News in brief - 16 May 2013

May 16, 2013

Unistats website
Hefce report spots local difficulties

A report on the first year of the Unistats website, which gives prospective students information on course fees, graduate salaries and other data, highlights a number of problems identified by institutions. Citing only institution-wide averages for living costs could disguise significant differences between different teaching sites, potentially “misleading” students, says Early Evaluation of KIS/Unistats Institutional Perspective, a study prepared for the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Some long-established part-time courses had their good student satisfaction scores hidden, it found, because where there was also a full- time equivalent course, only the latter’s information was collected. Institutions had to make a “significant effort” to collect data on the number of teaching hours and assessment methods because such information was often not held centrally, the report says.

Undergraduate entry tariffs
Summer crop needs a hand: IFS

Universities should lower entry tariff requirements for students born in August to reflect the lower achievement levels of children born in the summer, a study suggests. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that pupils born in August are 6.4 percentage points less likely to achieve five GCSEs at grades A* to C than those born in September. They are also two percentage points less likely to enter university at age 18 or 19, and one percentage point less likely to attend a Russell Group institution, although the detrimental effects of a child’s birth month did not persist into adulthood. Those born in summer went on to earn the same as those born in the autumn and had the same levels of employment, health and happiness, the study says.

Science, engineering, maths degrees
Poll backs cash for STEM scholars

Three-quarters of the UK public believe that boosting skills in science and engineering is vital for economic growth, according to a poll by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The survey, which questioned 2,000 people, also reveals public support for more government funding for students taking science, technology, engineering and maths degrees. Almost 60 per cent of respondents would back proposals for the government to contribute £5,000 a year towards tuition fees for UK students taking STEM courses, and just 11 per cent disagreed.

Free textbook access via Coursera

One of the US’ largest providers of massive open online courses has announced a deal with publishers that will allow students free access to relevant excerpts from textbooks for the duration of their studies. As part of a pilot programme, students taking certain Moocs via the Coursera platform will be able to access materials from Oxford University Press, Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education, SAGE and Wiley. The process will be facilitated by Chegg, an online textbook rental company and “academic hub”. As a result, academics teaching courses offered by Coursera will now be able to curate teaching and learning materials from recognised publishers without students having to pay to get their hands on the books. The publishers will make relevant chapters from e-textbooks available free of charge, although students who wish to read the books in full, or to read them once their course has ended, will have to purchase them.

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