News in brief

July 29, 2010

Student experience: A better learning environment

Ten universities have won support to help them improve the quality of the student-learning experience. Under the Higher Education Academy's Evidence-informed Quality Improvement Programme, a specialist HEA team will look at a specific aspect of the student-learning experience, chosen by the successful university, and work with the institution to improve policy and practice in this area. The HEA said universities were facing "huge challenges" in the wake of budget constraints, changes to funding, global competition and the need to engage with an increasingly diverse body of learners, and that they needed to ensure quality and standards were maintained. Topics to be considered include students' perceptions of outstanding teaching and learning, student involvement in curriculum design and promoting overseas-learning opportunities to UK students.

Education and skills: Shake off 'dust of creeds outworn'

More must be done to create clear routes between Level 3 apprenticeships and higher education programmes, the minister for further education, skills and lifelong learning has said. Launching a consultation on the future of the sectors last week, John Hayes quoted Shelley as he suggested that impending cuts were an opportunity to sweep away "the dust of creeds outworn". He said the aims of the consultation included finding new ways to support workplace training; building stronger relationships between colleges, charities and voluntary organisations; and building "new pathways" between formal and informal learning and further and higher education. The consultation closes on 14 October.

Space research: Bear and bulldog aim high

The UK Space Agency, set up this year, has signed an agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, to boost collaboration on space research. The memorandum of understanding, announced last week, does not commit either body to specific projects. However, Vitaly Davydov, deputy head of Roscosmos, said the agreement would lead to a number of joint projects aimed at applying space technologies to the "social and economic development of Russia, the UK and Europe". In a separate development, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, announced the launch of a UK centre for monitoring the Earth from space. The observation hub will focus on acquiring environmental data and act as a flight operations centre for satellites. It will be based at the International Space Innovation Centre at Harwell in Oxfordshire, which is due to open next April.

Pensions: USS trustees back reform

The Universities Superannuation Scheme's board of trustees has accepted employers' proposed changes to the sector's largest pension scheme, which include phasing out final-salary pensions. Earlier this month, Sir Andrew Cubie, independent chairman of the USS' Joint Negotiating Committee, used his casting vote to back the employers' proposals. The board described the mooted reforms as "in the best long-term interests of the scheme as a whole". In light of the board's backing, there will be a consultation period with members that starts in late September, before a scheduled implementation date for the reforms of 1 April next year.


The revelations of UK universities' PhD success and failure rates last week prompted strong reactions online. One poster, James, said he felt let down by his institution after registering for a PhD in 2000. "I can say that being registered for a PhD was just a cheap way of getting some teaching done for the university," he said. "My DoS (director of studies) didn't have a clue and only got in contact when the annual report had to go in. My externals ... quite frankly were more concerned about the publications I produced with their names on."


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