New year, new challenge, new THES

September 11, 1998

A new academic year, a new look for The THES and new services for readers. Higher education's trade paper is developing to reflect new demands and interests.

The academic profession, like the student body, is very different from that which served 6 per cent of the population (1950s) or 14 per cent (1970s). Now serving a third of the school-leaver age group and with many more older people enrolling, at least for short courses, demands and priorities are changing. Lifelong learning is today's shibboleth and gearing higher education to that priority has barely begun.

This autumn full-time home and European Union students join their part-time and overseas colleagues as paying customers. New technologies are bringing new ways of doing things out of development labs into lecture rooms and homes. Competitors (knowledge industries) are springing up for universities' turf. Expansion, cuts and new demands have brought casualisation. Almost half of all academics are now on fixed-term or hourly contracts. And the pace of change is accelerating as the 1960s tenured generation retires and is replaced with younger people. "Flexibility" and "portfolio careers" have come to stay.

This puts powerful tools in the hands of managers. But it also puts powerful bargaining counters in the hands of high-fliers. The transfer market, love it or hate it, is becoming a permanent feature. As with football clubs and City boardrooms, increasingly winner takes all.

Over the past five weeks guest leader writers have set out the social policy context in which these changes are taking place, the strengths and weaknesses of higher education as it is and the opportunities and threats of this brave new world.

This week The THES introduces a number of developments to help and support those whose business it is to make the most of those opportunities and minimise the threats. With workloads growing inexorably, our first aim has been to make the paper more accessible, bringing you the information you need quickly but also unpacking the big issues. This week we look at the long overdue reform of pensions. How will it affect you?

Our Whistleblowers column starts this week. As further and higher education diversify and expand, things are bound to go wrong. More important than regulation of everything in sight is an openness that ensures things are put right quickly. The column takes advantage of the statutory protection for whistleblowers. And Soapbox provides space for debates, rants and tub-thumping.

Digital, a weekly feature, will reflect the wide range of new developments associated with information and communications technology. Distance learning, electronic record-keeping and digital libraries are all grist to the mill in this most wired of all professional communities.

Research (this week) and Teaching are being incorporated into the paper on alternate weeks. Research covers research training, policy and programmes but above all it is about money, public and private: where to find it, how to manage collaborative contracts, how to protect intellectual property, who is getting the grants, getting rich, being a success.

Teaching will provide news, a forum in which to thrash out teaching and assessment issues, and support for those new to the job or those feeling undermined.

We will continue to carry detailed news from the UK and around the world; major features on leading academics, new ideas and intellectual debates. Our books pages continue with both reviews of books for a general readership and specialised Focuses each week. And, of course, there are all those jobs.

The THES is your paper. All feedback is welcome. Please keep in touch by snail or email (feedback@thes.co.uk).

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