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In the news 22 June 2018

UK alone in using predicted grades for university admissions, study shows

The UK is the only country where predicted grades are used to award university places, a new UCU study revealed this week. The report looked at the higher education admissions systems in 30 countries and found that only England, Wales and Northern Ireland use a system of predicted grades to make offers of university places.

Writing for Wonkhe, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said using predicted grades encouraged unconditional offers, which critics have said make a mockery of exams. Research has also shown that as few as one in six (16%) A-level grades are predicted correctly. Sally did the rounds on the BBC on Tuesday as the report was covered by the Today programme, 5 Live and Newsbeat.


Latest attempts to deal with vice-chancellors' pay criticised

Following the "woefully inadequate" voluntary code on vice-chancellors' pay from the Committee of University Chairs, the Office for Students decided to bring out its own version this week. UCU said its guidelines were unlikely to reveal any information that wasn't already publicly available.

Sally Hunt told Times Higher Education that the proposals did not go far enough and the Guardian that if university leaders are to be held accountable, then there had to be proper student and staff representation on the committees which set their pay.


For-profit bosses pocket even more than vice-chancellors

While the sector struggles to work out how to deal with the pay and perks scandals in public, Times Higher Education revealed that bosses of small for-profit colleges in the UK are earning more than the country's highest-paid vice-chancellors - with some pocketing payouts in excess of £500,000.

Sally Hunt said that "far greater transparency" was required from for-profit colleges in receipt of public funds, adding that "opaque financial statements appear designed to confuse and it is often impossible to work out who is being paid what or what for".


Government confirms special unit to try and help find new universities

Times Higher Education sought clarification this week on what a new team within the Department for Education to support those who want to set up new universities in England would look like. The plans were mentioned during a recent speech by universities minister Sam Gyimah. Drawing comparisons with the New Schools Network, THE asked the DfE for further details on the remit, scope and size of the new unit. A spokeswoman said that there was no further detail, but confirmed that this will be a team within the DfE.

Sally Hunt said that Gyimah's comments suggested that the expected flood of new, high-quality providers following recent reforms is really more of a trickle. Sally said: 'Instead of spending precious resource on encouraging new providers when there is little evidence of demand, the government should concentrate on supporting existing institutions with more stable funding to allow them to innovate and meet different needs'.


Universities minister told hate speech complaint didn't happen

It has been another interesting week for the universities minister. The Independent reported that his claim that a student reported an academic for "hate speech" was flatly denied by the university involved. Sam Gyimah said a student made a complaint against a King's College London lecturer for "hate speech" after taking the side of the British when teaching the Berlin Blockade.

The minister told an audience at the Festival of Higher Education that the student "took offence" to the way the Cold War event in the 1940s was taught by the lecturer of war studies. But King's said there was "absolutely no evidence of any complaint or allegation of hate speech" made against any lecturers. 

A report from MPs and peers in March said claims that students had created a free speech crisis on university campuses had been "exaggerated".

Sam Gyimah also launched his own lab coat wearing avatar this week. The avatar will discuss case studies of projects happening up and down the country. It will apparently appear on the Twitter channel for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a fortnightly basis.


Just 17% of university applicants know about the teaching excellence framework

Fewer than one in five applicants to UK universities knows about the teaching excellence framework (Tef), the government's main initiative to help would-be undergraduates decide where to study, according to a survey that attracted more than 85,000 responses.

The survey of people who applied by the main January deadline this year, conducted by admissions service Ucas, found that only 17.1 per cent of respondents understood what the Tef was. A further 17.7 per cent of the 85,690 respondents had heard of the Tef but did not know what it was. Nearly two-thirds (65.2 per cent) had never heard of the Tef.

Times Higher Education said the findings represented a major challenge to ministers as they bid to improve student decision-making and value for money in the English sector. The Ucas findings coincide with research also released yesterday, by the Department for Education, which indicated that about 60 per cent of respondents had heard of the Tef, and about 40 per cent knew what it was. However, only about 15 per cent of respondents said that they had used or intended to use the Tef to inform their application choice.


Change needed to help BME students succeed at university

Writing for the Independent, Baroness Valerie Amos, the director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), said black and minority ethnic (BME) students in UK universities are less likely to qualify with top degrees in comparison to white students. She said that while 78 per cent of white students who graduated last year qualified with a first or 2:1, just 53 per cent of black students achieved the same result.

She is leading work looking in detail at the challenges and possible solutions. She says the outcome of that work, which will be published in December, will help to inform policy and decision-making within universities and within Government. She believes that identifying what works across a variety of university settings, and what we can do to help students and staff to address this issue, is the only way to ensure that all students from all backgrounds have the best opportunity to succeed.

Last updated: 22 June 2018