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Data and learning analytics are like "gold dust" in higher education, and the sector cannot afford to put advances in this area on pause, argues Graham Cooper, Head of Education at Capita Education Software Solutions.
The use of big data to improve the student experience is a rich seam that universities are increasingly mining. In this Good Practice Briefing, HEi-know looks at a variety of approaches that have been taken by eight universities to collect and make use of data to enhance learning, and provide better support and feedback for students.
Dave Hall, Registrar and Chief Operating Officer at the University of Leicester, finds the long-running argument over whether higher education's primary purpose is utilitarian or more holistic continues to dominate debate in the media on developments in the sector.
The Royal Statistical Society has warned that the Teaching Excellence Framework is misleading thousands of students by failing to meet the standards of trustworthiness, quality and value that the public might expect.
The fair access watchdog OFFA has published its latest guidelines for universities on access agreements and told universities they will have to make faster progress on widening participation to meet new government targets.
Universities in England need to draw up such agreements and have them approved by OFFA to be allowed to charge higher tuition fees up to a maximum of £9,000 a year.
The latest guidelines cover agreements for the academic year 2017-18.
In them, OFFA sets out the government’s priorities as well as progress made on widening access to universities for disadvantaged and under-represented groups.
OFFA says there has been progress, but that to meet the Prime Minister’s new goals for social mobility “it is important to accelerate the rate of progress”.
By 2020, the government wants to double the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education from 2009 levels and increase by 20 per cent the number from black and minority ethnic communities from 2014 levels.
The watchdog highlights the recent call from ministers for universities to tackle the under-representation of white, working-class boys and also urges institutions to consider how “to support students with mental health problems and specific learning difficulties”.
It also tells universities to encourage more people to study flexibly, part-time and as mature students, saying the slump in numbers doing this has implications for equality because “part-time learners are more likely to be from a disadvantaged background, to be women, and to be mature learners”.
It identifies some low-participation areas as “coastal areas, former industrial towns in the Midlands and the North; rural areas of the South West and East of England” and east London.
The watchdog tells universities to “maintain or increase expenditure” on widening access, but acknowledges the possible impact of planned cuts to the teaching grant and student opportunity funding.
Universities, it says, should focus on evidence and the outcomes of their activities and “consider moving resources away from financial support” for students if there is not “strong evidence” that it is having an impact.
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