News in brief

August 16, 2012

Widening participation

Poor odds on progression

Children receiving free school meals are half as likely to enter higher education as their classmates, a report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has found. About one in five pupils (18 per cent) eligible for free lunches at the age of 15 was in higher or further education four years later in 2009-10, compared with 38 per cent of children who did not receive free school meals, the study said. This was an improvement on 2005-06, when only 13 per cent of students receiving free school meals progressed to post-18 education. Higher education participation rates for such pupils varied greatly between regions. In Kensington and Chelsea, 44 per cent of that group were in education aged 19, while the figure was just 3 per cent in Swindon.

University of Cambridge

Elbow room and breathing space

Planning permission for a £1 billion development by the University of Cambridge has been granted. The plans include 1,500 homes for university employees, accommodation for 2,000 students, 100,000 sq m of research facilities, as well as 1,500 homes for sale. Set over a 150-hectare site in north-west Cambridge, about one-third of the development will be given over to sports, informal recreation and ecological use. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the university's vice-chancellor, called the plans "a major part of the university's long-term future". "It will provide much of the residential and research accommodation that the university needs as it grows over the next 20 years. Attracting world-class academics, researchers and research partners is vital for the university to retain its world-class position," he said.

Postgraduate study

Too little information?

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has commissioned educational research company i-graduate to survey the information needs of students on taught postgraduate courses, who now make up about one-fifth of all UK students. The study aims to understand students' motivation for taking up postgraduate courses and the sources of information they use to make that decision, as well as to identify current gaps in information provision. "There's a dearth of information about postgraduate students," said Fariba Dashtgard, a senior policy adviser at Hefce. "We've been tasked with investigating the information they use to make their decisions." The move comes in response to last year's higher education White Paper, which proposed that Hefce investigate the introduction of standardised information on courses, similar to the Key Information Sets available to prospective undergraduates. "First we'd like to understand what the information needs of postgraduate students are, and whether there's a need for a standard set of sources that they could use to decide on their course," Ms Dashtgard said.

Social entrepreneurship

Unlimited ideas, £2m to get there

Fifty-six higher education institutions have been chosen to receive £2 million to support social entrepreneurship. The Higher Education Funding Council for England, which launched the scheme in January, has now announced the list of successful applicants. Projects receiving funding include the recruitment of "social entrepreneurs-in-residence" to provide mentoring, and the hiring of high-profile entrepreneurs to give masterclasses at institutions. The scheme will be delivered by UnLtd, an organisation formed by seven not-for-profit bodies working with social entrepreneurs across the UK.


Online readers reacted to news that modern universities are outperforming older counterparts in the Higher Education Academy's National Teaching Fellowship Awards. Craig Wheway said: "It is perhaps not surprising that the post-1992 universities display evidence of teaching excellence. With the focus increasingly on producing journal articles...teaching quality suffers as more time is required to dedicate to research...Teaching is a big issue - I believe the withdrawal of state funding from the UK universities is leading to a 'publish or perish' culture."

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