News in brief - 3 April 2014

April 3, 2014

Undergraduate achievement
Different classes’ different classes

A new study indicates that state school pupils go on to get better degrees than private school peers with the same A-level grades. The report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, analysing the achievement of 130,000 students over three years, says the former cohort are more likely to gain a 2:1 or first-class degree than independent school peers with the same exam results. The same is true when comparing those with similar GCSE grades, says the report, Differences in Degree Outcomes, published on 28 March 2014. The data will likely fuel the debate over universities’ use of contextual data on applicants’ backgrounds when offering places.

State-schooled student admissions
Cambridge up, Oxford down

Acceptances of state-schooled applicants fell last year at the University of Oxford but rose at the University of Cambridge, new figures indicate. In 2012-13, 1,505 state school pupils were admitted to full-time undergraduate study at Oxford, down on the 1,545 entering a year earlier, according to data published on March by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Oxford thus has the lowest proportion of state-schooled entrants – 57.4 per cent – of any English university, excluding small and specialist institutions. State school admissions at Cambridge rose by 45 places to 1,570 in 2012-13, with the proportion of state school pupils admitted rising from 57.7 per cent to 63 per cent. The University of Bristol’s proportion of privately schooled entrants now outstrips that of Cambridge, with 59.4 per cent of its 2012-13 intake from state schools, down from 59.9 per cent in 2011-12.

Campaign for Social Science
Pre-poll stress on key role

Work has started on a report designed to demonstrate the value of social science in the run-up to the 2015 election. It is being produced for the Campaign for Social Science by a working group of 12 academics, practitioners and users of social science. The launch, hosted by the publisher Sage, took place on 2 April. Campaign chair James Wilsdon, professor of science and democracy at the University of Sussex, predicted that the report would be “confident and upbeat”, as well as “intelligible to everyone with an interest in the future of Britain’s economy and society”.

Quality assessment
Beware: other inspectors may call

Higher education may be “sleepwalking” into a new quality control system based on Ofsted-style inspections, a leading sector figure has warned. Writing on a new blog launched by the Higher Education Policy Institute, Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, claims that the sector risks moving away from its current system of self-regulation via independent peer review towards an “external model of quality and inspection”. His comments follow calls from politicians, thinktanks and commissions for a more powerful regulator to police higher education and ensure that students paying annual tuition fees of £9,000 receive value for money. Mr Westwood, a former Labour special adviser on higher education, says any regulatory changes could compromise the principle of self-regulation on which the sector is currently run. The blog post is the first to feature in a new “Debate” section on the revamped Hepi website, which was launched on 24 March.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

The news that a group of economics students at the University of Manchester is hoping to force through changes to the institution’s economics curriculum by asking their peers to hold back on filling in the National Student Survey until a decision has been made has provoked a flurry of online comment. @SamW812 tweeted that it was “sad that withholding NSS completion is more effective than honest feedback on the NSS”. @CatMcNap described it as an “interesting…twist” on the NSS and @peterrowlett seemed to think that the students were on to something. “Uh-oh, they’ve worked it out!” he tweeted. @KingKennyKen was less impressed. “A boycott isn’t the way to get your university to improve the student experience, use your union!” he tweeted.

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