News in brief - 23 October 2014

October 23, 2014

Research assessment
Have your say on a global REF

Opinions on the merits of UK academics having their research assessed alongside that of scholars from around the world are being sought by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. An online survey inviting views on whether the research excellence framework should be expanded to incorporate submissions from overseas institutions was launched in response to “an invitation” earlier this year by David Willetts, who was then the universities and science minister, for Hefce to look at such a move. The idea was proposed by Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, who said that it would add “real international comparability” to research assessment. The survey runs until 12 November 2014 on the Hefce website.

Pharmaceutical qualifications
Warning: NHS to take as required

The government has rejected proposals to implement number controls on pharmacy students. The Higher Education Funding Council for England and Health Education England consulted last year on possible responses to a potential oversupply of MPharm graduates. But Greg Clark, the minister for universities, science and cities, has declined to introduce number controls. Instead, he has asked Hefce to ensure that MPharm students understand that although their course is designed to lead to professional registration, they are not guaranteed a place on the NHS-funded training course that they are required to undertake before being registered as a pharmacist.

University study
Many feel a degree of regret

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of university graduates say they wish that they had studied a different subject at university, according to a survey of nearly 2,300 UK adults. According to the study, carried out by the massive open online course platform FutureLearn, this figure is substantially higher, at 42 per cent, among 25- to 34-year-olds. Of the respondents who had not attended university, 30 per cent wish that they had done so, the poll found. With regard to work, more than one in three (34 per cent) of those surveyed who were in employment said they had not done enough training to further their careers in the past two years. Nine of 10 respondents said that although they valued learning, pressures such as a lack of time and money were barriers to gaining knowledge.

Welsh Assembly
Backtrack on ‘overregulating’ bill

Amendments have been tabled to the Higher Education (Wales) Bill in a bid to safeguard institutional autonomy. The changes by Huw Lewis, the Welsh minister for education and skills, have come in response to concerns expressed by Welsh Assembly members and universities that the legislation would hand “disproportionate” authority to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. A report by the Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee had highlighted that the requirement for universities to submit fee plans for approval would focus not only on widening access initiatives but also on areas such as mental health support, teacher training and the “student experience generally”, and it warned that there was a “danger of overregulation”. The committee recommended that new clauses protecting academic freedom should be inserted, and Mr Lewis has now accepted this. He told Assembly members that he now expected that the legislation would be fully implemented in 2017-18, rather than in 2016-17, to allow for the government and Hefcw to “resolve some if not all of the sector’s concerns”.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Our recent online interview in which Simon Nelson, the chief executive of FutureLearn, said the potential of massive open online courses had been “overhyped” by their early evangelists, had our Twitter followers talking. “Sensible words,” observed @seanhand3, while @kentmacdonald tweeted “I support MOOCs for learning reasons, however finally others are now realizing they will not transform education”. “Totally agree that MOOCs have been overhyped,” tweeted @sharepointfish, and @rokewood claimed that “early sceptics (like me) were ignored (& unfunded)”.

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