Sunday, January 06, 2013

'Treat white working class boys the same as ethnic minorities': British minister says universities should help those from poorer backgrounds

Universities should treat white, working-class boys in the same way as ethnic minorities, said David Willetts.  The Universities minister wants them put in the same category as students from disadvantaged communities when it comes to recruitment – meaning universities will have to agree to improve access for them before being allowed to charge higher fees.

Critics fear the move could lead to universities discriminating against middle-class students at independent schools.

Mr Willetts said the university access watchdog, the Office for Fair Access, already looked at disadvantaged groups ‘when it comes to access agreements’.  ‘I don’t see why they couldn’t look at white working class boys,’ he said, in an interview with The Independent.

He said he put forward a plan to include white, working class boys as a target group for university recruitment in a forthcoming meeting with the Offa director Professor Les Ebdon.

More girls entered university every year than the number of boys who had submitted an application form, Mr Willetts said.

Figures show applications from men this autumn were 13 per cent down on the previous year – four times more than the drop in women applicants.

Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the most selective universities, said: ‘Universities cannot solve this problem alone.

'The root causes of the under-representation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are under-achievement at school and poor advice on the best choices of A level subjects and university degree course.'

In an article to accompany his interview in the newspaper, Mr Willetts reveals there will be a £1.1billion increase in universities funding for teaching over the next two years – led by income from the higher tuition fees. He claims this will improve teaching standards and cut class sizes.

He also plans to remove the cap on student numbers, which currently means universities face stiff fines for breaching their targets.

And he sets out plans for a drive to target parents to explain the new fee structure. He said parents ‘reportedly understand the details of the student finance system less well than their children – for example, no eligible student has to pay upfront fees.’


Put cooking back on the national curriculum to make children healthier and stop them wasting food, urges Britain's Women's Institute

The head of the Women's Institute today called for all children to be taught cookery at school to prepare them for adult life.

Ruth Bond, whose organisation has more than 200,000 members, believes it would help pupils eat healthier and teach them not to waste so much food at home.

The WI has launched a food security campaign in an attempt to reduce the 15million tonnes of food Britain throws away each year.

It comes as ministers are considering whether to force schools to increase culinary teaching.

Mrs Bond said the education system had 'fallen down' because cookery lessons were not 'taught widely'.

She said: 'I think it would be an excellent thing if it was brought back into schools but, of course, so many schools do not have the facilities.   'The way you live depends a lot on how you eat and being able to cook your own food is a great bonus.'

She said the demands of modern life meant many children were living on a diet of ready meals because their parents were often too busy to cook.

It would also help if more parents got their children into the kitchen with them, added Mrs Bond, who admitted she was 'fortunate' to learn from a mother who taught the subject.

She added that the WI, which has around 210,000 members in 6,500 branches, holds regular home-cooking courses for young parents so they can plan meals at home more effectively.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, she said a useful tip would be to adapt recipes from books to include ingredients that need using up.  She said: 'It is a case of planning what you are going to eat, make your list, and look in your cupboard to see if there is anything that would do.'

Mrs Bond also suggested that best-before dates do not have to be followed too religiously, especially if the food has not gone mouldy.

The WI has enjoyed a long history of campaigning on behalf of women and their communities

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'Decisions on the subjects to be included in the secondary National Curriculum will be announced in due course, but nothing will prevent schools from teaching practical cookery.

'We know that a healthy attitude towards food, developed early, is critical to the health and well-being of young people.  'We are currently looking at the role food and cooking plays in schools and how this can help children develop an understanding of food and nutrition.'

The WI was set up during the First World War to encourage women to tighten their belts and make the most of their meagre household budgets.

Last month, it was revealed that, due to the recession, record numbers of young women are once again turning to the organisation to learn vital 'make do and mend' skills.  In the last three years, 56,500 women have joined the WI, which has a total membership of around 210,000 in England and Wales.


University applications plummet for second year running in Britain as 40,000 fewer pupils apply since introduction of £9,000 a year fees

University applications have plummeted for the second year running amid a backlash against £9,000-a-year tuition fees.

The number of applicants from England has fallen 14.2 per cent - nearly 40,000 - in two years following the imposition of higher charges.

Students applying to start university this year will be the second cohort to face the new regime of fees amounting to £9,000-a-year for some courses - almost treble the previous limit.

The fees hike led to a sharp drop in applications last year but universities hoped numbers would soon rally.

The latest figures, which show a further 6.5 per cent decline between 2012 and 2013, triggered renewed claims that fees are dampening demand for higher education.

But the Government and universities insisted it was too early to say definitively whether demand had dropped again.

As many as half of candidates have not yet submitted their forms, according to trends seen in previous application cycles, it was claimed.

But Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, warned that Britain risked being left behind economic competitors because the fees regime was putting youngsters off higher education.

‘We are witnessing a worrying trend of fewer people applying to university, particularly among young people,’ she said.

‘We need our brightest people pursuing their dreams. We simply cannot afford to fall behind other countries that are seeing a rise in the number of students and graduates.’

Under reforms which took effect in September 2012, universities in England can charge up to £9,000-a-year in fees, with students able to take out Government-backed loans to cover the cost and repay them once they are earning £21,000-a-year.

Universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can also charge £9,000-a-year but the three devolved administrations made arrangements to cushion the impact on their own students.

Scottish students receive free tuition while those in Wales qualify for subsidies to cover the difference between the old and new fee levels, wherever in the UK they study. Northern Irish students receive fee subsidies if they choose to study within the province.

Figures released yesterday by the UCAS admissions service show that as of December 17, 303,861 applicants, including overseas students, had submitted forms - more than 18,000 down on last year.

Among students from England alone, applications dropped 6.5 per cent, or 16,000.

Excluding mature applicants, the number of English 18-year-old school-leavers applying for degree places has dipped 6.6 per cent.

This is more than three times the drop seen among Scottish applicants, who put in 2.1 per cent fewer applications.

But the decline in demand was sharpest among Welsh students, who made 10.9 per cent fewer applications.

According to analysis by the UCU, the number of 18-year-old English applicants is down 9.0 per cent between 2011 and 2013 - far exceeding the estimated 2.3 per cent reduction in the overall population of 18-year-olds over the two-year period.

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, representing 24 leading universities, said: ‘It’s likely that around 40 per cent of students have yet to apply so let’s not jump the gun - it’s still too early in the year to say what the overall applications numbers will be.

‘It’s only right that prospective students are taking their time deciding which universities to apply to and making use of all the information available to them.

‘Going to a good university remains a sound investment for the vast majority.’ A spokesman for the Department for Business said: ‘It is too early to form a definitive picture about university applications for the 2013/14 academic year.’


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