News in brief

June 30, 2011

Widening participation

Retiring v-c: elite still failing poor

New universities are still key to widening participation and elite institutions are falling short in this regard, according to an outgoing vice-chancellor. Caroline Gipps, who is stepping down as head of the University of Wolverhampton, gave a "valedictory" public lecture, titled "Who Goes to University? And Why it Matters". "If we did not exist," she said of universities such as Wolverhampton, "thousands of people with lower qualifications and/or from lower social-class families or backgrounds would not have become graduates, would not have entered the professions and gained other advantages." Professor Gipps highlighted figures showing the low number of pupils on free school meals who gain access to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.


Leads in the cloud

The Higher Education Funding Council for England and Jisc have announced the projects and partners appointed in a £12.5 million project to create a national cloud-computing infrastructure. JANET (UK) will deliver the national brokerage to aid procurement of cloud services and Eduserv will provide a pilot cloud infrastructure. David Sweeney, Hefce's director for research, innovation and skills, said: "In the current economic climate, all education organisations are looking for further ways to work together, share resources and reduce costs. This programme will help universities and colleges, researchers and administrators work more effectively."

Mission groups

GuildHE keeps its head

GuildHE has re-elected Ruth Farwell, vice-chancellor of Bucks New University, as its chair. The vice-chair positions went to Chris Gaskell, principal of the Royal Agricultural College (serving a second term), and Joy Carter, vice-chancellor of the University of Winchester. John Last, principal of Norwich University College of the Arts, and Margaret Noble, principal and chief executive of University College Plymouth St Mark & St John, were elected to the executive group.

Standards in Wales

HEFCW brickbats over failings

The Welsh funding council has warned that a critical report on the University of Wales' overseas links exposes "serious shortcomings". Philip Gummett, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, spoke out after the Quality Assurance Agency's report on the institution's accreditation of overseas courses. He said: "The reports...identify a considerable range of serious shortcomings in the university's central processes and in its relations with several partner institutions, and a failure by the university to establish proper control over these matters. There needs to be an urgent and effective response."

Modern languages

Centre's digital tongues

The Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies - one of five inter-university centres in the UK covering different parts of the world - has produced a digital language repository aimed at social sciences and humanities postgraduates who want to study Central or Eastern Europe. The repository already contains material for 12 languages, including flashcards, readers, syllabuses and guides to regional archives. Most of the items were commissioned with money awarded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.


The news that seven elite UK universities are considering switching to a US-style grade-point average system for degrees - broken by Times Higher Education last week - brought a flurry of comments from readers.

Tom Johnstone said the current system demanded "contorted mechanisms" to decide between a mark of 69.5 and 70.5 per cent. But "given margins of error in marking, the two marks are, for all intents and purposes, identical", he argued.

"The cliff edge", said employers and research funders, would still exist under GPA.

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