News in brief - 24 October 2013

October 24, 2013

Hefce appointments
In the student corner

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has appointed a board member with specific responsibility for the student interest. Graeme Osborn is a former academic officer at the University of York Students’ Union, a former chair of Unions 94 (the loose coalition of student unions in the 1994 Group) and is currently a member of the Quality Assurance Agency’s student advisory board. Tim Melville-Ross, Hefce’s chair, said the appointment reflected the body’s “long-term commitment to protecting and promoting the interests of students”. Mr Osborn was appointed by Vince Cable, the business secretary.

Contextual admissions
State power

State school pupils do better at university than their private school peers with the same grades, according to a report that recommends the increased use of contextual data in admissions. Four of the five major studies into degree performance by school type indicate that the state cohort outperforms its private counterpart at the undergraduate level, says the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions study, titled Contextualised admissions: Examining the evidence, published on 18 October. According to the report, 37 per cent of universities currently use contextual data in admissions, but 57 per cent say they intend to do so in the future, according to a poll of 67 institutions by SPA last year.

Fair access
‘Tragic consequences’: discuss

Government plans to overhaul A levels will have “tragic consequences” on fair access efforts, the head of admissions at the University of Oxford has said. Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford, said that making AS levels stand-alone qualifications would remove a useful indicator of final exam performance that had encouraged bright students from poor backgrounds to apply for selective courses. “The real danger is students will plough on believing that they may not be capable of applying to a highly selective course,” Mr Nicholson told the Westminster Education Forum in London on 15 October. Meanwhile, he added, less able students may continue with applications to highly selective courses without realising they have little chance of success. Mr Nicholson also warned that the rapid transition to the new A-level system – coupled with changes to GCSEs – risked wreaking “havoc” in England’s school system, with students at less well-resourced schools hardest hit.

Doctoral training
AHRC cash for ‘consortia’

Seventy-five institutions have been awarded cash under the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s reformed PhD funding scheme. Sixteen “consortia” of universities and external organisations will provide training through 11 doctoral training partnerships and seven centres for doctoral training. Announced on 15 October, these will replace the council’s block grant partnership scheme, which had in the past recognised a larger number of individual institutions. The move brings the AHRC into line with all UK research councils, which already fund doctoral training through this model. Collectively, the consortia will involve 75 higher education institutions (compared with 96 under the block grant scheme) working alongside 155 partners, including national museums and galleries, arts and culture organisations, bodies such as the Design Council plus private sector companies.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

The Young Greens report showing that the ratio between the highest- and lowest-paid higher education staff is higher than thought ruffled a few feathers. “Massive Pay differentials at UK Unis, defence is ‘Heads of HEIs are exercising restraint’ – not very well!” tweeted @swrb1. @Policybrum suggested that it would “be good to see” university pay ratios on the key information set data that universities have to provide. Responding to the call to cut top salaries to underwrite a living wage for all, @drleatongray tweeted: “But salaried people are just low hanging fruit. It’s the rich unsalaried that are the problem.”

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