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The government's announcement of a major review of the National Student Survey signals a worrying shift in the HE regulatory landscape, warns Jon Scott, higher education consultant and former Pro Vice-Chancellor (student experience) at the University of Leicester.
Statements from ministers this week have made it clear that higher education in England is facing significant reforms, re-setting its focus towards helping to plug the UK's skills gaps and rebuilding the economy. Fariba Soetan, Policy Lead for Research and Innovation at the National Centre for Universities and Business, argues that the proposed changes bring a welcome focus on graduate outcomes and supporting the careers of young people.
Universities UK and GuildHE have commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to develop a new approach to reviewing and enhancing the quality of UK TNE. QAA will consult on a new review method later this year and will launch a programme of in-country enhancement activity in 2021.
After a week of largely disappointing news for UK higher education, Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University, fears that gloomy forecasts for the future of the sector may prove to be uncomfortably accurate.
Loughborough University has been named University of the Year for the second time in three years in the latest Whatuni Student Choice Awards .
Applications to higher education teacher training in England and Wales have fallen by nearly 10,000 in a year while the number accepted onto courses dropped by 12 per cent, new figures show.
The total number of people training to be teachers dropped by almost 7 per cent last year, according to new figures from UCAS.
The statistics also show a drop in the total number of people applying to become a teacher – down from 47,200 in 2015 to 46,000 in 2016.
University courses in England and Wales experienced most of the drop-off in acceptances with the number of placed students falling from 15,520 to 13,620.
Primary places in England were hit particularly hard, with 10,790 people placed through all routes by the end of September 2016 compared with the 12,870 the previous year. This was below the government’s target for 2016 of 11,489 primary trainees.
University teacher training in England accounts for most of the shortfall in primary trainees. Teacher trainers were told last year that they could recruit all they wanted up to a national limit, but higher education providers were subject to caps on primary numbers and some subjects to ensure that school-led courses were protected.
As a result English universities accepted 4,820 primary trainees in 2016 compared with 6,450 in the previous year.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of MillionPlus, said ministers needed to rethink their strategy for teacher recruitment and retention.
She said: "All the indicators suggest that 2017 will be another tough year for recruitment and we warmly welcome the recognition by Justine Greening in her speech to the ASCL conference, that a new approach is required to support teachers, not only in their initial training but throughout their careers.
"Modern universities are key to high quality teacher education and the early years career development that helps to support teachers to stay in the profession. As the Education Select Committee has pointed out, teachers also need to have clear entitlements to professional development that goes beyond the immediate pressures of managing curriculum and exam change.”
Tatlow criticised the Department for Education for the delay in publishing the full list of initial teacher training numbers that were awarded to universities for recruitment in the 2017 admissions year.
“These allocations were made in October 2016 and a small number of universities are known to have been given three-year allocations,” she said. “These universities are able to plan on a more strategic basis, but the majority of universities have been left to manage and resource teacher education year by year. We strongly feel that an effective teacher education strategy should be underpinned by transparency and we have asked the Information Commissioner to review the reasons given by the Department for not publishing this information."
John Howson, an education recruitment expert and visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, said teaching was competing with other careers in an improving graduate labour market.
“My message to government is how low do you want it to get?,” he said. “At what point do you finally give up and say, ‘We need a really good education service and it’s hard to have a really good education service if you are not attracting enough people into the profession’?”
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Universities have a long history of recruiting and educating excellent teachers in partnership with schools, but their efforts are being frustrated by the government’s plans to expand other teacher training programmes which have poorer recruitment records.
“At a time of teacher shortages, instead of further fragmentation we need a clear and accessible system of teacher education which is highly regarded and simple for potential trainees to navigate. We also need a clear commitment to professional development for teachers throughout their working life to ensure that teaching remains an attractive and respected career option.”
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