Ministers ‘rush to approve private degree courses’

Ministers ‘rush to approve private degree courses’

BBC |July 12, 2012

By Hannah Richardson|BBC News education reporter

Ministers are being accused of “falling over themselves” to approve degree and diploma-level courses at private colleges in England.

New figures show 400 courses have been approved since 2010 when ministers pledged to open up the higher education market.

Private colleges are not subject to the same quality checks as public universities.

The government said it planned to strengthen checks on private providers.

Currently it is the Student Loans Company which checks course descriptions against information on courses in the public domain. It then passes this information on to government officials.

However, the universities minister David Willetts said in a parliamentary written answer earlier this year that such checks did not cover the quality of education provided.

Instead many private providers form partnerships with specific universities which take on a validation role for certain courses.

‘Unregulated’

The figures were published by the Student Loans Company in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Times Higher Education magazine.

They showed the number of courses approved in 2011-12 rose by 77% from 228 in 2010-11 to a total of 403 in 2011-12.

The acceleration of the approval rate is also illustrated by the fact that one college had 98 courses approved by officials in just a single day.

Another college had 22 courses approved just weeks before it was closed by the UK Border Agency.

Head of the UCU academics’ union Sally Hunt said the data showed how little oversight the government has given to courses run by private providers.

She added: “At a time when public universities are being starved of funds, ministers seem to be falling over themselves to sign off ever- increasing amounts of taxpayers’ money to more or less any company which applies for designated course status.”

The government should act to to halt the “unregulated process and introduce stringent regulation for private providers”, she said.

Students on such “designated” courses qualify for government-backed tuition fee loans from the SLC.

‘Quality checks’

The firm said that some £55m in loans and grants was allocated to courses with private providers in 2010-11.

This figure is expected to rise considerably as such providers are able to increase their course charges from about £3,000 to £6,000 from this September.

But unlike universities, most private providers are not subject to stringent quality checks by the Quality Assurance Agency.

Universities UK said the UK’s public universities were some of the most highly-regulated in the world.

It said the QAA, which bases its checks of public universities on a “set of UK-wide nationally-agreed reference points”, has a key role in monitoring standards and auditing institutions.

Universities UK added that such private institutions were not subject to student numbers control or any of the accountability requirements from the funding body, Hefce.

‘Due diligence’

A UUK spokesman said: “We are very supportive of finding a way to bring them under the same student number controls and onto a level playing field, ensuring that they engage with the QAA, Hefce etc in the same way that our institutions have to.

“This is important to ensure that these organisations (QAA, Hefce) are seen to be meeting their obligations to safeguard the student experience and ensure public funding is spent effectively.”

A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said all courses designated for student support must be validated by a recognised UK awarding body – such as a university – to help ensure quality.

“In the last 12 months, we have also introduced due diligence checks on organisations applying for designation for the first time. These look at a range of factors including financial sustainability and consideration of any parent company.

“But we recognise the case for going further and have recently said we are now looking at introducing more robust and transparent requirements on quality assurance, financial sustainability and governance,” he added.

The Student Loans Company said it checks colleges by asking them to provide information about the courses they offer including timetables, intensity and amount of days of study required.

It then checks this against information in the public domain and passes it on to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Venture capitalist gives £75m for Oxford’s poorest students

Venture capitalist gives £75m for Oxford’s poorest students

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on July 11, 2012

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Oxford University

42.3% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake in 2011 was from private schools. Photograph: Alamy

It is common for altruistic billionaires to make their mark in brick, steel and glass on a university campus or to sponsor one of the more fashionable branches of research, but Michael Moritz will leave a legacy in flesh and blood.

The venture capitalist, born in Wales and living in California, announced the biggest philanthropic gift for undergraduate financial support in European history on Wednesday. A £75m gift from the multimillionaire investor and his wife, the novelist Harriet Heyman, will fund £11,000 scholarships for the poorest 10% of Oxford students.

Moritz, who attended state school in Cardiff and graduated from Christ Church, Oxford with a degree in history, said he was moved to help others by his father’s escape from nazism.

Moritz, who has invested in a string of internet successes including Google, PayPal and YouTube, said he owed his existence to “the generosity of strangers”.

Speaking at a press conference in London, he said: “My father was plucked as a teenager from Nazi Germany. He was able to attend a very good school here in London entirely on a scholarship. He went on to study at Oxford and had a PhD financed entirely from a scholarship.”

The Moritz-Heyman scholarships will be available to students whose family income is less than £16,000, who are selected for Oxford. The first 100 will be awarded this autumn.

Moritz-Heyman scholars will receive financial support to cover living costs, while the university will waive most of the £9,000 tuition fee. They will have to find £3,500 for tuition, which can be borrowed as a government-backed loan.

In addition, they will receive financial support during the holidays and will participate in a tailor-made internship programme to help them on to the career ladder. In the first wave, priority will be given to students of science subjects and those who are disadvantaged, such as coming from a school that performs below the national average at A-level or being in care.

Charlotte Anderson, an Oxford undergraduate who was sitting alongside Moritz at the press conference, said: “Having been offered a place it was a serious consideration by my parents, who had never been to university, whether I was able to take my place, simply because of whether they would be able to afford it. That seems absurd now, but all they saw was the idea of a huge debt and the stress that is attached.”

The latest figures, for 2011 entry, show 42.3% of Oxford’s UK undergraduate intake were from private schools. Less than a quarter of the intake were from comprehensives. Nationally, a third of all those achieving three A grades at A-level are privately educated.

The scholarship gift will be made in three tranches of £25m, which will be matched by £25m from the university’s endowment. Oxford aims to raise a further £50m from donations. The next slice of Moritz-Heyman funding will be given when £100m has been raised for student support.

At present just under 1,000 Oxford undergraduates – about one in 10 – are in the lowest family income bracket.

Within three years, it is expected more than half of these students will receive a Moritz-Heyman scholarship, and Oxford envisages this scheme or an equivalent scholarship will be extended to all the poorest students.

The scholars will be asked to return to their schools and encourage pupils to apply to Oxford.

Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, said: “Oxford is already offering the most generous undergraduate support package in the country. But this remarkable and hugely generous gift and initiative from Michael and Harriet allows us to go an important stage further towards our goal of ensuring that all barriers – real or perceived – are removed from students’ choices.

“It provides extraordinary support – financial and personal – for outstanding students.”

Moritz described the initiative as a “fresh approach” to student funding in Britain which was “fuelled by philanthropy, catering to the dreams and aspirations of individuals determined to excel, while also safeguarding the academic excellence on which Oxford’s global reputation stands”.

David Cameron welcomed the gift, saying it meant students from disadvantaged backgrounds would get help to study at a world-leading university.

Moritz stepped back from the day-to-day running of his firm Sequoia Capital in May after announcing he had a manageable but incurable disease. He remains chairman.

Before joining Sequoia, Moritz was San Francisco bureau chief for Time magazine.

In 2008, he and his wife donated more than £25m to Christ Church, the biggest single gift in the college’s recent history.

Oxford said the new pledge was believed to be the biggest gift for undergraduate support in European history. It is believed to be one of top five philanthropic gifts ever made in the UK for any single cause.

How the gift compares

Cambridge

The Gates Cambridge scholarships were established in 2000 with a $210m donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This was the biggest single donation Cambridge has received. The scholarships enable applicants from outside the UK to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject at Cambridge.

Harvard

In 2008, David M Rockefeller gave $100m to Harvard, his alma mater, to support international study for undergraduates and expand arts education. Harvard’s biggest ever gift was $125m from the Swiss philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss to fund a bioengineering institute. Harvard has the largest endowment fund of any university in the world, with assets of around $31bn, according to Forbes.

Stanford

In 2001, the Hewlett Foundation gave $400m to help build Stanford’s endowment for the humanities and sciences and for undergraduate education. William Hewlett, who set up the foundation, qualified as an electrical engineer at Stanford before founding the Hewlett-Packard company, better known as HP, in 1939.

Thousands of overseas students to face compulsory interviews

Thousands of overseas students to face compulsory interviews

guardian.co.uk |by Alan Travis on July 8, 2012

UK Border Agency office

The interviews form part of a new UK Border Agency drive to filter out abuse. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

More than 10,000 overseas students who apply for visas to study in Britain are to face compulsory interview tests as part of a new UK Border Agency drive to filter out abuse.

UKBA staff are to be given a new power to refuse entry to any overseas students whose credibility remains in doubt after being interviewed. Those who fail to turn up for the interview will also be refused entry to Britain if they fail to give a reasonable explanation.

The decision to tighten the regime for overseas students comes as David Cameron is reportedly considering changing tack and removing foreign students from the official net migration count, after mounting fears that the government’s approach is damaging the £8bn-a-year industry.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that net migration to Britain remains at a record high of more than 250,000 a year. Ministers have pledged to reduce that figure to below 100,000 by the time of the next election.

Coming to study is the most common reason given by those who migrate to Britain, and overseas student migration forms the largest component in the annual net migration figure.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, has rejected the universities’ argument that students are not migrants and should be excluded as “fiddling the figures”, but according to the Sunday Times report, Cameron now accepts that there is a risk that overseas students are turning their backs on Britain.

“The prime minister understands these arguments and is definitely considering a change of policy,” it reports.

The targeted overseas student interview programme, which is due to start on 30 July , will result in 10,000 to 14,000 applicants for student visas interviewed each year – about 5% of those who apply to come to Britain from outside Europe.

The programme follows a pilot scheme run last year under which more than 2,300  students visa applicants from 47 countries were interviewed at 13 overseas posts by consular officials.

UKBA officials turned down 17% of the applications on existing grounds, such as not having basic conversational English. But they said they could have potentially refused a further 32% of those interviewed on the grounds that their credibility as genuine students was in doubt, if they had had the power.

The Home Office says the highest levels of would-be refusals on credibility grounds were found among applicants from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma, Nigeria and the Philippines. It is expected that the interview programme will be targeted on those who apply for student visas from those countries.

Green said: “With more interviews and greater powers to refuse bogus students we will weed out abuse and protect the UK from those looking to play the system.

“Under the current system UK Border Agency officers are unable to refuse some applications even if they have serious concerns over the credibility of the student. We are toughening up the system to keep out the fraudulent and unqualified while ensuring genuine students benefit from our country’s excellent education sector.”

The immigration minister said while Britain would remain open to the “brightest and best” the message was clear: “If you lie on your application form or try to hide your true motivation for coming to the UK then you will be found out and refused a visa.”

Bursaries and scholarships set to fall, report shows

Bursaries and scholarships set to fall, report shows

guardian.co.uk |by Rebecca Ratcliffe on July 4, 2012

bristol

The Office for Fair Access believes scholarships and bursaries will open the door to higher education for disadvantaged students. Photograph: Sam Frost

Universities are spending more on helping disadvantaged students gain places in higher education, but the NUS warns new funding arrangements mean money will be wasted.

A report released today by the Office for Fair Access (Offa) revealed the total amount spent on students from disadvantaged households rose by 5% last year to £424.2m. But the NUS has criticised news that £92.2m is to be cut from bursaries and scholarships by 2015.

It blames the drop in bursaries on the government’s introduction of fee waivers, which it claims will eat up £150m of the funding set aside for disadvantaged students under the National Scholarship Programme.

The NUS has criticised the fee-waivers scheme, which gives bright students from low-income homes up to two years of free university tuition. As fees are not paid up front, students will only feel the effect of the waiver when it comes to repaying their debt – and that only begins once they are in jobs and earning over £21,000.

Liam Burns, president of the NUS, says students need support while they are at university, a time when many experience a cash shortfall. He adds that those who stand to gain most from free waivers will be high-income earners who qualify to pay back their debt.

“Every penny of the flagship National Scholarship Programme will be used by the sector to offer fee waivers, the benefit of which students will never see.

“This channelling of money out of students’ pockets to get government borrowing down by the back door is nothing short of daylight robbery.”

Offa, who published their report jointly with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), says that while there will be a fall in bursaries, it is pleased universities increased investment in outreach events last year by 15% to £46m.

“This reflects evidence showing that sustained outreach targeted at disadvantaged young people is a more effective way to widen access to higher education than precise amounts of bursary support for students.”

Of those receiving bursaries or scholarships last year, almost three quarters were from households earning less than £25,000.

But the proportion of students receiving financial help varies widely – at Cambridge University, 13% of students qualified for full state support compared to 63% at the University of Bradford.

The amount students receive in bursaries and scholarships also differs across the country: those at Russell Group institutions receive an average of £1,400 a year, more than double the amount given to students at the 26 new universities in the million+ group.

Responding to the report, million+ chair and vice-chancellor of the University of East London professor Patrick McGhee says modern universities do more than expected by Offa.

“They are the most successful in delivering access to higher education for students from a wide range of backgrounds. The graduate profile would look very different if the contribution of modern universities to widening participation was taken out of the equation.”

Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

Minister rejects claim that immigration curbs will damage higher education

guardian.co.uk |by Hélène Mulholland

  • Hélène Mulholland, political reporter
  • guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 May 2012 05.44 EDT
Students in a common room

Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

The government has rejected claims that the crackdown on immigration risks deterring legitimate foreign students and losing the British economy billions of pounds a year.

A letter to the prime minister, David Cameron, signed by 68 university chancellors, governors and presidents, urges the government to take foreign students out of net immigration counts amid fears that toughening up the rules on student visas may drive applicants towards institutions in other countries.

They urge ministers to class foreign students as temporary rather than permanent migrants.

Signatories to the letter include the former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell, who is chancellor of St Andrews University, as well as the broadcaster Lord Bragg, chancellor of the University of Leeds. They also include former Conservative minister Virginia Bottomley, chancellor of the University of Hull, and Patrick Stewart, chancellor of the University of Huddersfield.

The letter – circulated by Universities UK (UUK) –says Britain attracts around one in 10 foreign undergraduates and postgraduates who study outside their home country, according to the Daily Telegraph.

This generates around £8bn a year for the UK in tuition fees and other investment, it is claimed, with the total expected to more than double by 2025.

But UUK told the Telegraph that many risked being pushed towards other countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and Germany.

The immigration minister, Damian Green, said the Office for National Statistics was responsible for producing net migration figures, which were based on an internationally agreed definition of a migrant – someone entering the country for more than a year.

Green insisted the policy did not stop genuine students coming to the UK but said the government was “determined to prevent the abuse of student visas as part of our plans to get net migration down to the tens of thousands”.

“Public confidence in statistics will not be enhanced by revising the way the net migration numbers are presented by removing students,” he said.

Home Office research conducted in 2010 showed 20% of students who came in 2004 remained in the UK five years later.

Green said: “When we announced our full raft of changes to the student visa route, Universities UK said that the proposals ‘will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment’.

“Students coming to the UK for over a year are not visitors– numbers affect communities, public services and infrastructure.”

The letter states: “In this Olympic year, when our universities will be hosting athletics teams and media from across the globe, we urge you to send a clear message that genuine international students are also welcome in, and valued by, the United Kingdom.”

Home Office ministers have introduced a wide range of curbs on the 400,000 overseas students who come to Britain each year to study as part of their drive to reduce annual net migration from its current level of 240,000 a year to below 100,000 by the time of the 2015 general election.

The changes to the student visa system place a limit on the number of years non-European Union students can spend studying and restrict the number of hours of paid work they can do during and after their degrees.

In addition, they are no longer allowed to bring their spouses or children with them unless they are enrolled on a postgraduate course that lasts more than a year.

They claim some universities have already seen the number of applications from India drop by a third this year.

Nicola Dandridge, the UUK chief executive, told the Telegraph the “cumulative effect of all these changes is to present a picture of the UK as not welcoming international students”.

“As competitor countries start to introduce visa changes to attract more international students and academics, we have real concerns about the situation in the long term,” she said.

“Although the UK continues to have one of the strongest higher education systems in the world, in recent years, we have already started losing market share in the face of growing competition globally.

“The reality is that countries such as the US and Australia are taking active steps to encourage international students and are communicating a very different message … It is clear that international students at universities should not be treated as permanent migrants, since the vast majority of them leave the UK at the end of their studies.”

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research publishedearlier this month said the refusal to exclude international students from the government’s drive to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands was damaging British education and putting at risk £4bn to £6bn a year in benefits to the UK economy.

Rise in financial hardship for Hull University students

Rise in financial hardship for Hull University students

BBC |May 31, 2012

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The number of Hull University students facing financial hardship increased by 54% over the past four years, its union said.

The student union said 2,300 students had contacted its advisors for support last year compared to 1,500 in 2008.

About 22,000 students study at the university. Four years ago, there were 21,000.

The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) said“generous packages of financial support” were available.

Gina Rayment, from Hull University’s student union, said:“They’re coming to us with quite serious problems such as possible rent arrears where they could actually lose a roof over their heads.”

Food parcels“It isn’t just that they need some money for a Friday night, it’s actually that they need money for food, they need money to pay their bills and they need money for rent.”

The union said there were a number of reasons why students were facing hardship including mismanagement of money or loss of parental incomes.

“One of the main reasons here in Hull is that there are no part-time jobs that students used to rely on to get themselves through university,” said Ms Rayment.

The rise in financial hardship has also led to an increase in the number of food parcels it provides to students.

Last year the union distributed 70 food parcels to students compared to 30 in 2008, the union said.

A spokesperson from BIS said: “There is a generous package of financial support to help with living costs in the form of loans and non-repayable grants.

“Our reforms will offer more financial support and lower monthly repayments once you are in well paid work.”

Higher fees may deter mature students, a study warns

Higher fees may deter mature students, a study warns

BBC |May 22, 2012

By Judith Burns Education reporter BBC News
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Higher undergraduate tuition fees may trigger a collapse in numbers of mature students in England, a study warns.

The report says the drop in applications for full-time places from mature students is almost double that from younger people.

The report for the National Union of Students and the million+ university group calls on the government to do more for mature students.

The government says financial worries should not deter anyone from study.

The report draws on figures from the admissions body UCAS which show that applications from people aged 21 or over for full-time degree courses starting in 2012-13 have fallen by 11.4% since last year.

This is compared with a drop of 6.6% from applicants aged 17 to 20.

Applications for university places from UK students fell by an average of 9% for this autumn, the start of higher undergraduate fees of up to £9,000 a year.

‘Debt averse’

The report, Never too Late to Learn, says the drop in applications is evidence that higher undergraduate tuition fees may act as a deterrent to prospective mature students who tend to be debt averse.

The authors say fewer mature students would be a concern as they currently represent a fifth of all full-time undergraduates. A third of undergraduates start university for the first time when they are over 21 and more than half (57%) of these study full time.

A spokesman for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills said: “Mature students make a valuable contribution to higher education, bringing real-world experience, knowledge and skills into the classroom.

“New students do not have to pay upfront. Instead they can make manageable monthly repayments as graduates once they are in well paid work.

“Repayments are for a maximum of 30 years with any remaining balance written off after that time.”

The report points out that mature students are less likely to have the usual set of A-level qualifications expected of school leavers. They are also more likely to study part-time and locally, to be from ethnic minorities and to have disabilities.

The study calls on the government to take into account the more complex financial circumstances of many prospective mature students when publicising the benefits of a degree.

Loan repayment

It says the impact of the changes in fees and student support schemes on mature students should be carefully monitored.

In particular, it mentions that longer repayment periods for loans could be a particular problem for mature graduates if they are still having to pay them off as they near retirement.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students said:“Mature students report financial hardship as one of the key challenges they face.

“We can’t ignore the significant drop in full-time applications from mature applicants for the coming year, and we need to understand the reasons for this and prompt a change of direction in the government’s approach.”

Professor Patrick McGhee, chairman of million+ said: “This report is a timely reminder that social mobility is not just about young people …. contrary to popular perception university isn’t just for 18 year olds with A-levels.

“This is something we should be proud of – it’s a unique strength of our system – but it also means that we have a responsibility to preserve, protect and promote opportunities for people to study whatever their age, background and family, financial or work commitments.”

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