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English Universities In ‘Squeezed Middle’ Fear Fall In Student Numbers

English Universities In ‘Squeezed Middle’ Fear Fall In Student Numbers

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

David Cameron speech

David Cameron speaks in 2010 to students at the University of East London, where the steepest drop in student numbers is expected. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

A “squeezed middle” of English universities is expected to suffer sharp falls in student numbers this autumn, according to figures published on Thursday.

The data identifies a band of 34 universities which it says will be hit by the coalition’s reforms because they neither attract the best-performing students (those getting A-level grades of AAB or higher) nor offer the lowest fees of £7,500 or less.

The universities – including Bedfordshire, the University of Central Lancashire, Leeds Met and Sheffield Hallam – are expected to suffer drops of more than 10% in undergraduate student numbers for this autumn. The steepest drop, of 12.6%, is expected to be at the University of East London.

The squeeze comes at both ends under the reforms: top universities will be allowed to recruit unlimited numbers of the highest-performing students, while a total of 20,000 places have also been stripped from higher education institutions in England and auctioned off to universities and colleges charging average fees of £7,500 or less.

The estimated figures are published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), which channels government money for teaching and research to universities.

The accuracy of the estimate depends on students’ choices, and the extent to which the most sought-after universities take advantage of the freedom to recruit more high-performing students.

Oxford and Cambridge have both said that they do not intend to expand their undergraduate intake this autumn or in the near future.

The government estimates that about 65,000 students will achieve grades of AAB or higher in this summer’s exams.

These candidates are being tempted with cut-price deals at some universities. Kent will give £2,000 scholarships to any recruit for 2012 who gains three As in their A-levels, regardless of family income. Bradford is offering £3,500 scholarships to all new recruits who gain AAB or above.

Earlier this month, more than 10,000 undergraduate student places for this autumn were awarded to further education colleges under government reforms that are encouraging the growth of a low-cost alternative to universities.

Professor Michael Farthing, vice-chancellor at the University of Sussex, which is predicted to suffer a 7.2% drop in student numbers compared with last year, said: “There are only so many AAB students to go around and they are likely to be snapped up by a few self-declared ‘elite’ institutions, able to rely on historical brand prestige to attract applications.

“Any university losing AAB students will not be allowed to take on students with different grades, such as two Bs and an A, to take their place. This means that many talented students will be denied places at highly regarded universities.”

Funding levels for universities for the next academic year were also announced. The figures show that funding for teaching has been cut by £1.1bn to £3.2bn, while money for research remains the same as last year at £1.6bn.

The gaps in funding are expected to be made up by the lifting of the cap on tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 a year from this autumn.

Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of Hefce, said there had been a “switch in the balance” of who was paying for higher education now.

He said: “Many students from 2012-13 onwards, as graduates, are going to have to repay a lot of this funding and I don’t think we can underestimate the effect on them and their families.”

The universities minister, David Willetts, said in a statement: “We want a student-focused higher education sector, more choice over where to study and a renewed focus on the quality of the student experience.

“That’s why we’re freeing up centralised number controls, improving information for prospective students and driving a new focus on the academic experience.”

Ten biggest losers (in percentage terms)

University of East London – 12.6%

University of Bedfordshire – 12.4%

Middlesex University – 12.2%

Liverpool Hope University – 12%

University of Northampton – 12.1%

Edge Hill University – 11.9%

University of Central Lancashire – 11.7%

University of Lincoln 11.6%

University of Sunderland – 11.6%

Leeds Metropolitan University – 11.5%


Two Hours’ Homework A Night Linked To Better School Results

Two Hours’ Homework A Night Linked To Better School Results

The Guardian World News |by Jeevan Vasagar

Girl doing homework

The benefits of homework were greatest for those who did two to three hours a night, the study found. Photograph: RayArt Graphics/Alamy

Spending more than two hours a night doing homework is linked to achieving better results in English, maths and science, according to a major study which has tracked the progress of 3,000 children over the past 15 years.

Spending any time doing homework showed benefits, but the effects were greater for students who put in two to three hours a night, according to the study published by the Department for Education.

The finding on homework runs counter to previous research which shows a “relatively modest” link between homework and achievement at secondary school.

The academics involved in the latest research say their study emphasises what students actually do, rather than how much work the school has set.

Pam Sammons, a professor of education at Oxford University, said that time spent on homework reflected the influence of the school – whether pupils were expected to do homework – as well as children’s enjoyment of their subjects.

Sammons said: “That’s one of the reasons Indian and Chinese children do better. They tend to put more time in. It’s to do with your effort as well as your ability.

“What we’re not saying is that everyone should do large amounts, but if we could shift some of those who spend no time or half an hour into [doing] one to two hours – one of the reasons private schools’ results are better is that there’s more expectation of homework.”

The study controlled for social class, and whether pupils had a quiet place in which to do their homework, but still found a benefit, Sammons said.

The research was conducted by academics from the Institute of Education, Oxford and Birkbeck College, part of the university of London. It has tracked around 3,000 children from pre-school to the age of 14.

It also finds that students who reported that they enjoyed school got better results. “This is in contrast to findings during primary school where ‘enjoyment of school’ was not related to academic attainment,” researchers said.

Schools could ensure children had a better experience by improving the “behavioural climate”, making schoolwork interesting and making children feel supported by teachers, Sammons said.

The research shows that working-class parents can help their children succeed “against the odds” by having high aspirations for them.

Children who did well from disadvantaged backgrounds were backed by parents who valued learning and encouraged extra-curricular activities. “Parents’ own resilience in the face of hardship provided a role model for their children’s efforts,” the research says.

The study underlines the importance of a good primary school. Children who attended an “academically effective” primary school did better at maths and science in later life. The study did not find a link with performance in English.

Ministers have scrapped guidelines setting out how much homework children should be set amid criticism that it can interfere with family life.

Under the last government, guidance was issued to all schools recommending they have a policy on homework.

The guidelines suggested children aged five to seven should be set an hour a week, rising to half an hour a night for seven- to 11-year-olds. Secondary schools were encouraged to set up to two and a half hours a night for children aged 14-16.

Scrapping the guidelines frees headteachers to set their own homework policy, the government says.

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