Tag Archives: Education

College lecturers to hold Edinburgh protest over cuts

By Giulia Maccagli

College lecturers from across Scotland will hold a protest later this afternoon to express their concern over ‘Draconian cuts’ to colleges.

The demonstration will take place at 2:30pm outside the offices of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in Edinburgh and will be supported by the Education Institute of Scotland – Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA).

The EIS-FELA campaigns for equal pay across the further education sector and is aiming to highlight the ‘appalling attacks which FE provision in colleges has come under over the past few years.’

John Kelly, EIS-FELA president, said: ‘The SFC has implemented Draconian cuts on FE Colleges which have been exacerbated further by light touch regulation. If the regulation of colleges had been any lighter it would have floated off to meet the Space Station orbiting Earth.

‘Principals in conjunction with Boards of Management have awarded themselves enormous pay-offs at the same time that we are repeatedly told that there is no money for FE courses.

‘Colleges have experienced course cuts and job cuts at the same time as reports of £2.4 million being shared among 13 Principals.’

College lecturers are calling on Scottish Education Secretary Angela Constance to inject more money into the sector, and are urging the SFC ‘to switch off the green light which has been shown to colleges allowing them to spend on a few, at the expense of further education students and staff.’

Commenting on today’s demonstration, a spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council said: ‘Our Chief Executive, Laurence Howells, will meet a small delegation from EIS-FELA to listen to the points people wish to put across at this  afternoon’s protest.

‘On the specific issue of severance payments to former college principals, we will seek to reassure the delegation that there is now a much-strengthened set of control arrangements for severance-related financial decisions taken by colleges. These arrangements require colleges to consult with the Funding Council in advance of any decisions being made.’

A spokesperson for the EIS-FELA said the association is considering a programme of industrial action in pursuit of fair pay.

Lecturing and support staff groups have been offered a 1% pay settlement for the year, and both have rejected the offer.

Colleges Scotland, the body representing colleges all across Scotland, expressed their hope that today’s unofficial demonstration has not caused disruption to any students.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: ‘While we recognise that there have been a few legacy issues, they should not detract from the excellent work that colleges do for the benefit of students and the hard work and dedication of staff in colleges.’


Edinburgh ranked as the second-best student city in UK

Edinburgh has been ranked as the UK’s second-best student city this year despite the rising demand for cheaper student accommodation. The news was published by the new edition of QS ranking.

With a relatively small population compared to many of the cities in the index, the Scottish capital has a fairly large student community proportionate to its overall size. This means that it scores especially high in the “student mix” category of the index.

Notably, 38% of students at ranked universities in Edinburgh are international, lending an incredibly diverse and inclusive atmosphere for overseas students.

Carlotta Lombatto, an Italian student based in Edinburgh said:

“One of the main reasons I chose to study in Edinburgh was to improve my English level. I thought about studying in London but it is a very expensive city and I couldn’t afford living there. In Edinburgh you can find a lot of part time jobs and it’s easier to pay your fees.

“Maybe the most complicated thing in Edinburgh for an international student is renting a flat. Prices are excessive and there are so many people looking for the same thing. The deposit is very high and student accommodation is expensive.”

Manel Escuder, an international student from Spain, said: “Edinburgh is an amazing city for studying, and it is impossible not to be inspired. There are a lot of cultural events and conferences. It is a very artistic city.

“The racial diversity it’s surprisingly high. You can go to the supermarket and see so many people from different places and everybody can live together.They respect each other.”

University ranking, the mixture of international students, quality of life, rate of use and affordability in terms of standard of living are the five categories included in the criteria.

Ben Sowter, head of research at QS said: “QS Best Students Cities provides a complementary tool with respect to the specific rankings of university students.

“After all, the college experience is influenced by the place and especially by the presence of international students”.

To be included in the ranking, every city must have a population of more than 250,000 and must hold at least two educational institutions that are within the QS World University rankings. There are 116 cities in the world that qualify, but only 50 have been classified.

In Edinburgh, the two institutions ranked by QS are the University of Edinburgh, which is currently 17th in the world, and Heriot- Watt-University.


Loans company insists students can pay debts

By Madalina Dichiu

THE Student Loan company today insisted graduates are clearing their debts after a report claimed an increasing number were unable to meet their repayments.

Figures published by The Student Loans Company (SLC) show that students can afford paying back their loans, even if current reports argue the opposite.

Concerns were raised after a study made by The Higher Education Commission found that the system fails to help students repay their debt.

The Commission says that student debt will increase to more than £330 billion by 2044.

It said: “The Commission fundamentally questions any system that charges higher education at a rate where the average graduate will not be able to pay it back.”

The Student Loans Company argues that there is an “increase in the average repayment amount [which] is caused by income growth in the years after leaving higher education. In the tax years from 2005‐06 up to and including 2011‐12 the income threshold was pegged at £15,000.

“Hence, it reduced in real terms so any increase in earnings in real terms would lead to increased repayments. In tax year 2012‐13 the income threshold was increased to £15,795 leading to a drop in the average repayment amount.”

According to a report published yesterday by The National Union of Students the proportion of graduates failing to pay back student loans is increasing at such a rate that the Treasury is approaching the point at which it will get zero financial reward from the government’s policy of tripling tuition fees to £9,000 a year.

The report named “A Roadmap to Free Education” argues that higher education could be funded by collective public investment through progressive taxation, with an increase on tax of the richest in society.

Megan Dunn, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), said: “Not only is a publicly funded education system achievable, it’s also necessary in the current economic and political climate. Our roadmap seriously challenges those who want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that the current broken system can be fixed with tweaks and tinkering. The clear fact is that the current system we have is completely unsustainable.

“The Government’s own figures show that the prospect of a huge black hole looming over the budget is very real. It’s time the government started taking this issue seriously and committed to a new deal for students.”

She added: “We are told that we can’t tax the rich because they are the ‘wealth creators’ but we know that the real wealth creators of our society are the teachers and lecturers who are building up the knowledge and the skills of our country. We should be investing in them rather than protecting those who have driven the economy to its knees.

“Forcing debt onto students as a way of funding universities is an experiment that has failed not just students, but our country. Politicians need to recognise that we will only achieve a sustainable higher education funding system if we abandon the discredited regime of sky-high fees and debts altogether.”

The “roadmap” is based on a more contextualised and long-term view of what higher education is for, who the main beneficiaries are, and what balance of contribution these beneficiaries should make in order to allow the sector to function most effectively.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said the government would “look closely at the findings from the commission.

“The UK enjoys a world-renowned reputation for the quality of its universities, which we have protected and enhanced through our reforms.”

Time to slow down and save lives

Gillespie's and Sciennes primary school pupils release balloons as part of an advert campaign for "Just give me a minute".

A new campaign has been launched today by school pupils in south Edinburgh.

“Just give me a minute” highlights the small amount of time lost to a driver if they travel at 20mph rather than 30mph.  The speed difference will save lives according to experts.

A 20mph speed limit along residential streets from Arthurs Seat to Blackford Hill has had the support of 70% of local people and will cost £100,000. Casualties have been reduced by 30-50% when the scheme has been introduced in other parts of the city road.

The change has also been an attempt to improve cycling safety where three fatalities have taken place over the last few months.

The campaign will continue to be promoted through adverts on radio, buses and bus shelters.


Trystan Davies reports:

Government funding for Highland and Moray Colleges

A grant of £1.95million has been given to colleges in the Highlands and Moray to help tackle youth unemployment.

The funding is to be split between Moray College, North Highland College and Inverness College, which form part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The money, which comes from the European Social Fund, is the latest round of such funding, following the £5.3million announced in February to help aid economic growth. It will go towards funding training programmes and full time places in order to boost employability for young people in the area.

On a visit to Inverness College, the Minister for Youth Employment, Angela Constance said that not having training or education “can be highly damaging to the life chances of Scotland’s young people and can seriusly dent their ambitions.”

She stated that the Scottish Government has “guaranteed every 16-19-year-old a place in education or training” and that the funding will “build on that activity and help us nurture the potential of our young people, provide routes into work and harness their ability and creativity to contribute towards future economic growth.”

The December 2011 figures show that at the numbers of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in Highlands, Moray, Argyll and Bute grew towards the end of last year, and was up to 7,500 by the start of 2012.

Average is sexy

Many people have always believed that guys have to be not only handsome and smart but also tall to be successful in reproduction.

Average is the new Sexy

However, a new study from the Netherlands shows that it is not the tallest men that have the most children, but rather men who have an average height of about 177 cm (5 feet 9).

Gert Stulp and his team from the University of Groningen examined data from highschool-graduates from Wisconsin in the US. All people in the study had finished their ‘reproductive career’ and had graduated from school in the 1950s. They found that “average height men attained the highest reproductive success as measured by the number of children ever born”.

“Sounds right.”, says David, a 23-year old worker who wishes not to give his full name. “It’s probably due to natural selection. Women probably choose the guys on a subconscious level and like average height more.”

“Average is beautiful. I mean, most people like average faces because they have a bit of everything  and everyone in them and why should it be different for height?”, says Chris P.  a Phd student in biomedical sciences.

But it’s not just a black and white story. Tall and short men shouldn’t worry about their lack of future children just because those of average height seem to be the most reproductively successful. Education and money also influence the number of children men have and at what age they have them, say Stulp and his collegues. The more educated men are, the later they marry and have children and the fewer children they are likely to have. But the greater the income, the earlier they tend to marry and reproduce.

“Taking education into account makes it slightly more believable. I mean, I’m 28 and I’m neither married nor do I have kids and I think I’m average height. But I’m in full education and obviously don’t have an income.  That’s perhaps why.”, says Tom B. an engineering student.

But inevitably, who knows what makes women and men tick. So, don’t worry too much about finding someone to reproduce with: there’s a suitable partner out there for everyone.

Thousands of students protest against Spanish education cuts

by Natalia Rodríguez Domínguez

Just three days before the Spanish General Elections, thousands of students and teaching staff from  Spanish Universities have taken to the streets
in order to protest against education cuts, difficult working conditions and educational reform which is to be implemented by the government in 2015.

Spanish students have chosen the International Student’s Day,  which is 17th November, as the perfect date to call for a day of protests and teaching strikes across Spain. In Madrid, hundreds of students have been occupying teaching rooms at the five main public Universities since the 14th November.

This movement has been organised by several student groups which have encouraged action against the increasing state cuts in public education and the expected increase of fees which will take effect in 2015. All across the main Spanish cities, students have skipped classes today to show their indignation.

In Barcelona, a number of teaching stuff have joined the students’ demonstrations across the city.  Some faculties also started the day under occupation by students. A group of radical protesters has demonstrated in the middle of some main roads and the city bypass. This has forced the traffic to stop for a few hours, until the demonstrators were removed.

This evening more demonstrations are expected as students and teaching staff plan to take part in localalised protests. They are demanding better quality higher education and an improvement in access to higher education regardless of family income.

Salmond:Teacher strike is “premature”

Today in parliament Alex Salmond praised Scottish teachers,
but refused to bow to impending strike action.

Teachers have responded by accusing the First Minister of ‘serving platitudes’.

Last week members of Scotland’s largest teaching union voted “overwhelmingly” to join other public sector workers in a national day of strike action on the 30th November. Salmond used first ministers questions today to praise the work of teachers.  “I bow down to no-one who doesn’t recognise the contribution of Scottish teachers to Scottish Education” he said.  But he also claimed that  any move toward strike action was ‘premature’

“I’m a  supply teacher.  Our pay has been slashed already” said Scottish teacher Donna McGlynn, “but this strike is even bigger.  It’s about pensions, it’s about the loss of McCrone time, meaning teachers will work more hours for less pay.   Alex Salmond should see that we don’t do things like this lightly.  It’s just platitudes.  He has to see the severity of what’s going on in our profession.  All these proposed changes will have a severe impact on our children’s futures, the education of generations.  It’s a pebble dropped in a pond, but I fear the ripple effect.”

EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said that the 82% vote in favour of industrial action showed  “The patience of teachers and lecturers has been exhausted.  Faced with a wide ranging attack on their pensions,  on top of a two-year pay freeze, rampant inflation and education budget cuts, our members are signalling that ‘enough is enough’.”

Salmond also accused the Westminster Government of “Poisoning the atmosphere with regard to public sector workers” but vowed that they would get fairer conditions in an independent Scotland.

“Reclaim Your Voice”, once again to fight for education.

By Giulia Mattei

Reclaim Your Voice Logo

Yesterday morning, Tuesday the 22nd of March, students from all over Scotland gathered together in Edinburgh with the aim of taking part in the demonstration organised by the Scottish campaign “Reclaim Your Voice”.

Margaret Smith, Scottish Lib Dem education spokesperson and MSP for Edinburgh West, was invited to the rally to speak to the crowd. “”We are the party in government who scrapped Labour’s tuition fees while Tony Blair and the Labour party were increasing tuition fees down south, so I don’t need any lectures from the chap in front of me.” she said while people booed at her.

Oliver, 19 year old protester, comments on her speech by saying “I don’t even understand why she came her, I wouldn’t have had the guts to show up probably”.

The campaign’s website posted a slogan to encourage people to take part in the demonstration, it says : “For the first time in the history of the Scottish Parliament, we face budget cuts. The threat of tuition fees returning to Scotland has never been more real and we know that student support in Scotland is in deep crisis.”

Student leaders, lecturers, trade unionists and parents marched on Holyrood outside the Scottish Parliament before the elections on the 5th of May, to express their disapproval of cut-backs and tuition fees. People felt like it was the right time to step up once again and fight for the future of Scotland’s students, which explains why hundred of them showed up to protest.

Protesters urged the parties to rule out tuition fees, increase financial support for students, and protect university and college places, the three commitments demanded by Reclaim Your Voice.

If people were not impressed by Margaret Smith’s talk, they were definitely inspired by by what Liam Burns said. “In the rest of the UK, students were betrayed with huge cuts to colleges and universities and the trebling of tuition fees.” said the President of NUS Scotland, during his speech ahead of the march “We must come together with one voice to make sure that this never happens here in Scotland.” he added while the crowd applauded him.

An American Dream in Scotland

What was once synonymous with America is now becoming a staple of Scottish tradition, but how is it being adapted across the pond, and how has the recession affected the prom business? Patrick McPartlin went to find out.

For most British schoolgirls, the idea of a prom normally involves splashing out on expensive dresses, getting their hair and nails done, and deciding whether or not to book that pink fire-truck as transport. For the boys, it’s looking awkward in dinner jackets or Highland dress. It’s normally a process that lasts for the majority of the school year. University applications are neglected, schoolwork lags, and nothing seems quite as important as the school prom.  Most long-suffering teachers and parents would point the finger at Hollywood creations such as Grease and in more recent history, 1980s films such as Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. Of course the recent influx of American teen movies in the vein of American Pie, which often focus on the hapless hero’s attempts to woo the girl at the high school prom. Recognisable by the ill-fitting suit and crushed corsage, these reluctant protagonists have become something of a poster-boy for awkwardness, reflected in part by some of Scotland’s teenagers.

A scene from American Pie, with the main characters at their high school prom (nydailynews.com)

The first recorded account of a prom as we know it was by a student at Amherst College, Massachusetts, in 1894, who described what would now be recognised as a formal senior ball. Proms on the other hand, have evolved from something traditional to something decadent. One of the main differences between proms in America and proms in Scotland is the choice of dress for the guys. As if there was an unwritten law about what to wear, nearly every male shows up decked out in a kilt. There is an almost insatiable desire to emulate the Americans, especially in terms of limousine transport. I spoke to a representative from a limousine company and asked him how profitable prom business was for his company. Steve, who’s been organizing limousines for proms for the past six years is well aware of the benefits: “It makes up our biggest percentage; the next percentage is the wedding side of things, but the schools’ proms is a big section of it.” Classic cars and party fire-engines, complete with uniformed drivers are proving big hits with the kids, but limousines are still the favoured method of transport. The very idea of a school leavers’ prom has invoked ideas of celebrity and rockstar lifestyle. The more expensive the dress and the flashier the limo, the better, but it’s not just the 17 and 18 year olds who are fighting to be in the spotlight. In recent times, the idea of a prom to mark a coming of age has spread, as Danielle, who has been doing prom manicures for nearly two years explains: “a lot of the high schools are getting more and more into it and so’s primary seven; it’s a growing kind of thing now.” She later went on to tell me that despite specializing in wedding hair she was noticing that more and more school children were getting their hair done. It’s a similar story with nail-care experts and dress-makers.

There’s an underlying worry with some parents about their children attending a prom between primary school and secondary school. Some parents I spoke to voiced their concerns about their children ‘growing old before their time,’ whilst others questioned the point in having a prom for eleven year olds: “It’s all very well having a prom at the end of high school; it’s a rite of passage, it’s marking the end of school education. But to have a prom for primary school kids is nonsense.”  In a day and age where there is an ongoing battle between consumers and companies over the type of products marketed at younger children, the idea of a prom for pre-pubescent children seems a little, well, premature.

From my own experience, it wasn’t just tartan and Irn-Bru that helped my own high school prom feel distinctly Scottish, but the numbers of drunken sixth years, staggering about with an alcopop in one hand, and their makeup smeared halfway down their face. And that was just the boys. In what was an alarming comment on Scottish society, most of my peers had decided to use their prom as an excuse to get drunk. I hadn’t particularly wanted my lasting prom memory to be of me holding up one of my classmates, underage and severely under the weather from knocking back a few too many lagers, but it’s one that will remain with me.

Obviously for the primary-age children, one would hope that it wouldn’t be a similar story. But that’s where the worry lies. Children are starting to drink from younger ages. A recent article from the Guernsey Press highlighted the worrying trend for pupils as young as 12 turning up at school on Monday with hangovers. Due to the nature of advertising and television programmes, it’s nearly impossible to place children in an adult setting and not expect them to ape adult behaviour. Diana Appleyard pointed out how children are becoming ‘mini adults’ in the Daily Mail last year, titled The Primary School Prom Queens.She produced eye-opening figures about children as young as seven wearing dresses costing hundreds of pounds, along with fake tan, fake nails and makeup. Yet the parents seem to have no problem with forking out for outfits, or the idea itself, calling it ‘cute’ and citing the introduction of films like High School Musical as having given rise to this obsession with proms. When I asked a few parents for their opinion of proms for primary age children, none of them fully supported the idea. One mother admitted that she was uncomfortable with the idea of allowing her younger daughter to attend such an event, but had let her daughter go regardless, saying that she didn’t want her to feel left out. It’s clearly more of a dilemma for some parents than others.

So, with the country coping with a recession, it would seem sensible to assume that the money spent on proms would diminish. From what I’ve seen, it’s actually the other way around. Some parents were quite surprised at the suggestion that the recession would have limited spending on proms. I asked a few parents how they would cope with higher prices and less money. None of them felt that the recession was a stumbling block whatsoever. Some pointed out that they were actually spending more money on their child’s prom because they hadn’t gone on holiday this year. Others were adamant that such an important rite of passage shouldn’t be affected by money issues.

I visited a school that is well known for its charity work and donations to organizations such as the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) and the Seed of Hope charity that helps girls in Kenya to receive an education. The school, along with final year students, has held a fashion-show-cum-prom-fair with a difference, for the last five years. Cath Whitten, the head of sixth year told me more about the idea behind the event: “Tonight’s fashion show has two different themes, really. It’s to allow all of our pupils to see the variety of dresses they can buy, where they can get limos, anything they need that will make their prom a success and it’s also in aid of various charities that the kids themselves take part in. For instance, part of the money tonight will go to help a number of people go to Lourdes in the summer with the archdiocesan pilgrimage.”

It was all very well organizing this fashion show under the banner of charity, but the real question is how effective it is. I know for a fact that a lot of the pupils taking part in the event regularly give to charity, even if it’s just emptying coppers from their pockets at the end of the week, but it almost feels a bit paradoxical, to be advertising decadence alongside charity. Perhaps that’s the way forward; the charity angle is certainly one to be commended, but I think there’s a bit of a concern that it’s the guilt factor dictating the dual purpose behind the event. Besides that, it’s the parents who turned up on the night who were the ones most likely to be footing the bill for their little darlings’ prom. Haircuts, fake tan, manicures, expensive dresses, eccentric modes of transport, makeup, a bag to go with the dress, perhaps some matching jewelry as well are all on the list for those graduating from high school next June.

In America, high school proms are limited to high school graduates. There are no imitations for younger children. Whether this is down to the difference in the education system or America’s more conservative nature is unclear, but from speaking to a few American students, some who have already been to their high school prom, and others who are eagerly awaiting their turn, the attitude is vastly different to that of Scottish pupils. Aubrey, who attended her prom in May of this year was very enthusiastic about the event as a whole: “It’s more about the end of an era. It’s still very traditional; you pick a date, and the two of you go together to the prom. It’s not even necessarily a ‘love’ thing; it’s often friends who go together, which reflects the overall feeling.” When I asked her about the drink culture, and explained how it was in Scotland she was shocked: “There isn’t really a drinking culture per se at our proms. I mean sure, we drink, there’s often a punch bowl for example but it’s all very measured. It’s not a party, it’s a formal event.” Allie, who graduates next summer, is looking forward to her prom already but remembers the media coverage that lesbian teen Constance McMillen received earlier this year after she challenged her school’s policy on same-sex prom dates:It’s ridiculous really. One of my friends is gay and the school has no problem with him bringing his boyfriend to the prom. It’s not about opinions or morality. It’s about having a good time with the people you’ve spent most of your life with for the past few years. It shouldn’t be about politics.” Both girls were more interested in the sentimental aspect of school proms than anything else, something that doesn’t play as big a part as it should in Scotland. The unanswered question is whether Scotland’s drink culture is responsible or whether it’s a difference in society in general.

At the end of the day, the prom business is one which appears to have been unaffected by the recession. It’s still an important rite of passage, the bridge between school and further education, or the world of employment. Girls are still buying dresses worth £800-£1000, and paying significant amounts of money in order to get their hair styled like a Hollywood celebrity attending an awards ceremony or a film premiere. Whilst the Tinseltown effect hasn’t really rubbed off on the guys to the same extent, it might only be a matter of time before they start to rival the girls in prom spending. Or they could save the extra cash for another pint of Tennent’s. The surprising thing is just how much the prom culture has taken off and how it affects other businesses. In a small provincial town like Livingston for example, the high school proms provide business for local hairdressers, manicurists, dress-makers, limousine companies, even the local tanning salon. So it’s just possible that the growing prom business is actually providing a bit of relief for local businesses despite the recession. It’s unclear where proms will go next. The big business side of proms will surely continue to thrive, as will local companies. Perhaps the dresses will get more expensive, the haircuts more elaborate…who knows, maybe flying in by helicopter will become de rigeur. That student from Amherst College may well be spinning in his grave come June next year.

Scots universities at risk of closure

by Neal Wallace

Proposed spending cuts mean universities and colleges across Scotland may be forced to close or face huge job losses, MSPs were warned yesterday.

Mark Batho, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which allocates funding to higher education institutions, warned that the higher education sector faces cuts of 16 per cent, around £250m. This means compromises will have to be made in order to save colleges and universities, include ceasing numerous courses or laying off staff.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said he was “very, very concerned” at the proposed cuts, adding: “That would lead straight to the sort of circumstances of significant job losses, significant loss of provision, significant loss of quality and, frankly, a bizarre situation where Scotland, potentially along with England, would be retreating from investment in higher education.”

Scotland must find a "uniquely Scottish solution" to funding. (Photo by cna)

The news comes in the wake of last month’s Browne review, which recommended lifting the cap on tuition fees in England. This would give English universities the opportunity to charge up to £9000 a year. The highest charging institutions would then pool their money into a central pot, used to encourage poorer students to attend university.

First Minister Alex Salmond and Scottish Eduction Secretary Michael Russell have both ruled out bringing in tuition fees for Scottish students. Salmond has reiterated on a number of occasions that they must find a “uniquely Scottish solution” to the funding crisis.

Russell added: “Scotland has its own education system, its own needs, demands and strengths”, and confirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to funding higher education.

A report in the Sunday Times last week suggested that English students looking to escape the fee hike by applying to Scottish universities may be charged the same as they would south of the border. This is seen as an attempt to stop Scottish universities being swamped by English applicants.

Universities Scotland has said the only solution to the funding crisis was to have a graduate contribution from the highest earning alumni, meaning they pay more for their education. The move has not been ruled out by the Scottish Government.

Students and staff organise against government’s cuts in higher education

By Jenny Kassner

We will march is the slogan of an unprecedented demonstration against the rise of fees in higher education that is due to take place in London on the 11 November 2010.

Students, academic staff and the general public will be marching through central London to demonstrate against cuts in education and a raise in tuition fees of universities.

The Lord Browne report, that was released in October proposed to lift the cap off tuition fees. At the same time, the government’s comprehensive spending review revealed that there would be severe cuts in education funding. This had caused wide spread disapproval amongst the British student body and academic staff.

“We must fight so that the government continues to fund education to current levels, and student support to higher levels”, stated Liam Burns, president of NUS president at the senate of the Napier Students’ Association last night. He had been invited by the association to come to speak at their first senate of the year to raise awareness of the severe consequences the Brown review is most likely to have on Scotland.

Across the country, universities’ student associations are organising free coaches for their students to have a chance to attend the demonstration in London on 11 November.  Online portals allow students to share and offer available seats on coaches.

The demonstration is organized by NUS and UCU (University and College Union). But with 7 million students and only about 125000 of academic staff a concern may be raised that the student voice will be much louder at the demonstration and staff issues might be silenced. However, the UCU press office has stated that student and staff were working together to preserve a fair system of higher education. “There is no battle between the two.”

The coalition will announce its response to the Lord Browne review today. They are expected to announce to put the cap of tuition fees in England on £9,000.

Education Minister Promises No Tuition Fees in Scotland

By Ryan C. Gavan

Tuition fees are ruled out but a graduate tax might be implemented

Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Scotland, has promised not to introduce tuition fees north of the border.

This comes after the recent Browne Review into higher education funding in England and Wales.  This is rasing concerns about the future of University funding in Scotland. In a statement about the subject, Russel said ” one measure has been ruled out, tuition fees.”

There is much worry that spending cuts could lead to changes in University funding in Scotland. Russell stated, ” the Scottish Government plans to publish a Green Paper by the end of the year.”  This will include a wide consultation process involving student groups, universities and government.

This will be welcome news to student groups. Callum Leslie, of Liberal Youth Scotland, said ” bringing in tuition fees would be a regressive step for Scotland.” 

Anne Ballanger, of the Scottish Secondary Teacher Association, stated “tuition fees may prove an impossible task for some prospective students.” She believes that if they were introduced student levels would fall.

Measures such as a graduate tax  have not been ruled out. This would be in line with future earnings. The more a graduate was paid in the future, the more they would pay back. This policy proposal is causing great debate in England and Wales.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, recently made a number of U-turns on the possibility of a graduate tax. He defended the policy initially, only to argue it was unworkable. He stated ” it fails both the tests of fairness and deficit reduction.”

The Browne review is facing questions over its independence. It is reported that it was available to ministers to view long before the publication date. 

 Graduate unemployment is at its highest levels for 17 years at 8.9%, recent figures show.

Colour purple worn for bullied suicides

By Claudie Qumsieh

Victims of homophobic bullying are being remembered today as hundreds of thousands of people wear purple in tribute. In the past month alone at least 10 teenagers have committed suicide in the U.S after bullying related to their sexual orientation.

These high-profile cases have led to a global movement started by gay journalist Dan Savage whose “It gets better” clip has been watched by almost a million people on You Tube.“When a gay teenager commits suicide, it’s because he can’t picture a life for himself that’s filled with joy and family and pleasure and is worth sticking around for[…] So I felt it was really important that, as gay adults, we show them that our lives are good and happy and healthy and that there’s a life worth sticking around for after high school” This project has resulted in hundreds of people (including celebrities) posting their own testimonies and stories of hope on the newly created online video channel “It Gets Better”.

Hillary Clinton joined the campaign today when she posted her video saying “These most recent deaths are a reminder that all Americans have to work harder to overcome bigotry and hatred. I have a message out there for all the young people who are being bullied, or who feel alone and find it hard to imagine a better future.  First of all, hang in there. And ask for help. Your life is so important — to your family, your friends, and to your country.” Clinton goes on to  speak about civil servants who work at the state department “It wasn’t long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can. Because it has gotten better. And it will get better for you”.  Although civil servants can be openly gay and keep their job, America’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is still causing controversy. DADT  means that gay military personnel must conceal their sexual orientation when serving otherwise they will be dismissed. A recent call to overrule this policy failed, however one judge has reopened the debate this week.

One supporter of the DADT policy, a Republican Tea Party candidate for US Senate Ken Buck compared homosexuality to alcoholism “I think that birth has an influence over [homosexuality] like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that, basically, you have a choice”.

The U.S case is not unusual. In Scotland young gay and bisexual men are 6.7 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. In an NHS Greater Glasgow survey “Something to tell you” 80% of gay young people said they have experienced discrimination. According to a Stonewall survey 68% of young Scottish lesbian, gay or bisexual people have been bullied at school, 21% of Scottish schools teach that homophobic bullying is wrong. In schools that say homophobic bullying is wrong, gay pupils are 60% less likely to be bullied.

Actor Sir Ian McKellan,Co-founder of Stonewall, is touring schools in the UK to promote tolerance. At a time when educating children about tolerance and difference is a priority, the Christian Institute unhelpfully published an article headlined McKellan “set to promote homosexuality in schools”. As Sir Ian says religionis the one area where people are not frightened to be openly homophobic”.

Safety fears could force Edinburgh nursery to move

By Kati Rawlins

An Edinburgh nursery housed on the top floor of a seven-storey block faces being moved as councillors debate safety concerns over its fire evacuation routes.

Westfield Court Nursery, in the west end of Edinburgh, has already been scrutinised by Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service, along with health and safety staff. City councillors will decide on Tuesday whether to transfer its 25 pupils to two alternative nurseries by next month. If councillors agree to the move, officers will prepare a report on options for the nursery’s longer term future.

City education leader Councillor Marilyne MacLaren said: “Because of its situation, Westfield Court Nursery has been subject to special health and safety reviews for some time now.  After each review we make adaptations and improvements to the building and to its safety procedures.”

Concerns remain even after modifications to the building and the nursery’s evacuation procedures.

MacLaren added: “There is nothing more we can do at this stage to address the fire risk associated with getting a large number of small children down seven flights of stairs from the top floor of the block. The only option open to our health and safety officers has been to recommend a decant to other nursery facilities.”

Places are available at Tynecastle and Calderglen nurseries for the pupils of Westfield Court Nursery, whose carers would move with them.

Cllr MacLaren  described Tynecastle and Calderglen nurseries as “of the highest quality – children can expect a warm welcome and an excellent early years education”.

Major cash injection to benefit Scottish students

courtesy of Read My Day

By Ross Doyle

The Scottish parliament have announced they will invest £30 million into helping student support.

They will also introduce various other changes to the current student loans system that will see a rise in financial backing to help struggling students through the current financial climate.

SNP cabinet secretary for education Fiona Hyslop announced the plans on front of parliament which will be in place in time for the next academic year beginning in September 2010.

The new plans will potentially help up to 75,000 students, which is two thirds of all students across Scotland, and will help with the current annual rise of student intake of around 5.5%

There will be an increase in the maximum loan rising to £5,852 for the academic year which will apply to every student who qualified for the income assessed loan regardless of age.

There will also be up to £1,000 grant available for independent students.

NUS Scotland have been working closely with the SNP to help improve student support, with the NUS president Liam Burns claiming, “this is great news for students” helping to “get more money into student pockets.”

The amount has been questioned though by some members of parliament for not being sufficient enough to make a significant impact and that more has to be done to help with the problem. The Scottish Liberal Democrats stated, “hardship is the most important problem students face now.”

The possible re-introduction of the graduate endowment fee was also discussed although this was quickly ruled out.

Poppy display attracts public support

Poppies are encouraged to be worn in the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday

By Kaye Nicolson

PoppyScotland‘s poppy display was launched yesterday in the Omni Centre, Edinburgh.  WWII and Falklands veterans were at the event, alongside serving soldiers, acknowledging a huge response from supporters of the Poppy campaign.

This is the second year of the PoppyScotland event, involving 35,000 ‘pop-up poppies’ being sent to supporters of the charity, in order for them to leave messages for veterans and loved ones. Leigh Howieson, a spokeswoman for PoppyScotland, described the response as greater than last year, adding that the new interactive facility has enhanced public involvement.

The messages are displayed in the windows of the city centre venue, alongside electronic banners on which the public can post messages of support and respect.  It is hoped that this eye-catching display in such a busy part of the capital will encourage reflection on the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces, in the lead-up to Remembrance Sunday this weekend.

This comes during an ongoing Poppy Scotland campaign which aims to teach young people about war veterans, the reason why poppies are worn, and the history of British conflicts.  This involved a War Poetry Competition, which has attracted entrants of all school ages.  The deadline for the competition is at the end of November, however is part of a larger three year education project developed by the charity.

Edinburgh Sports Academy Serves Up Scotland Selection for City School Boy

Edward Cogliano
Edward Cogliano

By Lauren Witherspoon

An Edinburgh teenager has been chosen to represent Scotland in an international badminton competition. The European Under-17 Championships are due to take place at Medvode in Slovenia, from the 7th to the 15th of November this year, and sixteen year old Edward Cogliano will attempt to smash his way to the final. The James Gillespie high pupil has already racked up a number of age group titles in badminton and recently represented Scotland in the UK School Games held in Cardiff. With a passion for sport from an early age, Edward has been attending the City of Edinburgh Council’s Schools Sports Academy. The Academy was set up to help talented pupils reach their sporting potential, and is funded by the Children and Families department. In the last year, over 80 percent of Sports Academy athletes have achieved selection to regional or national squads. Speaking about his selection, Edward said: “I’m really pleased and proud to be chosen to represent Scotland for the first time. It’s something I have always dreamed of doing. It’s going to be a fantastic experience.” “It will be great to walk around the athletes’ village and be with all the other athletes. I’m really grateful to all the coaches at the Edinburgh Schools Sports Academy and the National Squad who have helped me achieve my goal.” “The badminton strength and conditioning training has allowed me to become an international player. And this experience has inspired me to continue to work hard so that I can continue to represent Scotland and develop as a player. In the future, I would like to mentor and coach younger players so that they can have a similar experience.” City Education Leader Cllr Marilyne MacLaren, speaking about Edward’s achievment, said: “It takes stamina and determination to make it to this level in any sport. On behalf of the city, I wish him all the best and hope he goes all the way in fulfilling his dream.

Britain’s only hope, left without help.

Courtsey of ste5ens.wordpress.com

By Julia Bruce

More than 80% of students at school throughout the UK consider the career advice services “a little bit” or worse, “not at all helpful”. At this time of year when UCAS deadlines are creeping closer, it is more important than ever that young adults receive the correct guidance for their futures.

Barbara Hearn, deputy chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) understands the importance and pressure upon young adults today: “At this time of unprecedented youth unemployment it is essential that we understand the factors that influence young people’s job and career choices and provide them with useful and effective guidance”.

A report published by the British Youth Council (BYC)  has confirmed the fears that a record number of young people are not employed, in education or training. Rajay Naik, aged 22, Chair of the BYC, highlights the action that the younger generation must take in order to survive the recession and come out fighting: “We must invest in developing the potential of our younger generation if we are to sustainably grow our economy out of recession, and part of that depends on providing personalised career guidance.”

However results of a BYC report show hope and direction coming from Britain’s youth. When asked what they wanted to do, the majority of answers fell in the law, media or teaching sector. There was a lack of the stereotypical, and somewhat unrealistic answer of a celebrity, or “famous”. and instead an impressive array of professions including “professor of bone disease”, “trade unionist”, and an “ordained minister”.

There is certainly no lack of imagination or drive, and it is clear that young people today are taking their futures seriously. The older, wiser generation are falling short of what Britain’s youth expects from them, and they are being left to pick up the pieces of a broken nation, unaided and unaware.

Lollipop Man resigns after sweets and high-five ban


Picture courtesy of http://edinburghnews.scotsman.com/topstories/Lollipop-man-quits-over-ban.5703222.jp
69 year old John Hunter has been banned from giving out his trade-mark sweets and high-fives. Picture courtesy of Edinburgh News/Scotsman

LOLLIPOP MAN John Hunter has quit after being told he cannot give out sweets or high-fives to children due to ‘health and safety reasons‘.

John Hunter, a 69 year old Lollipop man at Corstorphine Primary School, has held the position for 10 years and has become a highlight of the children’s day due to his trade-mark friendly antics. John decided to quit after being told by his boss that his actions were dangerous. Although there was no comment as to why this was, it is believed to have stemmed from an incident were he unknowingly  gave a child with a nut allergy, some chocolate that contained nuts. This also resulted in the child’s parents complaining about the high-fives.

It is said children love to line-up for his high fives, and John enjoys handing out chocolates and sweets on his birthday and Christmas.

John Hunter, who has worked for Edinburgh City Council for 40 years, was also a student at Corstorphine Primary, and therefore has a strong connection with the school. He decided to take the position up after retiring from his former job as a roads maintenance inspector.

It is believed many parents have acted strongly to the situation, large numbers writing in to complain to the school, and many have expressed disbelief to the situation the friendly, well-trusted and very popular Lollipop man has been put in, and it is thought the children will miss him greatly.

Labour’s education spokesman, councillor Ricky Henderson, said: “I think they (the council) have taken it a bit too far. It seems like an overreaction which has put this poor guy in a position where he felt he had no option but to resign, and that it is very sad given that he obviously had a good relationship with parents and children at the school. He is entitled to a full explanation.”

A spokeswoman from Edinburgh City Council has stated: “We are really sad that John is leaving his post. Over the years, he has provided excellent service and a friendly smile to parents and pupils at Corstorphine Primary.”

Sourced from BBC Scotland and Edinburgh News

Grand Theft Auto creator comes to Napier


A state of the art computer game facility was opened at Edinburgh Napier University on Monday October 5th.

The University’s School of Computing welcomed former student Brian Baglow, a producer of the popular ‘Grand Theft Auto’ game, to officially open the new game design lab.

Picture courtesy of www.gametrailers.com
Picture courtesy of http://www.gametrailers.com

The lab will provide resources for students on the university’s new Bsc in Interactive Entertainment. With 24 networked computers and Xbox 360s, a 50-inch plasma television, projection screens and software for robotics development, the degree will help future games programmers hone their skills.

Sally Smith, Head of the School of Computing said: “students will be able to design and develop their own games in a state of the art environment.”

The degree will also teach students how to bring networking and programming together and how to work across various gaming platforms.

In the UK, the games industry was worth an estimated 4 billion GBP in 2008 according to a report by ELSPA. Over 20 million games were sold for the Nintendo Wii, a quarter of the UK’s game sales. Xbox 360 sales were up by 51% last year and PlayStation 3 software made around 334 million GBP. The platform’s popularity has grown after many retailers dropped their prices in the wake of the worldwide recession.

Progressive school could hold lessons for rigid British education

Kilquhanity House School

By Sarah Mackinnon

A school offering an alternative education is set to reopen in southern Scotland.

Kilquhanity House near Galloway is to open again as a private £1,200 a term day school for 15 pupils after closing 12 years ago. It is to be the only school of its kind in Scotland and former pupil Andrew Pyle is to become headteacher. The unique school will offer an education far removed from the UK’s mainstream, traditional system.

The curriculum offered at the countryside school will be creative and flexible, pupils will be able to choose what they want to study and whether to take part in exams or do homework. Kilquhanity was founded in 1940 by John Aitkenhead, headteacher for over 50 years who wanted to find an alternative to ordinary schools which he felt were too authoritarian and utilitarian.

The national education system in Britain has come under fire recently for having too rigid a curriculum and for being too much at the mercy of league tables. At a lecture to the College of Teachers last month Anthony Seldon, leading headteacher of private school Wellington college in Berkshire, England launched a scathing attack on Britain’s education system, he stated that,

Soulless schools cursed by league tables and dominated by formulaic exams are squeezing the lifeblood out of education.

Seldon, who is also professor of education at the College of Teachers goes on to say that he believes it is this rigid system which is having a negative impact on pupils,

They are showing more signs of depression, eating disorders, self harming and alcohol/drug abuse, than at any point in recorded history.

Pyle believes that the style of his school may provide some answers to this serious problem. The headteacher will garner much influence from his predecessor and follow a system called the ‘free school’ system which originated in Sweden. One aspect he plans to reinstate is the ‘School Council’ in which rules were decided in a weekly meeting where the youngest child had the same voting rights as the head teacher.

The idea behind ‘free schools’, of which there are only a few in the UK is based on an open structure without a hierarchy or the institutional environment of formal schooling. The main consensus is that children learn better when free from coercion. Many former pupils of Kilquhanity have gone on to become gifted artists, designers or writers. Pyle states,

I think more than ever, this sort of education is important, If Kilquhanity can offer you anything it is the ability to adapt to the uncertain futures that our children are going to face, I am not entirely sure that conventional education and state education is going to do that anymore.

In its previous life ‘past parents’ felt that Kilquanity offered three important advantages: having the staff and pupils on first name terms; the amount of choice which the children have as regards to subjects taken; and the experience of the democracy of the School Council. John Aitkenhead said,

The main purpose of education at Kilquhanity was the development of a whole person, a person who has learned to live with other kids, with other people, and to find out about himself/herself.

Seldon adds to this idea and gives the last word on what he believes the British system should accomplish,

Education should be the opening of the heart and mind. This is what education means;it is this, or it is nothing.

Hard up Scottish students set to lose cash lifeline

by Annabel Cooper

Scottish universities are close to running out of special funds that help bail out students in financial difficulty.

The ‘Hardship Loan’ or ‘Discretionary Fund’ is a life-line for hard up students but with borrowing on the downturn and part time work harder to come by, demand from students is up and funds are beginning to run dry.

Each university is allocated funds from a Government pot and then the emergency loans are allocated at the discretion of the institution. About £16 million was distributed in this way in 2008-9 – an 8 per cent increase on 2007-8. But already this year, universities in real difficulty have gone back to the Scottish Government with demands totalling £882,500 to cope with urgent student appeals for help.

Claire Baker, Labour’s higher education spokeswoman, said funds could be reallocated from universities’ underspending, but that, across Scotland, hardship funds were being “stretched beyond breaking point”.

She said:

“The government has responded to university concerns, but demand for hardship funds is still outstripping supply. It is a worrying trend, and none of the universities is expecting it to stop any time soon.

Napier University in Edinburgh is symptomatic of the Scottish trend. Applications from desperate students are up 28 per cent compared with last year, and it predicts it will run out of money before the next discretionary funds are handed out.

Napier staff are advising students to try renegotiating debts, as they cannot help all those going to them for aid. Professor Joan Stringer, the principal, said:

Students“It is becoming increasingly apparent that many of those fortunate enough to have a part-time job are having their hours or shifts significantly cut and many others are struggling to find any part-time work.

“We are also finding many students’ parents are no longer able to provide the level of help previously afforded, due to, for example, loss of their own employment, less work available to the self-employed and loss of income from savings.

“In order to most efficiently manae the remaining discretionary funds, applicants are being advised, where possible, to negotiate suitable repayment plans for any outstanding bills, particularly utility bills, and to rearrange any existing debt or loan repayments.”

“We do not expect we will have sufficient funds to support applicants to the level that many of them will need, and it is very unlikely we will have sufficient funds left to support students during the summer vacation period.”

Just two weeks ago newly elected Rector for neighbouring Edinburgh University, Iain McWhirter, made student finance the heart of his election campaign, insiting upon a £7k basic income for students. Gurjit Singh, the president of NUS Scotland, is also demanding an overhaul of the “unfair” student support system and guaranteed annual income for every student through loans and grants.

“Student financial hardship has reached a critical level,” he said. “Students are not being able to find part-time work as well, or access commercial debt. If our students had the right level of support in the first place, they would not have to apply to hardship funds.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We recognise that the current student support system was inadequately funded by previous administrations. That is why we have provided £38 million to introduce grants for 20,000 part-time students and why we are consulting on proposals to improve the student system more generally.”

Teaching A ‘Happier’ Life

By Graeme Gardiner

English Primary school children should be taught within 6 themed areas according to the latest government commissioned report based around the ongoing reform in school curriculum.

Sir Jim Rose a former senior Ofsted inspector suggests that new courses should be aimed to teach pupils how to live a happy and healthy life and prepare them for life without school.

In the report, published today by Secretary of State for children Ed Balls, Sir Jim said that taking the old core subjects and combining them into new themed groups would be ideal for helping kids with real life situations. The original subjects will still be taught but in a way that is deemed more relevant to the children of today.

Sir Jim Rose
Sir Jim Rose

Sir Jim said: “We are certainly not getting rid of subjects such as history and geography. We are trying to give primary schools flexibility to do less, but to do it better. The history they will be doing will be more in-depth.”

This means that instead of the usual individual subjects pupils would be taught under six broad themes, which would be: understanding English, communication and languages; mathematical understanding; scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding physical health and well-being; and understanding arts and design.

Sir Jim stresses that they are not compromising the standard of teaching of the old subjects. He said: “What we are trying to do here is teach the knowledge and skills that children need, and ensure they have lots of opportunities to use this knowledge and those skills to develop their understanding and the links between subjects.”

The report was commissioned last year by Ed Balls as one part of the governments 10-year ‘children plan’. This review was brought into place after the results of a UNICEF report into child welfare, which placed children in the UK last out of the 21 ‘developed’ nations .

In response to bringing in Sir Jim, Mr Balls said: “I have asked Sir Jim Rose to undertake a root and branch review of the primary curriculum to create more space for teaching the basics – English and maths, a foreign language in all primary schools – and also to ensure all children start secondary school with the personal skills to succeed.”

Local Authorities will be required by law to rescue failing schools

Ed Balls, Secretary of Schools
Ed Balls, Secretary of Schools

Niall Lennon

Proposals in the Queen’s speech today confirmed that local authorities will be required by law to rescue poor performing schools and intervene before standards reach critical levels.

This legislation has been widely anticipated prompted by an announcement by Schools Secretary Ed Balls back in June. Ed Balls declared that unless 638 low achieving schools improved their exam results they would either face closure or be turned into academies.

The responsibility to overlook the raising in school standards was then handed to local authorities. Ed Balls plan came as part of a £400m initiative to raise exam results after statistics revealed that fewer than 30% of pupils scored five Cs in their GCSEs.

The Schools Secretary said: “This Bill underlines our commitment to revolutionising the education system so that it delivers for all young people, whatever their interests or abilities. Local authorities will play a key role in making this happen as they are best placed to respond to the needs of young people locally.”

“These reforms will mean that delivery of learning and skills provision and other support to children and their families is locally owned, locally integrated and also accountable and responsive to individuals’ needs and choices. I am confident the new streamlined Young People’s Learning Agency will support local authorities as they make these reforms a reality.”

The Queen also confirmed other plans to reform the school system. England and Wales’ high achieving schools will face less Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) inspections, allowing them to continue in their efforts without close scrutiny.

Ofqual will become the new exams regulator for maintaining standards and regulating the qualifications market, taking over from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is also to be replaced by the Young People’s Learning Agency, which will support local authorities to carry out their responsibilities for 16-19 year olds.

Not every one agrees however with the new proposals. Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “Promoting excellence in all schools is an aim we fully endorse. Who wouldn’t? However, this will not be achieved by the draconian measures that are taken to tackle schools that fall short of inconsistent standards the Government decides makes a failing school.”

Also skeptical about the changes Liberal Democrat children’s spokesman David Laws described the bill as a ‘missed opportunity’. “This Bill is a hotch-potch of disconnected proposals thrown together to create an impression of momentum and direction which simply doesn’t exist” he remarked.