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Conceptions of what is excellent in higher education are starting to change

Professor Edward Peck, Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, outlines strategies adopted by NTU that are boosting social mobility and which helped it win the inaugural Guardian University of the Year award, a gong he believes shows how notions of excellence in HE are changing.

A house divided? Growing divisions and inequalities in HE

Mike Boxall, who has thirty years' experience as a consultant and commentator on strategic developments in higher and further education, finds evidence in recent news of growing and worrying divisions within UK higher education.

UK HE must put its house in order to maintain global excellence

News on higher education over the past week highlights an urgent need for the sector to get to grips with ethical issues that have a bearing on the way it is managed and governed, argues Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD).

Rising staff costs putting universities under greater pressure, warns Moody's

UK universities will face greater financial pressure over the next three years due to rising staff costs as they accommodate more students, retain talent and negotiate pay rises,  Moody's has warned.

Government rolls out no-fee degree apprenticeships

Young people will be able to study new degree apprenticeships at university for free, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Employers and universities will work together to develop the courses, designed to combine academic knowledge and practical experience.

Places on the higher level apprenticeships will be available from September in chartered surveying, electronic systems engineering, aerospace engineering, aerospace software development, defence systems engineering, laboratory science, nuclear power engineering and public relations.

These add to places announced in November for degree apprenticeships in digital, automotive engineering, banking relationship management and construction.

Apprentices themselves do not pay for training costs or student fees. The cost will be shared by the government and employers, with the latter paying a third. The government contribution will be met from the apprenticeships budget.

More than 100 companies have worked with over 20 universities and several colleges across the country to develop the programme so far. Seventy universities have expressed an interest in offering Degree Apprenticeships in the future.

David Cameron said: “Degree Apprenticeships will give people a great head start, combining a full degree with the real practical skills gained in work and the financial security of a regular pay packet. They will bring the world of business and the world of education closer together, and let us build the
high-level technical skills needed for the jobs of the future. I want to see many more businesses and universities begin to offer them.”

In a report published this week, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield and Sir Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, said that research intensive universities should take the lead in developing and offering the new qualifications.

They argue that vocational education should not be seen as the “poor relation” of academia and that leading universities would need to rethink their admissions criteria and teaching methods to offer higher level apprenticeships.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group said the programmes could help universities attract students from more diverse backgrounds but warned that the initiative had to be properly funded.

“Good teaching needs proper funding to be sustainable and it is important that these new degrees continue to be funded from a separate source rather than the current tight teaching budgets,” she said.

The Government is forming a board of leading business, university, and college groups to oversee the new programme as it rolls out, including representatives from the CBI, FSB, EEF, Universities UK, University Alliance, Russell Group, University Vocational Awards Council and the Association of Colleges.

Maddalaine Ansell, Chief Executive of University Alliance, said its members were committed to playing an active role.

“Alliance universities, which have a particular focus on delivering excellent courses in partnership with industry and the professions, are well placed to help develop and implement Degree Apprenticeships,” she said. “Working effectively with partners is part of our universities’ DNA and we have dynamic and strong relationships with a wide range of education providers and employers. 

Howard Simms, founder of Apadmi, a company taking part in the Degree
Apprenticeship in Digital, said: "Degree Apprenticeships are an excellent initiative. From a small employer's viewpoint they provide access to bright, keen talent at an earlier age. From a student's viewpoint they will gain a degree, learn skills directly relevant to employment, and avoid significant debt, as
they will be earning a wage. It's a win-win scenario."

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills also announced 49 new apprenticeship standards today, developed by over 500 employers, in occupations including healthcare assistant practitioner, rail engineering technician and chef. They are added to the 80 trailblazer standards that have already been defined and are part of the Government’s plan to improve the quality of apprenticeships.

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