The week in higher education

July 31, 2008

- Some 50 schools, including 15 state schools, announced that they are to ditch A levels in favour of the new Cambridge Pre-U exam from September. It was widely reported on 23 July that another 100 schools have said they will adopt the exam, devised by Cambridge International Examinations, in the next three years in response to "too easy" A levels.

- David Cameron would pump £1.4 billion into creating 100,000 more apprenticeships and shaking up further education if he were to win power, according to a newly published skills paper from the Conservative Party. The plans include a "re-focusing" of the £1 billion Train to Gain budget, the Financial Times reported on 24 July.

Stereotype attacked, page 6

- The qualifications of trainee maths teachers were put under the spotlight in a report by the private University of Buckingham. More than half barely passed their degrees, with only four in ten recruits to teacher training colleges achieving a 2:1 or better as undergraduates, the study found. The Daily Mail on 25 July said the findings "increase concern that pupils will be put off taking subjects such as maths to A-level standard and beyond by lacklustre teaching".

- The "obsession" with getting pupils into the universities of Oxford or Cambridge is "mad", according to the provost of University College London. Malcolm Grant said the preoccupation with the "middle-class prize" of an Oxbridge place was driven by parents' aspirations, not their children's best interests. "I think it is harking back to a class war and nothing much to do with anything else," he said in The Sunday Telegraph on July.

- Britain's largest collection of rare and ancient volumes on the arts of magic and summoning ghosts could be broken up and sold off because of a funding crisis. The Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, based at the University of London, is home to such titles as The Hammer of Witches, published in 1486, and letters by illusionist Houdini and author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is under threat after the university's library grant was cut by 60 per cent, The Independent on Sunday reported on July.

- A survey that found that almost one third of Muslim students believe it can be acceptable to kill in the name of religion prompted an avalanche of headlines on July. The poll, by YouGov, also found that four in ten support the introduction of Sharia into British law, a quarter believe men and women are not equal in the eyes of Allah and the same proportion have "little or no respect" for homosexuals, The Sunday Telegraph reported. In response, Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said most Muslim students rejected violence of any kind. Meanwhile, the Daily Star used a picture of a bus destroyed in the 7 July suicide attacks in London and invited its readers to vote in a phone poll, asking: "Should these rabble-rousing Muslim students be kicked out of University?"

- The timing of A-level exams should be changed to enable universities to select the brightest students, the head of admissions at the University of Cambridge has said. Geoff Parks argued that moving the exams forward so they were completed by Easter would restore their credibility and allow universities to rely on actual rather than predicted grades, The Independent reported on 28 July.

- Pupils are in effect being conned into taking new-style diplomas with the false promise of getting into a good university, according to a teaching union leader. Andrew Broadhurst, chairman of the union Voice, claimed that ministers' intimations that the qualifications would act as a direct route on to a degree course were "extremely optimistic at best and downright disingenuous at worst", The Daily Telegraph reported on 29 July.

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