Impact of the Budget on higher education

Savings needed? No need to think about it, just cut the administration.

John Denham has written to HEFCE on the impact of the Budget.

This is a significant letter from the Secretary of State but it doesn’t quite say what the Guardian is reporting. The paper’s headline states: “Universities told to cut admin costs, not teaching or research”. This isn’t precisely the message but the sentiments are there:

Ministers have calmed fears that universities will be asked to axe thousands of academic jobs and make savings on teaching and research. Denham460x276
Letters from the universities secretary, John Denham, to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) confirm that savings should be made in administration costs, rather than the core university business of teaching and research.

“I am confident that we can find efficiency savings whilst protecting the quality of teaching and research,” he wrote.

Savings should come from programmes that “do not directly contribute to the frontline delivery of teaching and research”, he added.

The important point here is that, having determined that universities have to make significant savings it really isn’t the job of the Secretary of State to tell institutions how to prioritise their spending. Of course institutions will not seek to undermine quality of teaching and research. But the idea that there is this huge unnecessary raft of administration from which savings can easily be made, that this will have no effect on quality and also that that somehow administrators are dispensable is simplistic and thoroughly misguided.

So, universities will find their own ways to make the savings required and will, it is to be hoped, aim to do so in a measured and sensible way. But this kind of advice is not hugely helpful.

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New internships for graduates this summer

Government launches ‘Graduate Talent Pool’ which is intended to boost opportunities for graduates.

A new dedicated website, which will match employers with suitable graduates will be launched over the summer, although interested organisations can register their interest in becoming part of the Graduate Talent Pool today online at www.dius.gov.uk/graduatetalentpool. Businesses that have already signed up to the Talent Pool include Network Rail, the Police Service, Marks and Spencer and Microsoft. During the current economic downturn the Government is looking to support graduates seeking work. The aim is for the ‘Graduate Talent Pool’ to support 5,000 internships, building on the 2,000 already achieved through HEFCE’s Economic Challenge Investment Fund and will sit alongside other additional graduate opportunities…

Meanwhile, the University of Nottingham has won a share of the Economic Challenge Investment Fund and with match funding from the University and local businesses this will:

provide £1m for the Centre for Career Development (CCD), the Institute of Enterprise and Innovation (UNIEI) and the Graduate School to deliver the ‘Talent Builder’ project. The project will offer internships to graduates, post-graduates and unemployed professionals. It will also offer a recession proofing programme to strengthen current businesses and support new start-up companies.

So, although prospects are reported as being rather gloomy for graduates, substantial efforts are being made by DIUS and universities and these internship opportunities should make a difference.

Magical mystery tour? A new MA in the Beatles

Guardian carries some news about a new course at Liverpool Hope: The long and winding road to an MA in Beatles songs.

Just the kind of stuff to get the IUSS Select Committee going:beatles

The masters degree in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society is being billed by Liverpool Hope University as the first such course in the UK and “probably the world”. Among the topics covered on the course, which comprises four 12-week modules and a dissertation, are the postwar music industry, subcultures, and the importance of authenticity and locality.

Mike Brocken, senior lecturer in popular music at the university, said it was time the band were put under an academic microscope. “There have been over 8,000 books about the Beatles but there has never been serious academic study and that is what we are going to address,” he said. “The Beatles influenced so much of society, not just with their music, but also with fashion, from their collar-less jackets to their psychedelic clothes.”

As well as investigating different ways of studying popular music, the MA will look at the studio sound and compositions of the Beatles and examine Liverpudlian life from the 1930s to see how events helped to shape the music emerging in the city.

It’s a decent enough pitch and given that you can get a Master’s in just about anything, there’s no reason not to do the Beatles. WhiIst I think he could be a bit more confident about its unique status in the world, it is a bit misleading to suggest there has been no serious academic study. Not all of the 8,000 books are trivia.

Debating the Future of Higher Education

via The Debate on the Future of Higher Education

In a speech at the end of February, John Denham announced his intention to develop a framework for Higher Education over the next ten to fifteen years. He said:

The world is evolving very quickly and we must be able to unlock British talent and support economic growth through innovation as never before. We need to decide what a world-class HE system of the future should look like, what it should seek to achieve, and establish the current barriers to its development. As I have said previously, I want to do this before we initiate the review of undergraduate fees next year.

As part of this process I am inviting a number of individuals and organisations to make contributions. Not to write government policy but to help inform it and – equally important – to stimulate debate and discussion in the sector.

These contributions have been delivered to the Secretary of State and are now available.

Interestingly there is also a blog on the future of higher education intended to facilitate discussion on each of the themes. It is early days yet (very few comments at time of writing) but a commendable approach from DIUS to engage the community.

The contributions can be found here.

    Where to find £500m or so?

    According to “THE” (that’s going to take a bit of getting used to – “have you seen the “THE” then?”), it’s a total savings package for DIUS of around £1.5B.

    A quoted DIUS VFM report says:

    “Key areas being targeted are in higher education institutions, including procurement savings, shared services, better use of information and communications technology and of accommodation space.”

    pig in a poke

    A slightly different angle emerges in the Secretary of State’s grant letter to HEFCE where there is an expectation that HE will find £500m by 2010-11 in the areas of shared services, procurement and rationalising funding streams.

    Whatever the precise source of proposed savings, this all seems to be slightly on the over-optimistic side?