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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
Professor Cam Donaldson, Pro Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal (Research) and Yunus Chair in Social Business & Health at Glasgow Caledonian University, explains how his institution has put into practice a research strategy led by Sustainability Development Goals.
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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