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Showing posts from June, 2019

The long road to Fair Access in Scotland

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) ‘Fair Access’ Conference took place in the impressive Perth Conference Hall on Wednesday. It brought to the fore an increased recognition of the many challenges that face students from poorer backgrounds. The Scottish Government has set out on the long road to a place where fair access may come about. But their map lacks detail about what lies ahead and the road will become steeper and more difficult if the post-code illusion leads them astray.

Political optimism.

The Scotland Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead concentrated on the headline successes in widening participation in recent years; as detailed in the recently released ‘Commissioner for Fair Access annual report 2019: building on progress towards fair access’. As he stressed in another speech back in May, at the launch of the Scottish Government’s Fair Access Framework, he emphasised again that “Scotland is ahead of the curve in delivering equalit…

Elitist Britain: Holding onto the powerbase

Today brought the release of the long awaited report on ‘Elitist Britain’. It is billed as a joint effort by the Sutton Trust, who take the lead, and the ill-fated Social Mobility Commission (SMC). It had its genesis in the previous incarnation of the commission and was originally drafted in 2017. It should have been published back then, but the 2019 version has been updated since. The findings are stark and they have attracted considerable media attention. The stranglehold on the powerbase of the UK remains firm with privately educated ‘elite’ dominating the judiciary, civil service and the military. The BBC reports it as ‘Private school and Oxbridge 'take top jobs' whilst ironically stressing “But pop stars are out-poshed by international cricketers and national newspaper columnists”. The BBC itself, as the predominant news and media organisation in the UK, is not immune from the same criticism.
Elitist Britain 2019 ‘The educational backgrounds of Britain’s leading people’ p…

The Office for Students, transparency and the Social Mobility Commission

The public face of the Office for students (OfS) and that of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) could not be more different. This became obvious with tough questioning of the SMC by the House of Commons Education Committee this week. Major weaknesses in how the SMC is operating were exposed and did not look good for the future. The proposal for a wider ‘Social Justice Commission’ proposed last year by the Education Committee was ignored by the government; so the new SMC was expected to get a rough ride. However, its lack of professionalism was a big surprise. Its sloppy attitude to transparency and openness was in stark contrast to the OfS and indeed the Education Committee itself; that has similar support and resources to the SMC. There is no doubt that things must change and, if the SMC survives, it must work more closely with the Department for Education (DfE) and the OfS. The finger of suspicion must also be pointed at the DfE in its overseeing role with the SMC. If the position…

Social Mobility Commission boarding up the windows

The Social Mobility Commission was interrogated by the Education Committee in Parliament this morning. The result was like watching a car crash in slow motion. Rather than mending the ‘broken windows’ promised from the last incarnation of the Commission, it seems the whole thing has been ‘boarded up’. It now looks like the demolition has started. Bearing in mind the sound experience of those involved, their display today looked very poor indeed. I doubt if the hearing got near to the real reasons for the situation. But lack of political will by the government on Social Mobility looks like it is demolishing the second attempt at a commission.

The evidence session this morning looked at the progress of the Social Mobility Commission. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion (the proceedings can be seen at Parliament TV). The new chair, Martina Milburn appointed nearly a year ago (see Education Committee Report of 11th July 2018), was reminded that she had promised to ‘fix the bro…

The student experience 2019: There is no such thing as an average student

This year’s Student Academic Experience Survey had no major surprises and effectively cemented in place the issues that the previous surveys had raised. Yet it is a highly valuable survey and provokes much debate yet again. It provides a vital bench mark for gauging improvements in time and it must continue. Its launch was in a rarefied atmosphere that seemed somewhat detached from the stark realities to be seen outside. The byword for the day was ‘uncertainty’ and this is piling up fast. There is no room for complacency in a society that is slowly degrading in the face of mounting inequalities.

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) are to be congratulated for organising a thought provoking annual conference yesterday for Higher Education professionals. It took place in the grand surroundings of the National Gallery in London that provided a symbolic backdrop to the cultural depth possessed by the UK. The organisation was excellent with political input from the Minister of Stat…

Augar Under the Microscope: STEMing the Tide

Those teaching and conducting research in Science and Engineering are slowly waking up to the realisation that cutting fees to £7,500 across the board will impact upon their efforts to a great extent. Whilst Arts and Humanities staff have been quick off the mark with a defence, others have been slower to realise the impact. The roots of the issue lie in the extent of cross-subsidy and a lack of understanding about how science works. The link between research facilities and teaching are not always appreciated and only those universities with well-founded laboratories will survive the cuts.

Little has been said about the potential effects on the provision of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) degree subjects and research in the flurry of analyses surrounding the long and detailed Augar Post-18 Education review. There is no meaningful acknowledgement of the role of research and no guarantee that there will be adequate ‘top up’ funding for STEM subjects. There is like…

Labour Reigniting the Social Justice Bill

The Labour party moved away from any consensus on Social Mobility at a meeting in Birmingham today. Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Rayner reaffirmed their commitment to a National education Service and proposed to replace the failed Social Mobility Commission with a Social Justice Commission. This is not a new idea as it was proposed by the Education Committee in Parliament in May of last year. However, with the current government ditching it at the start, it is now firmly in the hands of Labour. Augar gets no mention and it will be lost in a change of government.  
While the establishment gathered at Horse Guards Parade this morning with the Queen to watch the Trooping of the Colour, storm clouds were gathering to the north in Birmingham. The conference ‘Tackling Disadvantage in Education’ was well in swing and promised major changes in a new government. Organised as part of the plan for a National Education Service, Jeremy Corbyn and the Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner used it as…