News in brief - 5 March 2015

March 5, 2015

Quality assurance
QAA heads to the Med

UK higher education provision in Cyprus, Greece and Malta is to be reviewed by the Quality Assurance Agency. More than 20,000 students are enrolled in UK higher education study in the three Mediterranean countries, including those at Middlesex University’s campus in Malta and the University of Central Lancashire’s controversial Cyprus centre, which lies in the Green Line buffer area between the Republic of Cyprus and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The QAA review will also focus on UK courses taught by local institutions under franchise or validation agreements. Its findings are due to be published in early 2016.

Vocational qualifications
BTEC results on the rise

Students who take BTEC vocational qualifications are more than twice as likely to score top marks as they were seven years earlier, according to a new study. Some 38 per cent of students who took the equivalent of three BTECs achieved the top grades possible – three Distinctions (D) – in 2012-13, compared with just 17 per cent who did the same in 2005-06, according to a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England published on 26 February. In contrast, the proportion of students who gained top marks in A levels stayed relatively constant over the same period, with 17 per cent of students gaining three As or higher in 2012-13 compared with 16 per cent seven years earlier, according to the report, Young Participation in Higher Education: A-levels and Similar Qualifications.

Degree accreditation
STEM and IT under review

Two reviews are being launched into the accreditation of degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. One will look specifically at computer science degrees, while the other will consider STEM degrees more broadly. Both of the initiatives were announced as part of the government’s Science and Innovation Strategy in December. The targeted review of computer science degree accreditation will be led by Sir Nigel Shadbolt, professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton, and aims to offer recommendations to ensure that accreditation keeps pace with the needs of the private sector and IT professions. The second review, which will be led by former Southampton vice-chancellor Sir William Wakeham, is a more general inquiry. It will consider whether there are other STEM degree accreditation systems that would benefit from a similar in-depth review, with a view to ensuring that accreditation continues to meet the needs of professions and industry.

Social media
Your students probably like you

More than a quarter of university students use social media to contact their lecturers. This is according to a survey by the education technology charity Jisc, which found that per cent of students are now using social networking sites to get in touch with their tutors. Some 500 UK higher education students took part in the research, which found that among those who do communicate with their lecturers online, Facebook is by far the most popular channel (85 per cent). Just over a third of respondents (38 per cent) said that they used Twitter, and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of them said they used the messaging application WhatsApp. The survey was released in the build-up to the Jisc Digital Festival, which takes place in Birmingham on 9 and 10 March and for which Times Higher Education is media partner. Find out how to obtain a free ticket.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s pledge that a Labour government would lower the cap on undergraduate tuition fees to £6,000 a year provoked a huge reaction on Twitter. “It’s a step in the right direction, under the current system taxpayers will still have to pay off student debt,” said @_PaulineMeyer. “It’s not quite £0k but it’s a start!” added @CharlotteArms. However, @OllieRSum was less impressed with the proposal, calling it “a big two fingers to 2015 & 2016 9k graduates. Sure they’ll be happy subsidising a more generous scheme”. But @viralpseudotype insisted that Labour’s mooted figure was “still 6k too much. Education should be free”.

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