The week in higher education

April 17, 2008

- A quarter of nursing students quit before the end of their course at a cost of more than £98 million a year. Figures obtained by the Nursing Standard under the Freedom of Information Act show that 26.3 per cent of nursing students due to finish in 2006 left early. Of 25,101 who started degrees or diplomas, 6,603 dropped out. Two years ago the attrition rate was 24.8 per cent, the magazine said on 9 April. The dropout rate varied from university to university, ranging from 50 per cent to less than 6 per cent.

- Some of London's top state schools are snubbing the 14-19 diplomas, the Evening Standard reported on 9 April. Schools such as the London Oratory in Fulham, which was attended by former Prime Minister Tony Blair's sons, have decided against offering the diplomas next year. Meanwhile an elite exam for 18-year-olds - the Cambridge Pre-U - has been adopted by 30 institutions of which six are state schools, The Guardian reported on 12 April. Head teachers are warning of a "qualification divide" between fee-paying and other schools, the paper said.

- Less than a tenth of secondary-school teachers have a top degree from a Russell Group university in the subject they teach, said The Daily Telegraph on 10 April. Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that only 8.7 per cent had a first or upper-second degree from a Russell Group institution in their specialist subject. When the figures included results from all universities the percentages were much higher - nearly a third of maths teachers had a first or upper second in maths compared with 11.4 per cent of those holding degrees from the Russell Group.

- "Is university an expensive mistake?" the Daily Express asked on 11 April. Commenting on a rise in student complaints, commentator Simon Warr said: "The implication of a policy involving more and more school leavers going to university, regardless of their aptitudes, is that it is in some way shameful not to go ... we teachers must be permitted to advise our less academically inclined pupils that perhaps university is not for them ... we must stop allowing politicians to use our education system as a means of social engineering."

- Universities' income from endowments and investments has risen at its fastest pace for more than a decade, hitting a record £391 million in the year to July 2007, according to official statistics. On 12 April the Financial Times suggested that this reflected "increasing sophistication in (university) fundraising and asset management". One investment expert quoted by the paper said that universities had an advantage over most investors since they could think in terms of long-term returns lasting "for eternity" rather than a few years.

- Tesco is to offer its own qualification in retail management, which will cover display design, special offers and efficient shelf-stacking, The Sunday Times reported on 13 April. The two-year Tesco Foundation Degree (Arts), which has been developed with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of the Arts London, will be launched this month after a successful pilot. Tesco hopes that the degree will become the standard national qualification for supermarket managers.

- College lecturers in England are to strike over pay on the same day that schools will be hit by the first national teachers' walkout for 21 years, the Daily Mail reported on 15 April. The University and College Union said lecturers in more than 250 colleges in England would stop work for a day on 24 April. The union wants lecturers' salaries raised to the same level as that of school teachers.

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