BBC News - Education & Family
1 - Universities 'ignore background'
The latest stories from the Education & Family section of the BBC News web site.
2 - Poor pupil cash 'plugging budgets'
3 - A-level confusion 'unacceptable'
4 - £42k pay rise sparks uni occupation
5 - Schools reading contest: e-books win
6 - Minister hails 'web porn' progress
7 - Belfast pupils inspired by schoolmate's poignant speech
8 - 'Cut a third' of education services
9 - Shot girl wants education priority
10 - No extra free schools, says Labour
11 - Top unis 'now less socially diverse'
12 - Science plan lands 'star' researcher
13 - Signing 'should be foreign language'
14 - Free school pioneers offer advice
15 - Head teachers recognised in honours
16 - Hard-working fathers cut their hours
17 - Summer-borns 'need flexi-term start'
18 - Second grammar wants to open annexe
19 - Fukushima's lessons from nuclear disaster
20 - India's ancient university returns to life
21 - Is a paperless library still a library?
22 - How Estonia became E-stonia
23 - The world's most sleep-starved students
24 - Suu Kyi asks UK to help universities
25 - Jimmy Wales: 'Dull lectures doomed'
26 - Human extinction warning from Oxford
27 - God vow dropped from Guides' promise
28 - Elizabethan child actors 'kidnapped'
29 - Call to learn basic algebra at seven
30 - Missing exam paper sparks re-sit row
31 - Improvement in teacher job prospects
32 - Schools 'failing brightest pupils'
33 - One in six children in poverty
34 - Talks aim to improve poor home care
35 - Call to ban sales on maternity wards
36 - Nursery ratio climb down confirmed
37 - VIDEO: Mums' concerns over web safety
38 - VIDEO: Gove GCSE plans are 'just tinkering'
39 - VIDEO: Living with a child genius
40 - VIDEO: Sanctions hit Iranians studying abroad
41 - IMF entering university market
42 - Bail out universities rather than banks?
43 - Mother's abortion 'over visa rules'
44 - Why mark out of 8?
45 - Scotland 'moving away' from exams
46 - How Troops to Teachers came about
Many UK universities do not consider candidates' backgrounds when offering places, research suggests.
A report claims schools are facing increasing pressure to spend money aimed at very poor pupils, known as the pupil premium, to plug holes in their budgets.
Confusion over an A-level maths paper set by exam board Edexcel is completely unacceptable, says the chair of the education select committee, Graham Stuart.
A group of Warwick students occupy university buildings in protest at the £42,000 pay rise for its vice-chancellor.
Nearly half the titles read by children in a national reading competition were consumed online, according to the charity Booktrust.
Ministers say agreements reached with internet firms will lead to a "fundamental change" in how images of child abuse are dealt with online.
Methodist College students report on the reaction to a speech about the future of Northern Ireland made by their schoolmate Hannah in front of an audience including President Obama and the First Lady.
The 22 education services running schools in Wales should be cut by a third, a review recommends.
Pakistani schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai is to lead calls for education to become a top priority.
Labour would keep open existing free schools but would not open any more, says Stephen Twigg. He also says all state schools in England should have the independence given to academies.
A report on social mobility claims the UK's leading universities have become less socially representative in the past decade, not more.
A £50m project to attract world-class scientists to Wales makes its first appointment - a leading stem cell researcher looking at diseases of the nervous system.
A charity calls for British Sign Language to count as a modern foreign language at GCSE.
Dozens of groups aiming to open free schools next year are meeting to get tips from pioneers of the movement, the West London Free School.
Five head teachers have been knighted or made dames in this year's Queen's Birthday Honours.
Hard-working fathers are cutting their long working hours, while mothers are working more, researchers say.
Parents should be able to exercise their right to a later school start for their summer-born children.
A second grammar school is consulting on opening an annexe in Sevenoaks after a campaign by parents to expand selective provision in Kent.
How do you re-build an education system destroyed by a disaster? Andreas Schleicher describes the efforts in Fukushima.
University in northern India accepts first new students for 800 years
The world's first bookless public library
Estonian pupils are taught computer skills from an early age as the internet is seen as symbolic of political independence.
How lack of sleep is damaging pupils' learning around the world
Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is calling on Britain to help rebuild Burma's universities, which she says have been ruined by military rule
Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales predicts the death of student boredom
What are the greatest global threats to the future of humanity? An international team from Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute is investigating the biggest dangers.
Girls will no longer have to pledge their devotion to God when they join the Guides and Brownies in the UK, the organisation announces.
A study from the University of Oxford reveals widespread cruelty and exploitation in the treatment of child actors in Elizabethan theatres.
At seven, pupils should know their tables up to 10 and be introduced to basic algebra, argues a study.
The loss of an A-level exam paper in Amsterdam has led to calls for a free re-sit from students who sat the replacement paper.
Almost half of newly qualified teachers have found full-time permanent jobs since August last year, research suggests.
A culture of low expectations is letting down bright children in England's non-selective secondary schools, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says.
At least one out of every six children in the UK lives in relative poverty, according to data released by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Care minister Norman Lamb is holding talks to discuss what he says is a crisis in care of the elderly and disabled at home.
Reps who sell to new mothers on hospital wards in the UK should be banned, the online parenting forum Mumsnet has urged.
Plans to let nurseries and childminders in England look after more children have been abandoned, the Education Minister Elizabeth Truss has confirmed.
Parents and staff from Parentzone explain how they would like to make the internet safer for children.
Journalist and education activist Fiona Millar called for a full English baccalaureate as she claimed Michael Gove's plans to reform GCSEs were "just tinkering with a redundant system".
Many parents may secretly think their child is a genius but Michelle Goodwill's son, Alex, is the real thing.
Economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the West which have a direct impact on money transfers are making it harder for Iranians to study in the US.
International Monetary Fund enters university market
Bail out universities and not the banks?
UK women on how visa rules are affecting family life
Scotland 'moving away' from exams
Troops to Teachers, from think-tank to classroom
Education news, comment and analysis | guardian.co.uk
1 - Academics will need both the physical and virtual library for years to come
Latest news and features from guardian.co.uk, the world's leading liberal voice
2 - Filling the gap: the rise of pro bono justice - video
3 - Conventional markets could cure capital concern
4 - Students play football for peace
5 - More calls for books about non-white children
6 - An MA that puts a spin on it
7 - Two masters for the price of one
8 - Video games (for promoting science) | Dean Burnett
9 - What is the future of technology in education?
10 - Universities urged to sponsor free schools specialising in maths
11 - Letters: Northern museums
12 - Letters: The complex causes of underachievement
13 - Letters: Changing schools into academies – and back again
14 - Big ideas can be bad ideas – even in the age of the thinktank | Mark Mazower
15 - Songwriting courses: a path into the music industry?
16 - How does stress affect your teaching and working life? – open thread
17 - Phyllis Want obituary
18 - Robert Schuck obituary
19 - Postdoc dilemma: to leave or not to leave academia? – live chat
20 - Technology brings postgrads in from the cold
21 - Belgium's education system needs to answer its own questions of morality
22 - How is technology transforming the role of teachers?
23 - Live webchat: How to fund your postgrad
24 - Work experience teaches students to get down to business
25 - Turn your Twitter and Facebook skills into a career
Research no longer starts with a visit to the library building, say Rachel Bruce and Mike Mertens, but it still plays a crucial role
Ask someone to describe an academic in the throes of research and there's a good chance that description will include a physical library (or at least a collection of office shelves not dissimilar to a library) with books and journals open on the desk, and a notebook – whether hard copy or digital.
The reality may be somewhat different. Jisc and RLUK's recent survey of around 3,500 UK academics highlighted that while academics primarily look to the library to provide the journals and books necessary to their teaching and research, they spend much less time in the physical library than the virtual one.
The vast majority of academics who responded – around 90% – saw the main role of the university library as a purchaser of content. While 45% described themselves as very dependent on their library for their work, only 2% of academics start their research with a visit to the library building.
In the case of journals, digital may have supplanted print format almost entirely. The survey shows a shift in the way academics conduct their research, with nearly three quarters strongly agreeing that if their library cancelled the current issues of a print version of a journal but continued to make them available electronically, that would be fine.
However, while four out of five scientists and medical/veterinary academics strongly agreed, this dropped to around three in five among humanists. And when considering the long term access to collections, academics recognised the need to maintain hard copy collections of journals. Half of respondents stated that some libraries should continue to maintain these collections, though only a quarter of respondents thought their own library should shoulder that responsibility.
While ejournals are well embedded in academic practice, ebooks are also becoming an established element of the academic's world. Six out of 10 respondents indicated they had 'often' or 'occasionally' used ebooks within the last six months (only about 15% of respondents indicated they hadn't done so at all).
It is clear that the monograph in its electronic form is becoming an increasingly important part of teaching and research. Although academics did say that electronic versions of research monographs are not well suited to all uses, new tools could make digital texts more accessible. Around 90% also said it was easier to read either sections or cover-to-cover in print format rather than digital. So while searching and exploring references is easier with digital texts, in-depth research and reading is still done using print.
Despite some discipline differences, only a small percentage of respondents – around 14% – saw ebooks replacing hard copy books in the next five years. Print, it seems, is an important access channel to content and resources for academics, and will continue to be so for years to come. Similarly, the library continues to play a critical access role in this hybrid, digital/physical environment.
For nearly 90% of academic respondents, the library's collections and subscriptions are the most important source for material used in teaching and research; the second most important being materials freely available online. .
When academics don't have access to the materials they need from the library's digital or physical collections, 90% of respondents said they searched for a freely available version online. Critically, the next largest response was simply to give up. This was particularly the case for scientists and medical/veterinary sciences.
In contrast to the sciences, humanists were much more likely to use interlibrary loan services, or simply purchase a copy of the material themselves. This may reflect the continued importance of the book within the humanities; something which is still unlikely to be found in full, freely online.
These figures stress the importance of libraries making their content discoverable online, as well as making freely available content available through their services. The distinction between the discovery services and systems of the library and wider institution, and those of the open web, are increasingly breaking down.
Academics will continue to inhabit a hybrid world of digital and print materials for some time to come and even where print has largely been supplanted, the need for continued access (local or otherwise) is still crucial.
Rachel Bruce is innovation director of digital infrastructure at Jisc and Mike Mertens is deputy executive director and data services manager of RLUK
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, become a member of the Higher Education Network.
April saw the implementation of cuts worth £350m from the civil legal aid budget. The government proposes to slash a further £220m. The Guardian visited Queen Mary's Legal Advice Centre, where students provide free legal advice, to see how they are coping with the increase of demand for their services
Is the Co-op Bank at risk of losing its co-operative status or are external investments a viable solution to financial woe?
The relationship between co-ops and capital has never been straightforward. While in theory co-ops fund their capital needs from their members' own capital and from retained profits, in practice co-ops have frequently needed to bring in external capital. The current capital requirements of the Co-operative Bank bring the issue into stark prominence.
There is something of a challenge facing the worldwide cooperative movement over capital. At a time when a rejuvenated International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) is actively emphasising the size of the global co-op sector and stressing its ethical credentials, many large co-operatives are looking for new ways to fund their businesses through conventional capital markets. One traditional route (the path that the Co-op Bank has now decided to follow) is to establish the trading business as a public limited company (plc) and to bring in external investors as minority shareholders. Some see this as a slippery slope, however, for there is always the prospect that further needs for capital can turn the co-operative's majority stake into a minority one. It was through this process that, 10 years ago, the innovative telecoms business Poptel, for example, lost its co-operative status.
But are there other solutions? The ICA's Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, launched last year, identifies capital as a key priority to address. It sets the aim of creating financial mechanisms that provide a return without destroying co-operative identity. "It also means exploring wider options for access to capital outside traditional membership, but without compromising on member control," it asserts.
The alliance's challenge has been picked up immediately by the Cambridge University economist Mark Hayes, in a report which Co-ops UK is to publish next month. Hayes, once an investment manager with the venture capitalist agency 3i , then the founder and first chief executive of the fair trade co-operative Shared Interest, tackles the issue of external capital head-on. His radical suggestions include creating a secondary market for transferable co-operative shares, a sort of co-operative stock exchange, and the overhaul of the way co-operative dividends and interest are taxed.
He suggests that larger co-operative societies, in particular, should be prepared to engage as necessary with institutional investors and the city, an approach which he accepts raises questions as to the way that investors' role in the co-op is to be acknowledged: "What exactly is the contract between a co-operative society and an external investor? What is reasonable for investors to expect, and what is reasonable for the society?" he asks.
His preferred solution goes back to core co-operative principles. Investors need rewarding for the risks they run, Hayes says, but these rewards should be tied to the size of the original investment with terms agreed at the start, not linked to profits.
"Even quite a high rate of return would not transgress co-operative principles, provided it was firmly related to the investment," he says. He suggests that more creative ways can be found to achieve this than just a fixed interest rate. He also floats the idea of indexation of the nominal value of co-operative shares so that their value rises with the cost of living.
"I would suggest that there is probably the case for mobilising permanent equity for the sector," he adds. His report focuses particular attention on the concept of the transferable co-operative share, a financial instrument close to traditional share equity which is available under co-operative legislation, which can be held by external investors and which should not negate democratic member control. But investors would need access to an exit route, he points out. Pending the creation of a viable secondary market for shares to be bought and sold, he floats the idea of creating a new co-operative society to hold transferable shares in other cooperatives.
Hayes points out that, because of differences in the allowances for capital gains tax and income tax, individuals face a significant tax bias against investing in co-operatives rather than companies. He suggests a tax reform to take co-operative share interest out of tax altogether, so that it became neither deductible by co-ops for corporation tax or chargeable for income tax from individuals. Such a reform would be revenue-neutral for the Treasury but could help stimulate the co-operative economy, he argues.
Hayes's report, entitled The Capital Finance of Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies, also makes proposals for the better protection of investors in community share issues, such as those being launched for village shops and renewable energy schemes. He suggests tighter oversight of community share issues by Co-ops UK and the creation of a co-operative ombudsman to investigate disputes.
The report will soon be available from Co-ops UK.
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To join the Guardian Social Enterprise Network, click here.
Sport and international development courses build students' employability skills by exposing them to project work
People who don't like sport tend to dismiss it as pointless. Yet down on the coast, Brighton University's MA in sport and international development has grown over the past decade, showing that the power of sport is so vast that it can be used as a tool to promote social and welfare projects – and for peace.
Led by Prof John Sugden, one of the world's leading authorities in sport and international development, the course focuses on how sport is used in projects such as those to end conflict.
"A big draw for a lot of students is this growing interest in the possibility of using sport for development purposes and peace initiatives," says Megan Chawansky, lecturer in social sciences and sport.
The first programme they helped to deliver for Football 4 Peace, in 2001, was when six volunteer coaches plus one staff leader conducted a week-long coaching camp in the Arab town of Ibillin for 100 Muslim Arab and Christian Arab children. Since then, they have continued their involvement in areas such as Israel, Jordan, and, closer to home, Ireland.
Graham Spacey, now F4P's international partnership manager, graduated from Brighton in 2011, and praises the course structure for increasing his employability.
"The course was flexible enough for me to broaden my knowledge and understanding of sport in all its facets, while being structured to allow me to narrow my focus into sport for development and peace – an area I am passionate about and have been lucky enough to continue working in," he says.
This kind of track record of graduate employment and profile in the sector attracts a lot of students with a broad range of experience. They soon have the chance to put their new knowledge into practice in scores of settings, thanks to the small size of the field and the vast network of contacts that Brighton and its staff have.
"We have a few that have come from sport-related undergraduate degrees, but we're open to different perspectives," says Chawansky. He thinks that, overall, students benefit from learning the theories in the classroom and then putting them into practice and seeing it make a difference to people's lives.
She concludes: "We've got a good mix of theory in the classroom and opportunities and connections for students to get some of their own experiences and see the theories in action – and make positive changes."
Even in the 21st century, if you're young and not white it's unlikely you feature in much teen fiction, but times are changing
Where are the UK's stories about teenagers of colour? That is what the British author Tanya Byrne wants to know. Meanwhile the Clinton Global Initiative America launches First Book, aimed at addressing what it calls the "real and pernicious" lack of diversity in US children's literature.
Byrne, who is half-Guyanese, said that growing up, it was impossible to find children's books featuring non-white characters. "I'm so used to reading a book and the people not looking like me, it's just something you live with – you are made to feel you are so different you would never appear," she says. "Go into the teen section of your local bookshop and you're more likely to find a book about a zombie than one about a black girl. About anyone who isn't white, actually."
Statistics from America back her up: a study by the Cooperative Children's Book Center of 3,600 books published in the US in 2012 found that only 3.3% were about African-Americans, 2.1% were about Asian-Pacific Americans, 1.5% were about Latinos and 0.6% were about American Indians.
Byrne's first novel Heart-Shaped Bruise was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger in 2012; her second, the young adult thriller Follow Me Down, was published this May, and follows the story of Adamma Okomma, a wealthy Nigerian teenager who is forced to leave New York for an English boarding school.
Byrne says she "wasn't trying to make a point" by making Adamma Nigerian – she wanted her to be new to the school, and it made sense that she wasn't from England – but is conscious that as an author she has "a voice, and can do something to redress the balance".
There's nothing wrong with stories about zombies, Byrne says, but "where are the stories about teenagers of colour as well? Not the funny Asian best friend, but stories told by teenagers of colour with teenagers of colour on the cover? Stories that are just about falling in love, not about how hard it is to be in a mixed race relationship? And yeah, being a person of colour is hard sometimes. It can be unsettling. You can be made to feel strange, like you don't fit in, but the funny thing is, if anyone is going to get how that feels, it's a teenager."
Byrne is concerned, she says, that authors "are put off" writing about non-white characters "because they think the books won't sell, or that publishers won't be interested, and that worries me … I don't think it's any coincidence that publishing is predominantly white – I'm frequently the only non-white person in the room."
New children's laureate Malorie Blackman, appointed earlier this month, has raised similar concerns, telling the Guardian: "I remember going into a bookshop and the only book I saw with a black child on the cover was A Thief in the Village by James Berry and I thought, is this still the state of publishing? Then I thought either I can whinge about it or try to do something about it. So that was a major reason for me wanting to write books for children, because I wanted to write all the books I'd missed as a child."
Her own bestselling Noughts and Crosses series presents an alternative version of society, divided between the governing black Crosses and the underclass of white Noughts. "We need more books that are specifically about the BME [black and minority ethnic] British experience, and that's why I bang the drum for getting more diverse books out there, and for getting rid of the idea that if a book contains pictures of a black or Asian child, it's going to have a limited market," Blackman told the Guardian.
In the US, meanwhile, First Book says the lack of diversity in children's literature "affects all children, especially children from low-income families, who rarely see themselves, their families or their communities in the stories they read".
"We've heard time and again from the educators we work with that one of the biggest challenges to helping kids become strong readers is the desperate lack of books that are culturally relevant to these kids' lives," said Kyle Zimmer, president of First Book. "One of the best ways to turn children into readers is to give them stories with heroes and experiences they can relate to."
Over the next two years, First Book's The Stories for All project will work to develop culturally relevant collections of books for children, as well as work with thousands more classrooms and community programmes.
"By aggregating the voice and purchasing power of thousands of educators and programme leaders who serve families at the bottom third of the economic pyramid, First Book is showing the publishing industry that there is a strong, viable and vibrant market for diverse content," Zimmer said. "This isn't only about more African-American books for African-American children or more Latino books for Latino kids, it's about more varied content so that all children can experience the richness of everyone's stories."
Bournemouth is just one university offering a master's in public relations, which encompasses social media and viral campaigns
Spin doctors might be less high-profile than they once were, but even if the practitioners are not all over the front page of the newspaper any more, the art of public relations is still as vital as ever for individuals and businesses of all sizes.
It's no surprise that MA courses in public relations are often over-subscribed as people who want to learn communication skills seek out places to study and perfect their craft.
Sheffield Hallam University's MA course is staffed by award-winning media industry professionals, and aims to equip students with the skills to become "honest, ethical and skilled" practitioners. In London, MA courses are offered by the London College of Communication as well as the University of Westminster, who have partnered with the Public Relations Consultants' Association to put together their syllabus.
Bournemouth University's MA in Public Relations has been running for about a decade, and has moved to take in all the changes in the media, ensuring its graduates are fully up-to-date with the techniques and technologies PRs are expected to master.
"Our intake is relatively small, about 12 or 13 students with a variety of cultural and professional backgrounds," says Hilary Stepien the programme's co-ordinator. "Big enough for robust discussions but small enough so that we are able to focus on our students. We know them by name, they're not just a number, and I think that's something that they really appreciate."
Putting theory into practice
The number of applicants also means that Stepien and her colleague apply stringent entry criteria, requiring a minimum of a 2:1 at undergraduate level, plus, for international students, an IELTS score of 7.0 rather than the more usual 6.5.
That also helps to ensure that students are equipped with the theoretical and critical skills they need for what Stepien describes as "a proper masters"; it focuses on strategic thinking and campaign planning as well as encouraging students' own writing and speaking and research abilities.
"A lot of our students come here thinking it's going to be a training course, that it's all going to be practical," she says. "We do equip our students with a lot of the practical skills they'll need to work in PR, from developing social media campaigns to pitching to clients to media relations skills, so we do all that as well, but it's heavily theoretical as well."
Students don't tend to already have a background in public relations; instead, they have a range of experience, which Stepien welcomes.
"A lot of time they come from PR-related backgrounds such as marketing or journalism, sometimes they come from backgrounds like international relations," she says. "One this year did a science degree – she's interested in going into science and health PR. A lot of the time they come from a very different field but decide they want to move over to the communications side of it. It's really varied, it's great."
The majority of the Bournemouth students have begun their MA study immediately after completing their undergraduate course, although some join the course wanting to change career or shore up their existing skills. The department's strong industry links help them in finding work placements during their study – and securing one of the very few, sought-after graduate jobs in PR after they leave.
Vanessa Procter, who graduated from the course in 2010, now works as a project manager for PRIME Research in the automotive industry. She credits the MA's emphasis on networking and the strong ties with high-profile employers for her smooth route into the workplace.
"As a student I always attended networking events and as a result I completed numerous invaluable work experience weeks, and discovered, applied and was awarded a fantastic six-week CIPR PRIME Research Fellowship on graduation," she explains.
"The lessons learned, techniques applied and research conducted during my study enabled my career step straight into a demanding, fast-paced and exciting role with a global leader in strategic communication. All in all, the MA programme had a door-opening effect for me, unleashing an exciting career path."
Collaborations with international universities have created courses with dual degrees and the chance to study abroad
It sounds like the academic version of a supermarket promotion – two or even three masters degrees for the price of one.
In fact, it is one of the fastest growing trends in postgraduate education as universities in the UK join with others across the world to provide joint masters courses.
The downside is that the programmes tend to be more expensive and less suited to people with family commitments. The upside is the chance to have qualifications from more than one country, a broader perspective and the international experience that employers say they value.
King's College London has joined with the Georgetown University in Washington DC to offer an MA in global, international and comparative history, for which students spend a year on both campuses. The course allows King's to offer something extra by combining its world-class expertise in British, European and imperial history with Georgetown's strong reputation for Middle Eastern, Eastern European, south-east Asian and American history, says Christopher Payne, the head of King's US office.
Likewise, the international dual masters in brain and mind sciences offered by University College, London and two prestigious centres in Paris - the École Normale Supérieure and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie – combines the strengths of all three institutions.
Scotland's University of Dundee was one of the first to offer joint masters in law, linking with two French universities.
"Students get a broader perspective of how the law works," says Peter McEleavy, professor of international family law. "From Dundee they get the common law approach; from France they get the civil law approach. If you are in Africa or South America trading with continental Europe and the UK, it helps to have an understanding of both."
The LLM in international commercial law is offered with Université de Cergy Pontoise near Paris and its LLM in Comparative and European private international law with the Université de Toulouse. Students spend time in the UK and France and the courses are taught in English, though the French universities provide French language courses.
An innovative European MA in human rights and genocide has been devised by Kingston University in south-west London with institutions in three other European countries. Possibly unique in the world, the programme was conceived by professor Philip Spencer, the director of research in politics and international relations.
"We set this up as a European course because it is such an international issue it requires international collaboration and perspectives," he says.
Students spend the first semester of the 18-month long course in Kingston, the second at the Università degli Studi di Siena, Italy and the third at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, Poland. They can also choose to spend one of the semesters at the fourth partner, Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt, Germany. The last six months is spent on an internship, working in the field of human rights and genocide prevention at a choice of organisations across the world. And once they have completed the course, students receive qualifications from not just two but three universities.
Taking lessons back to Lagos
Ibironke Bolarinwa, 29, was working as a junior associate in a law firm in Nigeria when she spotted the dual LLM degree being offered by the University of Dundee. Since returning to Lagos she has been working in commercial law, handling corporate finance, mergers and acquisition and project finance.
"I was interested in moving into commercial law. Nigerian law is based on common law and the course finally gave me the chance to understand the civil law perspective and company structures of France and other European countries.
"I would say the masters has definitely helped my career. It makes my CV look more interesting. The module in E-commerce has proved very useful as E-commerce is fast developing in Nigeria. One of the biggest online retail stores is a client of the firm I work for and now they have engaged us full time."
Rich resources in two capitals
Wanting a well-rounded perspective of history Rose Hallett, 24, joined the global international comparative history programme taught in London and Washington DC. Now in the first year of the two-year joint history MA offered by King's College London and Georgetown University, she says access to resources at libraries and museums in both capital cities is a bonus.
"My ultimate goal is to work in a museum; my first degree was in French language and literature and I wanted to develop a better knowledge and understanding of history.
"I felt the programme offered me the flexibility I wanted to explore and develop interests and I also loved the idea of experiencing the history departments of two very strong universities. There are so many resources here in London and I feel so lucky to have access to them."
PETA recently released a video game where you commit violence against research scientists. Arguably the best response would be to create video games that promote and educate about science
Apparently PETA have created a video game where you commit serious violence against research scientists. That's nice. Given how PETA have strongly objected to the vaguest hint of cruelty in video games many times, this seems a bit much. Who'd have thought PETA would be hypocritical in some way? There's a shock.
But apparently this is an option now. If you have an agenda to pursue, you can make a video game about it to generate support. It's clever, when you think about it. So instead of bemoaning the crude, inaccurate and violent nature of PETA's tactic (there are no doubt plenty who have done this already), why not fight fire with fire, as the saying goes?
So, here are some ideas for video games that accurately teach about science, as well as providing all the action and excitement you'd expect from modern video games.
Real Space Invaders
A variation on the retro gaming classic Space Invaders, Real Space Invaders follows the same concept where you play a lone gunner battling against the advancing swarms of invading aliens, but now the set-up lets the player truly appreciate the logistics of space-based combat. Rather than slowly descending en-masse in an orderly fashion in a limited area, now the player must locate the oncoming aliens in the vista of the night sky, using all available techniques like radio telescopes, Doppler effects, motion parallax, stuff like that. You then have to calculate the trajectory of your weapons, taking into account gravity, speed, timing and every other important variable necessary for targeting a small object in the vastness of space. Real Space Invaders promises to be more educational and involved than the original, although probably less fast-paced.
Ideally, the cover of the game would be a traditional picture of Brian Cox looking wistfully up into space. But with a massive gun.
A prequel to the incredibly popular Half Life games, in Half Life: Postgraduate you play a young Gordon Freeman, fresh out of university and beginning his PhD research in theoretical physics at the Black Mesa research facility. The player gets to experience all the white-knuckle action of postgraduate research, including spending tedious hours in the lab testing the radioactive properties of exotic materials, filling out endless reams of paperwork to apply for a new hazard suit to actually do your job, painstakingly writing up the results of your research then waiting weeks for your supervisor to sign off on them, and much more. You even get to perform Gordon Freeman's PhD viva, a harrowing affair where he has to vigorously defend his research aloud for over 6 hours, after which he vows never to talk to anyone ever again.
The game features state-of-the-art visual effects, such as how the environments go blurry when sleep deprivation and caffeine overload kick in. But fans of the original games won't be disappointed; you still get to use the signature crowbar, as well as a plunger, wrench and other tools as Gordon takes on extra maintenance work in order to supplement his pitiful income.
Bonus material includes a Team Fortress 2 style game where you compete against all the other postgraduate students in a free-for-all battle to the death for the one available postdoctoral position.
Taking advantage of modern motion-sensing technology like the Kinect or Wiimote, Surgical Simulator allows you to experience the drama of performing real-time cutting-edge surgical procedures like organ transplants, heart bypasses, brain aneurysm repair and a variety of other complicated surgeries.
Unlike other games involving combat and elaborate physical movements, Surgical Simulator requires the player to perform only the steadiest and most precise movements possible. A twitch, a tremor or any slight slip of the hand can lead to a patient bleeding out within seconds and the end of the game. It is vitally important that the player maintains the required poise and meticulous focus for several hours at a time, in order to be considered a proper surgeon.
The game also keeps track of whether or not you scrub up properly, meaning your patient is also prone to infections if you don't. Surgical Simulator: where lives are literally (virtually) in your hands
Grand Theft Climate
In Grand Theft Climate, you play a climate scientist who, after years of harassment, public attacks and scorn, and political interference and suppression, finally snaps and takes matters into his own hands. Much like the Grand Theft Auto games for which it is named, Grand Theft Climate is an open-world "sandbox" game that the player can explore at will.
The purpose of the game is to defend the environment and punish those who are callously contributing to climate change. Pull people out of cars, but rather than steal them, switch the engine off then throw the keys off a bridge. Plant trees in public areas under cover of darkness. Catch people putting organic waste into recycling bins, fish it out, and then force them to eat it. See people riding bikes or jogging and reward them with money or sandwiches. Break into heavy polluting factories and mess all their files up.
Grand Theft Climate allows you to do all the things climate scientists would never do but probably think about a lot.
World of NoCraft
The most popular massively multiplayer online role playing game is World of Warcraft. Set in a fantasy world of magic and sorcery, World of Warcraft offers a huge arena where countless people from all over the globe interact in many different ways.
World of NoCraft offers all of that, but without the magic. You can still be whatever character you wish, and do pretty much anything you want with anyone you want, but you don't have any magic. Want to cause an explosion in your enemy's lair? You're going to have to plant some chemical explosives then. Don't know what chemicals are explosive? You're going to have to find out, then. You've asked others and nobody seems to know? You'll have to build yourself a lab and conduct some research, then. Maybe you could set up a system where people will pay you for conducting the research, on the condition that you share any information. How about getting other people to conduct similar research at the same time and sharing your findings, thus enhancing the overall understanding. You did your research but it still didn't work out right when you tried to apply your findings? Maybe you should instigate some sort of system where everyone uses a set method and reviews each other's research to ensure proper conduct and accuracy?
And before you know it, players have set up their own scientific method and related systems, to further the advancement of knowledge for everyone. Or they might just run around hitting everyone else with a stick, that's fun too.
(I'm more of an idea man than a programmer, so if anyone wants to actually make these then please feel free).
Dean Burnett actually thinks video games are a waste of time and often says so during the many hours he spends on Twitter, @garwboy
Forget devices, the future of education technology is all about the cloud and anywhere access. In the future, teaching and learning is going to be social, says Matt Britland
A couple of weeks ago I was asked what I thought the future of technology in education was. It is a really interesting question and one that I am required to think about all the time. By its very nature, technology changes at a fast pace and making it accessible to pupils, teachers and other stakeholders is an ongoing challenge.
So what is the future? Is it the iPad?
No, I don't think it is. For me, the future is not about one specific device. Don't get me wrong, I love the iPad. In fact, I have just finished a trial to see if using them really does support teaching and learning – and they have proved effective. I've written about the trial in more detail on my blog.
iPads and other mobile technology are the 'now'. Although, they will play a part in the future, four years ago the iPad didn't even exist. We don't know what will be the current technology in another four. Perhaps it will be wearable devices such as Google Glass, although I suspect that tablets will still be used in education.
The future is about access, anywhere learning and collaboration, both locally and globally. Teaching and learning is going to be social. Schools of the future could have a traditional cohort of students, as well as online only students who live across the country or even the world. Things are already starting to move this way with the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs).
For me the future of technology in education is the cloud.
Technology can often be a barrier to teaching and learning. I think the cloud will go a long way to removing this barrier. Why? By removing the number of things that can go wrong.
Schools, will only need one major thing to be prepared for the future. They will not need software installed, servers or local file storage. Schools will need a fast robust internet connection. Infrastructure is paramount to the the future of technology in education.
We don't know what the new 'in' device will be in the future. What we do know, is that it will need the cloud. Schools and other educational institutions will need to futureproof their infrastructure the best they can.
This should be happening now. If you want to start to use mobile technology in your school, whether it is an iPad program or a bring your own device (BYOD) program your connectivity must be fast and reliable. Student and teacher buy in, is so important. If the network is slow and things are not working properly students and teachers will not want to use the devices. Make the sure the infrastructure is there before the devices.
Teachers can use the cloud to set, collect and grade work online. Students will have instant access to grades, comments and work via a computer, smartphone or tablet. Many schools are already doing this. Plus, services such as the educational social network Edmodo offer this for free.
This is where devices come in. All devices, not matter which ones we will use in the future will need to access the cloud. Each student will have their own. Either a device specified by the school or one they have chosen to bring in themselves.
School classrooms are going to change. Thanks to the cloud and mobile devices, technology will be integrated into every part of school. In fact, it won't just be the classrooms that will change. Games fields, gyms and school trips will all change. Whether offsite or on site the school, teachers, students and support staff will all be connected. In my ideal world, all classrooms will be paperless.
With the cloud, the world will be our classroom. E-learning will change teaching and learning. Students can learn from anywhere and teachers can teach from anywhere.
The cloud can also encourage independent learning. Teachers could adopt a flipped classroom approach more often. Students will take ownership of their own learning. Teachers can put resources for students online for students to use. These could be videos, documents, audio podcasts or interactive images. All of these resources can be accessed via a student's computer, smartphone or tablet. As long as they have an internet connection either via Wifi, 3G or 4G they are good to go.
Rather than being 'taught' students can learn independently and in their own way. There is also a massive amount of resources online that students can find and use themselves, without the help of the teacher.
This of course means the role of the teacher will change.
Shared applications and documents on the cloud, such as Google Apps will allow for more social lessons. How often do students get an opportunity to collaborate productively using technology in the classroom? It isn't always easy. However, students working on documents together using Google Apps is easy. They could be in the same room or in different countries. These are all good skills for students to have. Of course, these collaborative tools are also very useful for teachers. I for one have worked on several projects where these tools have lets me work with people across the country. Some of which I have never met.
What we must remember is that when schools adopt new technology and services, they must be evaluated. This way, as a school, you know if they are successful and what improvements are needed. Staff will also need training, you can't expect staff to use new technology if it they are not confident users or creators. Any initiative is doomed to failure without well trained, confident staff who can see how technology can support and benefit teaching and learning.
Plenty of schools have already embraced this, but there's still a way to go to ensure all schools are ready for the future of technology. It is time for all schools to embrace the cloud.
Matt is head of ICT at Kingston Grammar School and the director of education consultancy Realise Learning. He blogs here and you can follow him on Twitter: @mattbritland.
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.
Plan supported by Office for Fair Access aims to encourage talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds
Universities are being urged by the government to sponsor new free schools specialising in mathematics, in a plan supported by the Office for Fair Access (Offa) to encourage talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study maths at degree level.
As an incentive to open the new schools, universities will be allowed to fund them using budgets otherwise reserved for improving access to higher education for under-represented and disadvantaged groups.
According to letters from education minister Elizabeth Truss to the heads of higher education maths departments in England, universities will be able to sponsor the new free schools through a fast-track, simplified procedure, and without the competitive application process normally required of those bidding to open free schools.
"This country has some brilliant university maths departments and world famous mathematicians," Truss wrote.
"But there is no denying there is a big jump between studying maths in schools and colleges – even for those students taking A-level further maths – and what those young people go on to study at university."
If the scheme takes off, it could create a network of selective free schools teaching 16-19-year-olds under the aegis of their local universities, providing academic support and strong links between higher education and local populations.
Les Ebdon, director of Offa, said: "I'd be happy to see more university-led maths free schools because of the role they can play in helping able students from disadvantaged backgrounds access higher education.
"It is for individual universities and colleges to decide whether or not this is something they want to do, but Offa is supportive of anything that is targeted at under-represented groups and helps them to fulfil their potential."
A Whitehall source said if it proves to be a success the model could be extended to other subject areas, especially science.
Two universities – Exeter and King's College, London – have been given provisional approval to establish maths schools to open in 2014, while some universities already sponsor or partner with academies.
The move to promote free schools comes a day after Labour pledged to curtail the programme established under Conservative education secretary Michael Gove.
Stephen Twigg, Labour's shadow education secretary, argued that free schools were often built without regard to local need, although plans for specialist maths sixth form colleges may escape Labour's axe.
According to Truss's letter, Ebdon confirmed it would be "perfectly legitimate to allocate funding ringfenced for improving access for under-represented groups towards the establishment of such schools," counting the spending as "widening access".
Entry to the new schools would be selective, rather than by catchment area, in an effort to open admissions to all prospective pupils within an area.
We are concerned at the threatened closure of the northern "national" science museums: Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, the National Railway Museum, York, and the National Media Museum, Bradford (Report, 5 June). These are of enormous value to both scholarly and popular understanding of our industrial and scientific heritage, and represent one of the few areas where there has been a concerted attempt to develop national museums outside London. The news of the threatened closure of institutions which preserve our industrial and cultural heritage is particularly ironic, given that it follows shortly on the heels of the prime minister announcing his strong backing for the creation of a London-based Margaret Thatcher Museum and Library, at a cost of £15m.
Peter Scott Professor of international business history, Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Etsuo ABE Meiji University in Tokyo
Alison Bancroft Queen Mary, University of London
Bernardo Batiz-Lazo Professor of business history and bank management, Bangor University
Mark Billings University of Exeter
Regina Lee Blaszczyk Professor of business history, University of Leeds
Alan Booth Professor of history, University of Exeter
David Boughey Associate professor & associate dean, University of Exeter Business School
Martin Campbell-Kelly University of Warwick
John Chartres Emeritus professor of social & economic history, University of Leeds
Martin Chick University of Edinburgh
D'Maris Coffman Director, Centre for Financial History, University of Cambridge
Bill Cooke Professor of management and society, Lancaster University Management School
Richard Coopey University of Aberystwyth
Stephanie Decker Aston Business School
Neil Forbes Professor of international history, Coventry University
David J Jeremy Emeritus professor of business history, Manchester Metropolitan University
John Killick University of Leeds
Katey Logan Business Archives Council
Peter Lyth Nottingham University Business School
Niall MacKenzie University of Strathclyde
Mairi Maclean Professor of International Management and Organisation Studies, University of Exeter Business School
Ian Martin Senior Lecturer in Business Information Technology, Leeds Metropolitan University
Rory Miller University of Liverpool Management School
Robert Millward Professor emeritus of economic history, University of Manchester
Peter Miskell Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Simon Mollan University of Liverpool Management School
Stephen L Morgan Professor of Chinese Economic History, University of Nottingham
Simon Mowatt Associate professor of management, AUT University, New Zealand
Lucy Newton Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Richard Noakes Senior lecturer in history, University of Exeter
Derek J Oddy Emeritus professor of economic and social history, University of Westminster
Brian O' Sullivan
David Paulson University of Cambridge
Andrew Perchard University of Strathclyde Business School
Andrew Popp University of Liverpool Management School
Michael Pritchard De Montfort University
Michael Rowlinson Professor of organization studies, Queen Mary, University of London
Philip Scranton Professor, hstory of technology and science, Rutgers University, USA
Kevin D Tennent University of York
Steven Tolliday (University of Leeds), past president, Business History Conference
Steven Toms Professor of accounting, joint editor, Business History, University of Leeds
David Walker Scottish Oral History Centre, University of Strathclyde
James Walker Professor, Henley Business School at the University of Reading
Maggie Walsh Emeritus professor of American economic & social history, University of Nottingham
Peter Wardley Head of history, University of the West of England
Deborah Woodman University of Salford & Huddersfield
Chris Wrigley Emeritus professor of modern British history, Nottingham University
Sir Michael Wilshaw is no doubt correct that the next generation of EDL supporters are in today's schools (Underachievement in state schools 'creates moral and political danger', 15 June) – as are the future bankers, tax avoiders, and benefit fraudsters (though he didn't mention these). He is also right that we should "address the needs of our poorest children", though he is wrong when he says: "It is an issue that can only be tackled by central government taking very clear and decisive action."
National government has been trying to direct what schools do for the past 25 years, and still many young people leave school with a poor level of literacy and low examination results. Michael Gove's current attempts to "raise the bar" of GCSE exams will only exacerbate the problem for them. If a few "bright" children from culturally "poor" homes get to Oxford or Cambridge in the elitist way that both Gove and Wilshaw seem to be expecting comprehensive school teachers to strive for, and go on to take "leading positions in society", how will this help their less fortunate classmates?
Schools need to be freed from government diktats enforced by Ofsted inspections. Teachers want all their pupils to succeed in life, and they should be left, school by school, to decide how best to contribute to that success. The contributions that government should make are to reduce the inequality in our society (living wage and progressive taxation) and to promote job creation.
Emeritus Professor Michael Bassey
• Reading the interview with Michael Wilshaw was very much a case of "I told you so" for me. In 2005 I produced a report on the subject. . While focused on Birmingham, it had much wider application and was used as the main text for a parliamentary debate which had been instigated by Richard Burden, MP for Birmingham Northfield. The government had responded positively, but then they lost the election. My report made the link between underachievement and extremism. I had also drawn attention to other consequences of underachievement such as crime.
Since then, I have also produced other research reports offering a way forward on this issue. My most comprehensive and recent report on the subject, White Working-Class Underachievement – A Case for Positive Action, made the case for giving the white working class the "minority treatment". One point on which I do agree with you is that the underachieving groups change. I have pointed out in my recently published book, Dear Birmingham – A Conversation with My Hometown, that, in the foreseeable future, Pakistani boys in the city will probably become the main losers in the education lottery. Like their white neighbours, many also head for antisocial activity, unless, of course, something is done about it.
• As youth unemployment rose in 1976, Arnold Weinstock, managing director of the General Electric Company, wrote a letter in the Times Education Supplement headed "I blame the teachers" for not preparing pupils for employment. Since then relentless repetition by other leading industrialists, politicians and now the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, has deflected attention from employers' and government responsibility to provide jobs to be prepared for.
Wilshaw also blames "underachievement in state schools" for lack of social mobility. However many "skills" – or rather qualifications – teachers give students, it will not restart the limited upward social mobility from working to middle class that existed in a growing economy from 1945 to 1973. Today even young people who succeed in education find ascent difficult as most mobility is downward. Automation and outsourcing have deskilled much employment, not created "a knowledge economy". This did not prevent Michael Gove, in the House of Commons last week, from holding the examinations system responsible for the UK's "failure to compete" with Pacific rim countries. Rather than more such delusions about education, alternative economic policies are required.
Professor Patrick Ainley
University of Greenwich
• Another reason why pupils may not achieve their predicted grades relates to the choices they make for their GCSE exams. In my school some very able students can be identified as underachieving based on their primary performance. These pupils are the ones that select a range of academic subjects at GCSE. Besides maths, English and English literature they may select separate sciences, one or more modern languages and humanities subjects.
This is a challenging suite of subjects and some students may achieve A and B grades rather than A* and A. Many higher-ability students add to the richness of their education by involving themselves in sport or music. In short, they maximise their potential.
Annually, we do a trawl of students that "underachieved" at GCSE and examine the routes they take beyond sixth form. Many go on to university, including Russell Group universities. Suggesting some pupils underachieve based on one set of primary school results is unhelpful and does not contribute as meaningfully as it might to the debate about standards in our schools.
Principal, Ossett academy and sixth-form college, Ossett, West Yorkshire
• Blaming schools for underachieving pupils is as effective as blaming dentists for poor dental hygiene or doctors for obesity etc. Pupils spend 16% of their lives in school – less if they truant – and teachers, for all their energy, enthusiasm, innovative strategies and policies, encouragement and inspiration, cannot fully redress the failings of inadequate parenting. (Also: the pressure to reduce exclusions means disruptive pupils remain in classes to hinder the learning and teaching opportunities for the majority of better-adjusted pupils – which undermines achievement of all pupils.)
Accurate predictions of underachievement can be better deduced from family support, or lack of it, than from the school a child attends. Far more effective than tackling underachieving through schools would be a policy of early intervention, and training/encouraging/supporting parents to value and encourage their children's education, long before they start school.
• Rendel Harris (Letters, 18 June) is absolutely right about Gove's lack of logic. Teachers are currently under relentless pressure to "close the gaps" in pupils' achievement. This means that children with special educational needs or disabilities, those with English as an additional language, and those who are eligible for free school meals are expected to meet the levels of attainment deemed to be appropriate for their age group. Many of these children need to make more rapid progress than other children so as to catch up with their peers; schools and teachers are expected to target time and resources to enable this to happen. To summarise then, Mr Gove desires that: 1) end of key stage 4 exams be made harder so that fewer children attain the top grades; 2) more of the "brightest" children attain the top grades; and 3) no one fails to meet targets originally conceived as measuring the average level of attainment. Mathematical nonsense clearly. Is this muddled and inconsistent thinker somehow trying to achieve a system where only the most gifted shine and everyone else just populates a new bog-standard mass? We can only wonder. And despair.
Dr Selina Todd is wrong about our relationship with the University of Liverpool (Letters, June 16). Liverpool College is an independent school with 813 pupils which has chosen to become an academy. That decision was made by our governors, not the university. One reason for our decision – and the government's support of it – is that we have an established record of more than 50% of our pupils gaining admittance to a Russell Group university.
We believe that, as an academy, we will be able to provide the excellent sixth-form preparation we provide to our fee-paying pupils to more pupils from a wider social and economic background, without regard to ability to pay. The more than 100 applications we have received for our sixth form and the 500 applications for year 7 seem to suggest that the people of Liverpool agree. In 2009 Liverpool College became an associated college of the University of Liverpool. This partnership has provided local state-school pupils with access to Latin and Greek; sixth formers, including those in state schools, with access to a philosophy course at the university; and has enabled the school to serve the community.
No pupil in our boarding programme, either from the EU or outside the EU, is guaranteed an offer or a place at the University of Liverpool. I have no idea where Dr Todd got that idea – except, perhaps, in overhearing the idle gossip of fellow historians in the corridors of academia. Liverpool University far surpasses Oxford in its effective outreach to non-traditional students and in its enrolment of pupils from poorer backgrounds. We are proud to partner with the university in making Russell Group education more available to pupils from poorer backgrounds.
Hans van Mourik Broekman
Principal, Liverpool College
• Fiona Millar says that "converting all academies back into maintained schools would be a massive and costly undertaking" (Education, 11 June). But this is not what David Wolfe actually says in his Education Law Journal article. What would be expensive would be to transfer land ownership. But that isn't necessary – local authorities don't own the land of foundation schools, including voluntary-aided schools, but they remain maintained schools.
Wolfe demonstrates that funding agreements can be overridden to bring academies into line with maintained schools, with the local authority as the admissions authority for all schools. The crucial question, then, which Fiona Millar doesn't address, is what a Labour government should do about chains of academies "sponsored" – ie owned and controlled – by private organisations. But the full integration of academies into a reconstructed – and democratised – local authority system requires that no school is controlled by an external private organisation. (I do not refer to denominational schools here: that's a separate issue.) It only requires the secretary of state to terminate the funding agreements with sponsors, including their control of governing bodies by appointees.
If a school wants to continue a partnership with an ex-sponsor, as with any external organisation, it should be able to do so, but this does not require any power to be handed over to it from the reconstituted governing body. Let's see how many of these millionaires and overpaid officers who run chains of academies retain their enthusiasm for education when they are asked to support schools, but not control them.
Forget the US model. British academics should aspire to offer more than just intellectual fig leaves for policymakers
First there was Francis Fukuyama's The End of History. More recently, we had Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Cass Sunstein's Nudge: for years, it seems, big ideas have been heading our way across the Atlantic. It is hard to think of many similarly catchy slogans that have gone the other way of late – Tony Giddens' notion of "the third way" may be one.
Some people think that is a problem. They are worried that Britain has been failing to produce big ideas that policymakers can use. They want to convert academic ideas into policy relevance and shake up the bureaucrats. Phillip Blond, who recently wrote a controversial article in Chatham House's magazine, is one of them. Francis Maude is another: he wants politicians to be able to appoint senior civil servants so that fresh thinking can enter Whitehall.
It is certainly true that in comparison with their US counterparts, British civil servants mingle relatively little with thinktank policy wonks or academics. In Washington, by contrast, yesterday's professor or analyst is often today's presidential appointee. Thinktanks play a powerful and prominent role in Washington life. Public policy institutes at such places as Princeton and Harvard attract not only students keen to break into government but professors whose worth is measured by their public profile.
And because every president since Harry Truman seems to feel the need to be associated with a doctrine, he and his advisers are always in the market for the next mantra to shape an era. So should British academics become more American? The real question is whether such a change is desirable.
The man from the ministry may not know best. But does the man from the thinktank know better? I doubt it. For one thing, the thinktanker is often young and inexperienced, without the resources to conduct serious research or the institutional memory that allows a deeper understanding of background.
And thinktanks are odd things. Most are funded by rich men's largesse and are therefore driven by ideology one way or another. This is why Thatcher and Reagan, at the dawn of the thinktank golden age, deployed them against their own civil servants. There is really only one test of value for money when you are bankrolling a thinktank and that is influence, and impact.
And are big ideas the kind of ideas worth having anyway? They age badly for one thing and quickly look shopworn. Moreover, it's hard to think of many scholars whose best work has been directed explicitly towards such a goal. Take the example of Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, who moved from the rarified world of international relations theory to the heart of Washington as head of the state department policy planning staff. Yet compared with her early, rather theoretical, articles in professional journals, the stuff that got her noticed was (at least in my judgment) thin gruel. Do we need more books like her The Idea that is America: Keeping Faith with our Values in a Dangerous World? It was lavishly praised by two former secretaries of state and one former national security adviser, and it certainly did not stop her landing an important job in the first Obama administration. But none of that alters its superficiality or its short shelf-life.
The tendency in recent government policy here to demand demonstrable policy relevance or public "impact" from academics shows how far this mindset has spread. It may or may not produce some policy product. But what it will do is jeopardise British universities' ability to do what they have done so well for so long: world-class research. These days both government and business demand value for money when they fund academia, and this makes it harder and more vital to insist that there are many ways to demonstrate the value of ideas, not just policy relevance.
Let me not be misunderstood: most scholars see themselves contributing in one way or another to the illumination, and sometimes, the potential resolution, of the problems, anxieties and dilemmas of our times. And a good thing too. But to say that the test of a good idea is that policymakers pick it up seems hopelessly limited. An awful lot of policymakers would not recognise wisdom if it came up and shook their hand: they are extremely busy, partisan hustlers driven increasingly by the short term.
Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, the two US economists at the centre of a recent storm over the scholarly evidence behind austerity across the eurozone, have claimed, probably rightly, that those who enacted these policies would have followed them anyway: their articles, in other words, provided a kind of intellectual fig leaf. But there was a time when intellectuals aspired to offer more than fig leaves, and those who still do should be supported, not trashed.
Good songwriters are always in demand, which is why many are studying the art at university
Without songwriting there would be no music industry, but there are surprisingly few places to study it. Bath Spa University believes it was the first in the world to launch a master's in songwriting in 2007. Now the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) is offering one too.
Reality TV competitions, such as The Voice and X Factor, are selling the myth that the music industry is desperate for great vocalists, says Joe Bennett, dean of music and performing arts at Bath Spa. "Most people in the industry have plenty of vocalists in their contact books. What the industry is desperate for is amazing songs," he says.
Some people claim that the ability to write songs is innate, the same argument that was once used about entrepreneurship. "Maybe you can't teach it but you can create a climate in which people can learn it. By listening to a lot of songs and a sort of geeky analysis of the way they are constructed you can build up an arsenal of songwriting weaponry."
The MMus songwriting course, full-time over one year or part-time over two, attracts a mix of students, some recent music graduates others already working in the field. Most play an instrument, but it is not compulsory. "The art of songwriting doesn't even require the ability to read music," says Bennett. It's the talent of recognising great hooks, great lyric ideas and beautiful shape in melody."
Last September UWS launched its MA in songwriting performance led by David Scott, a songwriter, performer and radio presenter. Students get the opportunity to work with agents and artists looking for songs and on projects, such as recording an album.
"We look for potential. If someone comes to us who is technically not so good but has brilliant ideas, we can work with that," says Scott.
Songwriters can make a living out of the craft, says Scott. "Most have portfolio careers, writing songs they are passionate about and writing for television or film or advertising campaigns. Many also get involved in community songwriting workshops."
So the course includes a dose of reality about maximising income streams but the real focus is on the writing.
"Let's not forget that without great songs there would be no music industry," says Scott.
The world's first masters degree in songwriting may be about to give rise to a new talent. Students Maryann and Michael Tedstone are convinced that the songs they are writing for singer Tabatha Pegg will help catapult her into the charts.
"She is going to be huge," says Maryann who joined the MMus course at Bath Spa university with Michael, her younger brother.
The founders of Manike Music, a composition studio based in Leicester, wanted academic accreditation for the work they were doing and found themselves going in a new direction, writing for pop artists.
Maryann, 42, was trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in early woodwind and Michael, 30, plays keyboard and guitar. By doing the course part-time over two years they are able to keep up with their work writing music for big names such as Warner, Universal and Pepsi and for television. They are also composing the music for the Richard III exhibition in Leicester.
"The course has been incredibly effective," says Maryann. "It has helped us with our television and film work, something we had not anticipated, and we have also started writing pop music. We are composing songs for Tabatha, producing and rehearsing with her. I don't think we would have done that if we had not joined the course."
"I have long had a fascination with ancient Roman music and we put out an album last year and filmed a television pilot about the music. We were able to use the university's rehearsal space at Corsham to practise."
After graduating with a music degree in 1995 Maryann worked in a Chamber ensemble when her brother came to live with her and they started to compose. "The lecturers are very interested in what we are doing and give us very good advice; one of them even played on our Roman album. We enrolled because we wanted academic recognition. We ended up gaining new skills and inspiration."
A survey reveals teachers to be constantly tired and stressed. Does this sound like you?
Finding a teacher who doesn't feel stressed is possibly like trying to find a needle in a haystack. In fact, a recent survey found that 100% of teachers asked said they suffered with stress and that it had a detrimental impact on their lives, both inside and outside the classroom.
The survey, by Teachers Assurance, also discovered that 83% of teachers feel constantly tired because of their worries; 42% feel less able to do their job as a result and 66% said stress caused them to be less patient with others. Moreover, 84% of teachers surveyed felt they would probably be a better teacher if they were less stressed.
Stress levels are also having detrimental impact on health, with teachers taking on average 13.2 days sick leave, and 76% of teachers agreeing that stress was affecting their health and lifestyle. More men (31%) than women (26%) admitted to suffering stress due to health related concerns.
Some 51% of respondents said work issues had the biggest impact on their wellbeing, creating higher levels of stress than any other area. Changes to pay and benefits were another contributory factor towards high stress levels in the profession, with changes such as pay freezes and pension reforms having an effect on overall stress levels. Some 43% of teachers said they were definitely more worried about finances as a result of the recent changes.
The survey also discovered that secondary school teachers rate themselves as slightly more stressed than those in the primary sector. Teachers were more likely to feel the impact of stress than heads of years, subject co-ordinators, deputy heads and headteachers, with 79% of the 31-40 age group being most keenly aware that stress was having an impact on their lives.
How does stress affect you, both at school and beyond the classroom? Do you feel constantly tired and worry about the impact stress has on your teaching abilities? And how do you cope with the stresses of your job? Please share your experiences with us in the comments below.
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. Looking for your next role? Take a look at Guardian jobs for schools for thousands of the latest teaching, leadership and support jobs.
Throughout her life, my mother Phyllis Want, who has died aged 99, embraced the new and the challenging. She learned to drive aged 18 and in her 80s taught herself to use a computer.
She was born in Orsett, Essex, the youngest of six children of Frank Eagling, a policeman, and his wife Maud, a teacher. The family moved frequently because of her father's job, and Phyllis went to several different schools in Essex and Hertfordshire. With all the older children already working, when Phyllis left school her parents were able to support her through teacher training college, at Hockerill College, Bishop's Stortford.
After only two years in the classroom, she was appointed headteacher of the village school in Black Notley, Essex, in 1937. Phyllis recalled teaching with no electricity or running water; instead the school had earth toilets and coal fires. During the second world war, lessons took place in the shelter during air raids. When the school closed in 1965, Phyllis became head of a much bigger school in Braintree. She loved the challenge, but always looked back to her days in the village school with great affection.
Phyllis had married Walter, a lorry driver, in 1938. At the time, female teachers were expected to resign from their jobs when they married; and Phyllis confessed that she had taken off her engagement ring for her interview at Black Notley. However, the outbreak of war changed things and in the end she did not have to give up her job when my brother, Arthur, sister, Denise, and I were born. It also brought to Black Notley people who would never normally have come to a small village. Phyllis and Walter made lifelong friends in those years, including a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia and a soldier from India.
In the postwar years Phyllis served on the parish council and the village hall committee. She told me she felt she had to show that she could take on the roles expected of a headteacher, even though she was a busy mother. Although she earned twice as much as Walter, the rules of the time meant they could never get a mortgage and we grew up very happily in a council house. Phyllis retired from teaching in 1972 but remained active in the community and enjoyed travelling.
Walter died in 1992. Phyllis is survived by me, Arthur, Denise, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
My friend Robert Schuck, who has died of a heart attack aged 58, was a polymath with a deep interest in philosophy and music.
Educated at St Paul's school, London, and St Peter's College, Oxford, in 1977 Bob won a prestigious Italian government music scholarship to the Accademia Musicale Chigianna in Siena. He went on to study the clarinet with Alan Hacker and performed in the UK premieres of works by Luciano Berio and Michael Finnissy, broadcast on the BBC.
Although he was an outstanding clarinettist, he changed direction when he developed breathing difficulties. He qualified in Alexander technique (and became head of Alexander technique at the junior school of the Guildhall school of music and drama), did a music BA at King's College London in 1996, trained as a teacher and in music technology, and taught and examined woodwind, piano and theory. After studying the piano with Peter Gellhorn, he became an accompanist and repetiteur, assisting Sir Charles Mackerras at the reopening of the Prague Estates theatre in 1991.
He sang in a choir at the Royal Opera House, played with the Great Western Railway Band, collected woodwind instruments and trained as a piano tuner. He was humble and modest; he called himself a "craftsman".
From 2010 onwards, he embarked on a project with the violinist Marianne Olyver, Postcards from Europe, dedicated to retrieving the music of the "lost" 20th-century composers who suffered war, exile and genocide. Together Bob and Marianne researched and performed rare works by Franz Schreker, Mieczysław Weinberg, Erwin Schulhoff and Hans Gál.
Born in Hampstead, north London, to Jewish parents who had fled Prague in the 1930s, Robert grew up in a cultured, musical, multilingual environment. In many ways he was an outsider in conventional English life – he had to find exactly the right vocabulary, especially for abstract concepts, and had frequent run-ins with bureaucracy, especially educational. He was a displaced Mitteleuropean intellectual – and therein lay a great part of his charm.
He was an abstract thinker drawn to arcane philosophies, to alternative and holistic health systems. He studied Hebrew, the Kabbalah and Buddhism. He grew organic food. He helped organise Bates method workshops to improve eyesight, played for Rudolf Steiner Eurythmy performers, taught modal music using the Kodály system and worked in Gurdjieff groups for over 20 years. He struggled to cope with the compromise and cynicism that seemed – to him – part of English life.
"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible," he would say, "is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."
He is survived by his sister, Caroline, and a niece and nephew.
Join our live chat Friday 21 June from 12pm to discuss making an informed choice on the future of your research career
The traditional academic career path for newly qualified postdocs is changing. The wide gulf emerging between the number of postdocs and academic positions available is forcing people to make tough decisions on where they see their career heading. Academics no longer live in ivory towers; short-term contracts, limited number of academic posts and funding opportunities, publish or perish attitude… and the list goes on, make it tough to progress.
According to Vitae's latest Careers in Research Online Survey (CROS) in 2011, 26% of respondents said they aspired to a research career outside of higher education, and 16% a non-research career, compared to 44% of respondents who aspired to a career in research in higher education. With a total of 75% saying they wanted to remain in higher education, it's no surprise competition for academic jobs is tough – but is leaving academia the only solution?
Like many, the University of Manchester's website offers advice for postdocs questioning their career ambitions, laying down the crux of the problem: "Some academics assume that if you are undertaking doctoral research, you must be aiming for an academic career; anything else would be second best (or even 'failure')."
Is it still the case that opting for an alternative career to academia is deemed as failure? What then are the alternative opportunities available to someone who has dedicated years of their life to research? And are universities doing enough to support postdocs in their decision whether to stay or go?
In this week's live web chat we're interested to talk about the support and career opportunities available to postdocs in and outside academia, how to go about making the right choice, and the skills required to compete successfully.
Join us on Friday 21 June from 12-2pm BST to discuss whether academia is the right option for you.
You can also follow the debate live on Twitter using the hashtag #HElivechat.
Here's what we're looking to discuss:
• Postdoc support
• Alternative career options
• Making the right choice
• Role of the university
• Challenges of staying in/leaving academia
Panel to be confirmed
This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To get more articles like this direct to your inbox, become a member of the Higher Education Network.
Smartphones and laptops mean students on field trips can interact with universities
A postgraduate student is on a field trip to the Orkney Islands collecting data for her PhD in cultural heritage. She checks her RSS feed on her smart phone over breakfast, honing in on the most relevant reports from hundreds of professional journals and blogs that she follows.
Her working day begins with a Skype meeting with supervisors in Leicester and Glasgow. Together they edit an article via Google Docs. She then publishes a blog via Wordpress, which she uses to share and test ideas-in-progress with peers and experts worldwide. Some critically appraise her thoughts, linking their own knowledge and research. She tweets about her blog, asking for ideas.
She shares her data with research team members via data storage Dropbox. She uploads a video of her field excursion to one of the most remote islands on YouTube, alongside other clips she's archiving for her dissertation.
This is a model postgraduate, employing technology to the full, according to Prof Allison Littlejohn, director of the Caledonian Academy at Glasgow Caledonian University. While all higher education institutions now have some sort of virtual learning environment (VLE), learning technology is only as good as its users, she says. VLEs have been criticised as a clunky "dumping ground" for resources – material often with low production values and unsuited to online learning. Universities tend to try and replicate face-to-face conventional teaching on their technology platforms "but this strategy doesn't exploit the potential of technology to transform learning," says Littlejohn. Academia would do well to look at the world of professional learning, which is adept at connecting with and provoking others to learn online.
Collaborating and communicating with other people in your field is motivating and productive at a postgraduate level – akin to the buzz successful social media users might feel. Postgraduates already tend to do this quite naturally, say education experts, using tools such as Twitter and Facebook – the online equivalent of the student bar – mixing social and academic chit chat, drawing attention to research, exchanging notes.
And when cohorts get together in more orchestrated online settings, results can be inspirational, says Debbie Lawley, managing director of digital learning company WillowDNA, which creates and facilitates professional and academic learning environments. She remembers the excitement around spontaneous learning as a group of young advertising professionals approached their final assessment for a postgraduate course run for the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. "I was watching discussions emerge online – the intensity of the dialogue was superb. The online environment is perfect for emergent knowledge and peer reviewing."
Social media rules apply
The golden rules of social media apply equally to academia, says Niall Sclater, director of learning and teaching at the Open University, industry-recognised experts in online study. Expect social networking to become more sophisticated, he says. Pairing up with "study buddies" at postgraduate level already happens on an ad-hoc basis but he expects technology to improve to facilitate this with more ease.
Naturally the OU excels at coaxing collaboration between distant learners – and this is especially important at postgraduate level, with active forums, unofficial social groups, moderation of discussions "students like to feel they are being listened to" and one-to-one communication with tutors.
"Email is still an excellent tool for that," he says. "Many elements of technology make study more interesting and easy in a way it wasn't before," says Sclater. "Expect a gradual evolution as these means become easier and easier to use."
Technology and learning – the future
Expect internet search tools for online academic repositories to become more responsive. Engines such as "Google scholar" are becoming more sophisticated in suggesting content that might be of interest and allowing researchers to build a profile.
Eventual applications of Google Glass within higher education are anticipated – think enhanced collaboration between research teams, virtual field trips, possibilities of contributing your own input to augmented reality. "Imagine an architecture student looking at a building or historian at a battlefield, listening and adding their own knowledge to resources," says Sclater.
Dissertations and theses may contain more multimedia based elements in the future.
Gesture-recognition technology might be used to create immersive environments teaching surgical procedures for example. "Speculative at the moment," says Sclater.
Hologram technology being developed by Cisco allows three-dimensional real-time presence – think guest lecturers available worldwide.
mendeley.com – academic content management and social network for nearly 2.4 million users
knodium.com - online open social platform for students and academics across universities
busuu.com – language teaching exchange
scholar.google.co.uk Google scholar
academia.edu – share and follow research
Critics say a 60-year-old practice of segregating faiths for weekly lessons is out of step with modern need for coexistence
It is 8am and Corine Vida, 50, is preparing for a class of 13- to 14-year-olds. She arranges tables and chairs into a U shape so that the pupils have to look at and speak to one another. The empty space represents "the agora, the space in which to pour out words and ideas", explains this teacher of "non-confessional morals" at the Athénée des Pagodes secondary school at Laeken, a suburb of Brussels.
The school has 700 pupils in all, but this morning 14 teenagers, displaying varying degrees of sleepiness and enthusiasm, line up behind their seats. "Sit down, take out your register and mark today's date. I shall record attendance," she says firmly.
The programme for today's 90-minute lesson, the penultimate before the end-of-year exam, includes a section on method, then a question for debate: "Have you ever eaten human flesh?"
The students appear unshocked. In previous sessions they have discussed the relationship between humans and animals. "We accept the theory of evolution, but if anyone has other beliefs, please speak up," Vida says. There is silence.
Those with "other beliefs" may be elsewhere, perhaps in parallel classes for Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The Belgian national curriculum requires pupils to spend two hours a week, for 12 years, studying morals – either non-confessional or religious, depending on their own or more likely their parents' beliefs. "It's a big headache for the timetable," says Charly Hannon, the school head. If just one pupil demands a course for their religion, a teacher has to be found.
And what has all this to do with morals? It is a sort of "default" subject for many pupils with no beliefs, or at least none that are officially recognised, explains Jean de Brueker, the deputy head of the Lay Action Centre. He would prefer classes in philosophy, which he sees as a way to foster "consensus on shared values and promote social cohesiveness and the development of an inclusive society".
Whatever your point of view, this aspect of the Belgian education system seems to be in need of a rethink. It was set out about 60 years ago when a compromise needed to be found between Catholics who advocated freedom of religion in instruction and their opponents – socialists, communists and liberals – who supported secular state education. So in 1959, a pact between centre-left parties guaranteed a free choice over what both primary and secondary schools taught.
The dominance of Catholics in Belgium back then led to state schools having to include religious instruction in their curriculum, whereas "free" schools were under no obligation to organise classes on morals. Society is very different now, particularly in Brussels where the population is made up of people from many faiths and cultures and there is a need for them to be brought together rather than segregated according to religion via the education system.
To complicate matters further for the heads of state schools, the supervision of religious education classes is now in the hands of the relevant clerics. "I just want to check that the teaching is actually in French," says Hannon. How, under these circumstances, is it possible to prevent teaching that is hostile to social harmony or the spread of radical ideas? It is a major problem for the schools operated by the Greater Brussels authority, which maintains a position of "active neutrality". The headteacher has no intention of promoting secular values but is worried about some of the teaching. "Given the huge mixture of cultures, it wouldn't take much for things to slip out of control," he warns.
For the second half of the lesson Vida asks her pupils to read a text by the atheist French philosopher Michel Onfray, sentence by sentence. "It stops them staring at the ceiling," she explains. "Driven by a vital need, can one eat human flesh?" Florian reads out. "Is it shameful to eat our fellows?" Tiffany continues. "What would we feel if we ate humans?" Ashmita asks. Off his own bat Elliot inquires: "Is it bad for our health?", but is ticked off. "This isn't a lesson on diet and I'm not a nutritional expert," Vida retorts. Debate then turns to respect for the dead, burial rites, the concept of vital needs and custom.
In the digital age it is an uphill struggle persuading young people to read carefully, classify ideas and organise their thoughts logically. But here that goal seems to have been achieved. "I try to develop their basic critical faculties, so that as young adults they will be able to think freely," Vida sums up as she wipes the board clean, ready for the next class.
We follow her through the corridors to a classroom in another part of the school. She rearranges it in a similar way. But here her lesson hinges on identity and difference, with references to Rimbaud, Shakespeare and Freud. At one point even Alfred Hitchcock crops up, with mention of Spellbound and how a psychiatrist uses her skills to unlock the amnesia of the man she loves and clear his name.
Intrigued by this account of dreams, amnesia, guilt and innocence the supposedly blase students display a lively interest in Vida's suggestion that ultimately we are an enigma to ourselves.
This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incoporates material from Le Monde
Exams where you can Google the answers; is research all it's cracked up to be; plus our new hub for parents of students … all on our online education communities this week
Guardian Teacher Network
Moving beyond the well-worn debate about the potential of technology in the classroom, this week the Guardian Teacher Network is running a special series to explore how technology is transforming the role of a teacher.
For starters, head of ICT Mike Britland will examine how technology allows students to become more independent in the classroom and whether this is a positive for the teaching profession. Mike's brother, Matt Britland, will look at the emerging trend of social learning in his piece, What is the future of technology in education? Britland says schools need to forget devices, the future is all about the cloud.
"iPads and other mobile technology are the 'now'. Although they will play a part in the future, four years ago the iPad didn't even exist," he says."The future is about access, anywhere learning and collaboration, both locally and globally. Teaching and learning is going to be social."
We will also have highlights from a recent debate hosted by the British Council: Is teaching obsolete? Here, Prof Sugata Mitra, professor of education technology at Newcastle University, shared his own ideas for exam reform: putting an internet-connected tablet into an exam hall. Imagine, he says, no more need for memorisation. "If you do that, the entire system will change," he writes. "Teachers are intelligent people; they will teach differently. They will insist that you don't memorise, you can look it up on Google."
Wonder how that would go down with Michael Gove ...
Guardian Higher Education Network
Each week, we invite a PhD or post-doctoral researcher to wax academic on topics ranging from staying sane and healthy at thesis time to the challenges of saying "no" to unpaid work.
This Friday's blogger tackles the big question: when times are tough and funding tougher, should she stay or should she go? Is a career in research all it's cracked up to be? Read more on guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/series/early-career-researchers, then tune into our live web chat from 12-2pm on Friday to share your own experiences, advice and encouragement with wannabe academics.
Also this week: forget Boris bikes. Students in the north-east of England have their own set of (two) wheels. Lighter, cheaper and greener than their London counterparts, Scratchbikes were developed at Newcastle University and made their debut at neighbouring Sunderland University this summer. We speak to the brains behind the spokes about their plans to conquer campuses nationwide.
Guardian Students … and their parents
Universities are telling us that parents are more involved than ever before in helping their children choose a path in life. This is why we've just launched a special section designed to help the parents of students aged 16 and over.
As your child decides whether to go to college, university or train as they work, we're here to provide advice. We'll cover topics from the psychological to the financial, the philosophical to the practical. To kick things off, we'll be guiding you through the university league tables and government websites that can help you pick a university. What does NSS mean? And how reliable are employability stats? We talk to careers advisers and academics to find out.
Also online this week
• We look at the financial difficulties facing student nurses.
• A student from Sussex University blogs about the challenges facing his institution after it tumbled down the Guardian University Guide league table.
• Picture galleries showcasing graduate art work by students across the country.
• Considering postgraduate study? Join our panel of lecturers and students to discuss the pros and cons of doing a master's, in a live chat today, 1-3pm.
Sponsored Q&A: Need advice on finding postgraduate funding? Post your comments now and join us between 1-3pm to discuss the funding options that are available
If you want to study a postgraduate degree, you'll need to search hard for funding. While government loans are available to almost all people who hope to study at undergraduate level, the same financial support is not given to those who want to continue their studies after graduation.
There is some financial support out there – charities, scholarships, Research Councils, institutional fee waivers and employer sponsorships can help students pay their way through a postgrad. But securing help from these sources isn't easy, as data collected by the 1994 Group, a university mission group, shows: it found that more than 60% of postgraduate students were self-funding their studies during the academic year 2011-12.
If you're interested in studying at postgraduate level and want advice on the support that's out there, join our live Q&A on student finance, held in association with the University of Hertfordshire. We have a panel of student money advisers, university representatives, current students and recent graduates lined up between 1-3pm to share advice on financing a postgraduate degree.
You can join in the discussion by posting in the comment thread below and joining us between 1-3pm.
Dr Robert Kaye is director of research at the 1994 group, a mission group which represents 11 research-intensive universities
Deborah McClean is head of operations in the research and innovation services department at the University of Sheffield. She is an expert in postgraduate research student scholarship funding
Clementine Wade is a creator of large-scale live, theatrical events. She has tutored pupils all around the world and is particularly interested in the educating power of interactive entertainment. She raised £16,000, enough to fund her postgraduate degree in drama, by writing to benefactors across the country
Craig Johnson is studying a research master's in politics at Newcastle University. He is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Peter Thain is a graduate sports therapist from the University of Hertfordshire, who is currently in the final month of writing up his PhD thesis in the field of clinical biomechanics. He is self-funded but works as a laboratory demonstrator and lecturer at his university.
Andrea Simpson is a student money adviser at Leeds Metropolitan University. She offers students guidance on budgeting, debt, benefits and more. She is also a member of the National Association of Student Money Advisers
John Tate is a student money adviser at Leeds Metropolitan University. She offers students guidance on budgeting, debt, benefits and more. He is also a member of the National Association of Student Money Advisers
Craig Austin is a student financial support advisor at the University of Central Lancashire
An innovation by Salford Business School enables MSc students to work on 'live' projects, making them hugely employable
Since Salford Business School (SBS) launched its business innovation projects last September, about 500 business master's students have spent from three to six months working on live projects for companies across the UK, either individually or as part of multidisciplinary teams. It is the only business master's in the UK to integrate business placements and internships into the curriculum.
Recent groups of SBS postgraduates have created a viral video campaign to promote a new range of business desktop PCs for Hewlett Packard and market researched a proposed web-based "hyperlocal TV" channel for British Telecom. "We're integrating high-level work experience and 'live' projects as part of our accredited programmes. Our students are able to create immediate value for businesses and we're developing next-generation leaders for a borderless digital economy," explains SBS executive dean Amanda Broderick.
Based at its new campus at Manchester's MediaCityUK, SBS is leveraging its links with the area's thriving technology sector. Besides BT and Hewlett Packard, about 80 employers have joined the scheme including Adidas, Web Applications UK, the Bank of New York Mellon, and Barclays as well as local small businesses and not-for-profit organisations.
Where Salford's approach differs from other universities is that the work experience is integrated into the curriculum and is assessed. The idea builds on the knowledge and the contacts Salford has acquired by running industrial "sandwich years" for undergraduates.
It is also a response to the removal of the UK Border Agency's post-study work visa, which now acts as a deterrent to international students hoping to gain work experience in the UK. By incorporating work experience into the postgraduate degree, Salford bypasses the restrictions for overseas students as well as boosting student employability and recruitment. The Higher Education Statistics Agency's destination of leavers from higher education (DLHE) survey 2012 found that 100% of Salford postgraduates found employment within six months of completing their degree.
Business innovation projects run all year from September to November and from January to March. There are six entry points for students and four pathways to choose from. Students can either write a dissertation based on experience within a company, participate in a "live project" that is set and assessed by a company, arrange a voluntary business placement or apply for a funded internship that is advertised by a company looking for an individual or a group of individuals with a particular skill set.
Helping social enterprise is a priority and the scheme has received a grant from the HEFCE and UnLtd "Make the Difference" programme. "Local voluntary sector providers are a strong agenda for us and our students will be helping social enterprises develop their business model," says Broderick.
Salford has also built a strong link to entrepreneurship and small business startups. Many business innovation projects are sourced by venture capital companies looking to support small high-growth businesses and academics and students can provide input at a critical stage.
Because SBS recognises the importance of finding a good match between the student and the employer, two full-time project coordinators liaise with employers under the direction of Kurt Allman, associate dean for enterprise and engagement. "The value of Salford's approach can be demonstrated in the rapid increase in engagement of regional and international organisations. And we have had fantastic feedback from employers," says Allman.
An opportunity to reflect
The importance of linking live business projects and theory is underlined by the fact that business innovation projects count for 60 credits, part of the central core of a specialist MSc. "These projects will involve finding opportunities for work placement, supervising students, and co-ordinating assessment to ensure comparability," says Chris Procter senior lecturer in project management and director of employability.
Procter acknowledges that assessing a live project can present problems if the relationship between the employer and the student breaks down or the project fails to deliver. Multidisciplinary projects are good at exposing students to the discipline of team working. "Most marks are awarded for an individual's reflection on their work experience and how it relates to theory. I tell them sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes."
Student videos go viral
Salford-based engineering recruitment specialist Morson International tasked 48 Salford Business School students to create a YouTube video that would drive potential candidates to its website. Twelve teams of four students were given a brief to work with Morson marketing staff to co-create a series of short clips including digital animation to get the firm's message across.
The student videos were previewed on the company website over two weeks in order to gauge viewer reactions. By the end of the competition, the videos had gone viral attracting more than 343,000 views for the recruitment website.
With the winner announced in April, Salford Business School's contribution is now the centrepiece of an ongoing marketing campaign organised by the company. "I believe the Morson Project gave myself and the team outstanding experience for our future careers. Sticking to tight deadlines and working as a team enabled us to show our capabilities in completing the project to the highest quality," commented Osama Amla, student project leader. Morson group marketing manager, Orlagh Hamill added: "This project has been very important to us in terms of online brand promotion and increased traffic on our website."
MA courses have elevated the subject to an academic discipline
Think expertise in social media is something just picked up by trial and error? Think again.
In March the University of Westminster launched a new MA in social media, alongside its new Centre for Social Media Research, announcing that it would be recruiting for September entry.
Graham Meikle, the new course's leader, was quick to establish from the outset that this would not simply be a year of sitting around in a computer lab uploading pictures to Facebook profiles.
He said at the time: "We'll be using social media to explore theories and concepts. Students will be blogging about course readings, posting online videos about ideas from their modules, sharing photo essays. It's a rigorous theoretical degree and also an exciting and creative course."
Westminster are following in the footsteps of other higher education institutions, including Birmingham City University – who have also been at pains to point out the academic rigour of their course. Dave Harte, the course leader there, is proud that the MA has been accredited with the Creative Skillset Tick, meaning that it is approved as a programme of study that prepares graduates for the media workplace.
"It's the mix of theory and practice that is industry-relevant," he argues. "It isn't purely practice-based. They know to be in that marketplace, you've got to have a way of talking about your subject that comes from involving yourself in the theory for a period of time."
Birmingham City's MA programme examines the techniques of social media alongside its position within the creative industries, and offers two potential routes, one culminating in a traditional dissertation, and one ending with a practice-based project.
Students – an intake of about a dozen every year – are a mix of part-time and full-time, and may opt for this specialism as a consolidation of their existing professional skills, or as a way to diversify, or, fascinatingly, for more political reasons. Harte has noticed an increased number of applications from students in countries that have recently undergone structural upheaval, and explains: "They might have links to the government, or work in NGOs or other organisations – but they want to be the person with this knowledge in the organisation, or they might want to go back and make change happen."
As someone with a background as a photographer and designer before moving into digital industry and academia, Harte is keen to ensure that his students work on material that will be relevant to them in their careers. That's true for theory and practice as well as classwork and assessment.
"If I set an artificial brief and the person who works part-time for a small company is thinking, 'Well, I want to do something that's relevant to my company,' I let them bring their own briefs in for assessment," he explains.
Unsurprisingly, the industry-tailored syllabus and assessments are a big attraction for many students, particularly those who have already started their careers in media.
Jeff Sage, who now runs a marketing communications firm, graduated from the course in 2012. He had spent the previous four years looking for a Masters-level degree that had the appropriate mix of theory and practice as well as a social media focus, but was struggling to find anything that fulfilled all his requirements.
So when he found the course at Birmingham City University, he happily relocated from Canada in order to study. With a background in marketing communications already, he was keen to understand the thinking behind media practice.
Now as a company owner, he says: "I use what I learned on a daily basis for clients and to develop business."
What's more, he maintains that moving across continents for the course was the right decision. "It absolutely was. It had everything I wanted, and was everything I expected – and more."
Back to Top
Copyright © 2012 Southern Tutors Limited. All rights reserved.