesside University had a complaint upheld for saying it was the "Top university in England for long-term graduate prospects". The University of East Anglia has been told not to use the claim "Top 5 for student satisfaction".

The University of Leicester must stop claiming to be "a top 1% world university". The University of Strathclyde has been told to change the claim "We're ranked No. 1 in the UK for physics". The University of West London must stop claiming to be "London's top modern university - and one of the top 10 in the UK".


Students march through London demanding free education

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that thousands of students marched through central London demanding free education to be funded by taxing the rich, amid criticism of the government's education policies ahead of next week's Budget.

The Guardian said that amid a lively atmosphere on the march - during which a samba band performed and numerous flares were let off - protesters chanted "Education for the masses, not just for the ruling classes" and "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts."


Students say lecturers are key to teaching excellence

An extensive survey of 8,994 current students across 123 institutions published on Monday, showed that when students were asked which factors most demonstrate that a university has excellent teaching, the quality of the teaching and teachers themselves was the number one factor, while graduate employment came at the bottom of the list (7th).

Wonkhe has been through the report and concludes that the results suggest support among students for the notion that government should run an exercise to assess teaching excellence (84% agree), but much less support for the Gold/Silver/Bronze medals system of awards, and strong opposition to any fee link.


Professors leaving Teesside University after research appraisal

Teesside University's plan to make its entire professoriate reapply for their jobs or face redundancy has led to the departure of several leading research staff reported Times Higher Education.

The university has faced heavy criticism since it announced in July that all of its 26 non-managerial professors would be invited to apply for a new role of "professor (research)" or leave, as part of efforts to improve the university's standing in the 2021 research excellence framework.

In July, more than 750 academics signed an open letter condemning what they called an "ignorant...make-or-break audit", while UCU criticised the audit's "bizarre timing" ahead of the summer break. UCU regional support officer Jon Bryan said that the recent process had demoralised a significant group of senior staff at the university and impacted on how it Teesside University was viewed by academics.

Times Higher Education reported last week that UCU had called for an end to mock REF assessments after a REF-driven review of research staff at the University of Hertfordshire's business school led to plans for job losses.


Scrap fees and bring back grants for poorest students

Tuition fees at English universities should be waived for students from the poorest households and the government should reintroduce means-testing for undergraduate tuition fees and revive student maintenance grants, said an education charity yesterday.

Times Higher Education said the report from the Sutton Trust, using modelling from London Economics, says that tuition fees should be means-tested based on a student's household income, with full fee waivers given to students from households earning below £25,000 a year.

Earlier this year, London Economics and UCU produced a report that highlighted the problems with the student funding system and how all graduates did badly under the repayment system.


Why are we not promoting BAME staff?

Universities are seeing record numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students in attendance but this diversity has not translated to staff, particularly at senior level, reported the Guardian. It says the Higher Education Statistics Agency has recorded no black staff as "managers, directors and senior officials" in the last three years. And a 2015 report from the Runnymede Trust showed that just 0.5% of professors are black.

At the highest level, there are just three BAME vice-chancellors in the UK's top 50 universities - University of Surrey (Max Lu), Soas (Baroness Valerie Amos) and the LSE (Dame Minouche Shafik). All of them have taken unconventional routes to the top: Amos is a former Labour cabinet minister; Lu is primarily a product of the Australian academic system and Shafik made her name at the World Bank. None of them have worked their way up through the traditional academic pipeline, which leads the Guardian to ask if we have a problem with promoting BAME staff in UK universities.


Eminent professor revealed to be not real

By any standards, Professor J. Van Der Geer should have been pleased, reported the Times yesterday. The researcher's paper, titled The Art of Writing a Scientific Article, had been cited a respectable 400 times. Unfortunately the paper didn't exist and neither does the professor.

Professor J. Van Der Geer made his or her debut in the scientific world in a template - a document designed to show scientists the format in which to submit conference papers. They had been simply copying and pasting in their own references, but accidentally left in the template, which resulted in his extensive number of citations.


Last updated: 17 November 2017