News in Brief

June 24, 2010

Flexible learning

Two years better than three

Students who take two-year undergraduate degrees achieve better results than those who study for the standard three years, a conference has heard. An evaluation of the fast-track degrees carried out by Staffordshire University, which has more than 200 students enrolled on shorter programmes, states that, on average, such students receive a higher degree classification than those on three-year courses. The study, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, also found that retention rates on the two-year courses are good and that students are more "engaged" with their subject in the first months of university. The findings were presented at the Getting There by Degrees: Fast Track Degrees and Flexible Learning conference at the University of Plymouth on 18 June.

Further education

Cinderella has met her prince

Higher and further education delivered in colleges will no longer be the "Cinderella sector", the UK skills and lifelong learning minister has promised. Speaking in London last week, John Hayes said that the line between further and higher education should be "a permeable membrane, not an iron curtain". He said that under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government, there would be a re-naissance of vocational study. "In this government, (further education) is no longer the poor relation. Cinderella is not just going to the ball, she's met her prince," he said. Mr Hayes announced a series of measures to cut red tape in the further education sector, including the removal of Ofsted inspections for the best-performing colleges.

Widening participation

Fees hike would deter students

The number of UK students aspiring to go to university would drop "dramatically" if annual tuition fees were to rise to £7,000, according to a survey. Of 2,700 young people who took part in an Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by the Sutton Trust charity, more than 66 per cent say they would still be likely to go on to higher education if fees were increased to £5,000. However, just 45 per cent would be likely to go if fees were raised to £7,000, and only 26 per cent if they were hiked to £10,000. With fees at current levels, more young people than ever - 80 per cent - say they are either "very" or "fairly" likely to go to university, up from 73 per cent in 2008. Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said the findings showed that if fees were to increase, there was a "significant task ahead" to ensure that young people had the information they needed to make choices about university study.

Knowledge transfer

Union cautious over revised plans

Universities remain embroiled in a row with the Scottish Funding Council over plans for knowledge-exchange funding allocations. Responses to a revised version of the proposals, outlined in a consultation that ended this month, were cautious. The University and College Union Scotland warns that blues-skies research may be stymied by the proposals, which outline plans to distribute £21 million for knowledge transfer through the SFC's Horizon Fund in 2010-11. Some £6 million would be allocated on a project-by-project basis, with applications judged by a committee, and the remaining £15 million by a traditional funding formula. The SFC's original plans would have introduced a bidding process, with universities competing against each other for the cash.

Online now

A study suggesting that students on two-year degree courses achieve better results than those on three-year programmes (see Flexible Learning, top) provoked debate among readers online.

One says: "Surely this can't be true for all subjects? I can see this working for vocational degrees, but not really for the humanities.

"Developing one's ability to think critically takes time, never mind the small matter of the amount of set reading to be got through."

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