Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Postgrads – at last you're on the agenda

Thanks to the Guardian for this one...
Postgraduate students are vital to the country's economic strength. Photograph: Alamy
You're clever, exotically international, and there are more of you than ever before. You contribute billions of pounds a year to the British economy. The trouble is, nobody cares. Or at least they didn't until just a few weeks ago, when policymakers finally seemed to wake up to the idea that someone should start thinking about postgraduates.

Amid all the kerfuffle about the future of higher education – Lord Browne's review of fees, the government's white paper, the dire warnings of universities going bust or being taken over by profit-hungry capitalists – postgraduates occupied barely a footnote. They did have their very own report, by Adrian Smith, in 2010 but it sort of got forgotten, such was the excitement of a change of government and disputes over the more radical proposals for undergraduates.

But, to the surprise even of those who have been gamely trying to push postgraduate heads above the parapet for years, all this has begun to change.

First, Smith's review group was briefly reconvened to discuss the likely impact on postgraduates of the new undergraduate fee system. Then, earlier this month, came the announcement of an independent inquiry on behalf of the Higher Education Commission, a cross-party group of MPs and representatives from business and academia, to look into how postgraduates could contribute to the knowledge economy.

The group's chairman, IBM's Graham Spittle, says: "So much attention has been on undergraduates yet nobody has really thought structurally and strategically about what we should be doing with postgraduates, and what the effect of these undergraduate changes are going to be on them."
He says the commission, which is due to report in June, will look at the contribution of postgraduate education to the UK economy and the competition it faces from emerging economies. It will also look at access and funding.

"I do think there's an urgency to this," he says. "As soon as we have a coherent picture, we want to make some pretty firm recommendations."

Even more significant for those rooting for postgraduate education are new promises of cash. For the first time, universities are to receive extra government money specifically for taught postgraduate courses. They will get £1,100 per student starting one of these courses next academic year, except in those arts and humanities disciplines that are cheapest to run.

This means they will effectively be cushioned from cuts in funding to undergraduate courses – which are expected to make up the shortfall through student fees, paid for by student loans. Because the big bone of contention is that postgraduate courses remain outside any loan system.

While undergraduates can merrily fork out up to £9,000 a year for their degrees, safe in the knowledge that they have 30 years to pay it back and that if they haven't done it by then the debt will disappear, most postgraduates have to butter up friends, family and the bank manager to scrape together the cost of their course. And these debts are the kind that remain until every penny is paid off.

Employers once offered to support staff wishing to do postgraduate study, but many have cut back on sponsorships because of the recession. About six in 10 taught postgraduate students receive no support for their studies other than family or commercial loans. And even banks have become more reluctant to take on the risk of lending to postgraduates who may of may not turn out to be the next Bill Gates.

The big worry is, with undergraduates paying higher tuition fees from this year, it is likely that universities will want to start charging postgraduates more too.

Malcolm McCrae, who until this month chaired the UK Council for Graduate Education, says universities have felt in limbo on the question of what to do about postgraduate fees. A Times Higher Education (THE) analysis of this year's fees found the average home/EU fee for taught postgraduates was just under £6,184, a 24% rise from the previous year but still well below the average £8,354 institutions are expected to start charging undergraduates this autumn.

McCrae says he cannot see how a university could justify charging taught postgraduates less, when their courses run for more weeks and at a higher level.

The financial squeeze has already led to a growth in the number of postgrads studying part-time and working while they take their degree.

But McCrae fears many UK students will duck out of postgraduate education altogether and choose to go straight into the jobs market instead.

A survey by High Fliers Research last month found that employers are increasingly keen on work experience, with more than a third of graduate vacancies likely to be filled by those who have worked for the company to which they are applying.

While the number of postgraduates studying in UK higher education institutions leapt by 36% between 1997 and 2009, and is still growing, this growth is largely among international students. In those 12 years, the numbers from European Union countries rose 69%, and from non-EU countries a whopping 155%.

"The government sees postgraduate activity in universities as a success story," says McCrae. "But the success part of it is largely overseas recruitment rather than home recruitment. Are we looking forward to the prospect of training people for the knowledge economy everywhere in the world, just not doing it for our own?"

Tim Leunig, chief economist at the think tank CentreForum and a reader in economic history at the London School of Economics, has proposed a new loan system for postgraduate students to try to redress this imbalance.

He argues that countries with the highest levels of educational qualifications tend to be the most successful, and that it is therefore vital to increase the number of UK students studying at postgraduate level and to ensure this level of education is open to disadvantaged groups.

"If all these foreigners want to do postgraduate degrees here, shouldn't we be thinking of why British kids don't want to be doing them too?" he says.

Leunig believes this should be a key part of Spittle's inquiry, and Spittle agrees. Postgraduates, he says, will be key to Britain's future: "As the world become more competitive, there is evidence to show that where formerly a first degree was what was required, people are looking for higher qualifications."

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Daybreak and the Salvation Army team up to get Britain reading

The five-a-day campaign is designed to help families improve their reading skills. The campaign aims to encourage people to read to their children everyday and also to raise awareness of the difficulties people face in dealing with illiteracy and dyslexia. People will be asked to donate books at 100 Morrisons stores and 50 Waterstones across the UK to help projects run by The Salvation Army, Dyslexia Action and the Book Trust.

The campaign is supported by celebrities including actor Michael Sheen. 'Books have been like doorways for me all my life. When I was growing up, being able to read books let me enter new worlds and discover all kinds of new possibilities.,' he said. 'Seeing how much pleasure my own daughter got out of being read to when she was very little and now, as a teen, how much she values reading herself, shows how important and joyful it can be to share these things with our children.'

Think you have an excellent idea for a children's book? Visit the Words Worth Reading Website to see how we can support you to write an engaging, exciting children's novel.

Charlotte Brontë's lost short story to be published

Charlotte Brontë
Thanks to the Guardian for this one!
A long-lost short story written by Charlotte Brontë for a married man with whom she fell in love is to be published for the first time after being found in a Belgian museum a century after it was last heard of.

The tale, written in grammatically erratic French and entitled L'Ingratitude, is the first-known piece of homework set for Brontë by Constantin Heger, a Belgian tutor who taught both her and her sister Emily, and is believed to have inspired such ardour in the elder sibling that she drew on their relationship for her novel Villette.

Brian Bracken, a Brussels-based archivist and Brontë expert, found the manuscript in the Musée Royal de Mariemont. He said the short story had been last heard of in 1913, when it was given to a wealthy Belgian collector by Heger's son, Paul. The London Review of Books (LRB) is to publish the story in full on its website on Wednesday and in its paper edition on Thursday.

"It was finished a month after Charlotte arrived in Brussels and is the first known devoir [piece of homework] of 30 the sisters would write for Heger," writes Bracken in the LRB. "It contains a number of mistakes, mainly misspellings and incorrect tenses … he [Heger] often returned their essays drastically revised – sadly, there are no comments on this copy of L'Ingratitude."

The fable-like story is dated 16 March 1842 and is about a thoughtless young rat who escapes his father's protective care in search of adventure in the countryside and comes to a sorry end. The tale contrasts the solemn paternal devotion of the father with the reckless abandon of his "ingrate" offspring.

Bracken believes it could well have been based on the works of the celebrated French fabulist, La Fontaine.

"By all accounts a gifted and dedicated teacher, [Heger] gave Emily and Charlotte homework … based on texts by authors they had studied in class," he writes. "They were to compose essays in French that echoed these models, and could choose their own subject matter."

After her first stay in Brussels was brought to an abrupt halt in November 1842 by the death of her aunt, Brontë returned to the city the following year to become an English teacher at the boarding house run by Heger's wife, Claire Zoë Parent. She left for good in 1844, "worn out", writes Bracken, "by her infatuation with Heger, and his wife's hostility towards her."

Brontë's feelings were made public when, in 1913, Paul Heger gave permission for four letters she wrote from Yorkshire to her teacher to be published.

"I would not know what to do with a whole and complete friendship – I am not accustomed to it," she says in one. "But you showed a little interest in me when I was your pupil in Brussels – and I cling to the preservation of this little interest – I cling to it as I would cling to life."

The Brussels period is recognised by Brontë scholars as being pivotal in the careers of both sisters – particularly for Charlotte, who was 25 when they first arrived in Belgium. "Charlotte's novel Villette, published in 1853, reworks her experiences in Brussels, with the difference that the teacher returns the heroine's love," Bracken writes. In The Professor, too, a novel written shortly after her return from Belgium but only published posthumously, she explores the dynamic between pupil and teacher. Unlike her real life infatuation, it ends happily.

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Cynthia Bower announces resignation as Chief Executive of CQC

Cynthia Bower, Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) today announced her resignation.

Cynthia Bower said: “After almost four years leading CQC, I feel that it is now time to move on. The process of setting up an entirely new system of regulation has been intensely challenging - but we have accomplished an enormous amount. We have merged three organisations, registered 40,000 provider locations and brought virtually the entire health and social care network under one set of standards, which focus on the needs of people who use services.

“I am pleased that the Department of Health Performance and Capability review, published today, recognises the scale of what has been achieved - and in particular the significant improvements made over the last nine months. I’m confident that CQC will continue to build on the progress already made, delivering increasing benefits to people who use services by shining a light on poor care - and I am proud to have played a part in this.”

Jo Williams, Chair of the CQC, said: “I am very sorry that Cynthia has decided to move on, but I understand her desire to take on new challenges. I would like to take this opportunity to thank her for the enormous contribution she has made to the setting up and running of CQC. She has shown tireless commitment to this organisation, and she leaves it in a strong position to carry out our essential role in tackling poor care. This is confirmed by today’s Performance Review from the Department of Health, which recognises CQC’s “considerable achievements” in setting the essential platform from which tougher regulatory action can be taken.”

Sir David Nicholson, NHS Chief Executive, said: “I would like to thank Cynthia for her commitment as CQC Chief Executive. Building a new regulator involves great vision, leadership and resilience. This is always a complex task and one under constant scrutiny. It is great credit to Cynthia’s leadership to have achieved this.”

Una O’Brien, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, said: "Cynthia has provided energetic leadership to the CQC from its very outset. Over her four years as Chief Executive, CQC has introduced - for the first time - a new model of regulation for health and social care. Cynthia is a committed public servant and I wish her well for the future."

Cynthia Bower has agreed with the Chair that she will remain in post until autumn 2012 to allow for an appropriate handover. The recruitment process for her successor will begin shortly.

For all your CQC registration and training needs visit the Words Worth Reading website.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

University league table published

The Guardian have released their 2012 university guide. All UK universities are ranked according to teaching excellence. The university league tables cover full-time, undergraduate courses at higher education institutions in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and are aimed at those wanting to start university in the 2012-13 academic year.

Click on this link to see subject specific league tables http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/table/2011/may/17/university-guide-education

Click on this link for a detailed profile of all UK universities http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/list/educationinstitution

When you have decided on the University for you, find out how Words Worth Reading Ltd can help you write that all important personal statement for your UCAS form.

James Joyce story for children gets first publication

The Cats of Copenhagen, written in 1936 for Joyce's grandson, has been published for the first time in a collectors' edition by Ithys Press

The story was originally written by Joyce in letter to his grandson Stephen whilst the author was in Denmark.

However, the Zurich James Joyce Foundation, to whom the letter was donated, has claimed that the unpublished letter is not out of copyright and that it has not granted permission for the book's release.

The published works of James Joyce came out of copyright and entered the public domain on 1 January this year.

Prices for the 200 copies in the Ithys Press edition, illustrated by Casey Sorrow, start at €300.

Website: http://ithyspress.com

Thanks to Writers Online for this one!

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Duchess of Cornwall: 'I spend my life reading'

Thanks to the telegraph for this one...
The Duchess of Cornwall has spoken of her fondness of reading, saying she loves being able to “forget about everything else” and immerse herself in a novel.

The Duchess joined author Tony Parsons to read with Transport for London (TfL) employees who are taking part in a course to improve their English.

After reading extracts from the author's novel, Beyond The Bounty, she told the class how she spends much of her spare time engrossed in books.

“I spend my life reading to my grandchildren, trying to get them to concentrate. It takes you completely out of yourself.

"You can forget about everything else and bury yourself in a book,” said the Duchess, who is Patron of The National Literacy Trust, the Wicked Young Writers' Award, Booktrust and First Story.

TfL runs the classes at its HQ in London for all employees who want to improve their confidence and ability with spoken and written English.

The Duchess said she found it "nerve wrecking" to read aloud after some of the TfL students delivered extracts from the book, which Parsons write for the charity Quick Reads.

She praised their “bravery” in reading out sections to the class.

Quick Reads, which works with the TfL scheme, was launched by the book trade in 2006 in response to a government report that revealed 12 million people in the UK have literacy difficulties, while one third of the population never picks up a book.

Parsons is just one of the authors involved with Quick Reads and has contributed by penning a short novel especially geared towards those who may be dyslexic, a stranger to books, or have simply fallen out of the habit of reading.

This month sees the launch of the charity's "fall in love with reading" campaign, with a line-up of eight books from authors such as Lynda La Plante, Maeve Binchy, Conn Iggulden and Parsons.

Speaking about the charity and the campaign, Parsons said: "It's a campaign that will never end and it's a campaign that we can feel that we are winning."

Parsons said that although he came from a relatively poor family, there were always books in the house. He added that to deny your children that privilege is "like sending your child to school with no shoes on".

Are you writing a book that will re-ignites people's passion for reading? Click here to see how Words Worth Reading could help you get it published.

Royal Lancaster Infirmary A&E not meeting essential standards, says CQC

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has published a report into an unannounced inspection of the Accident and Emergency Department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

This inspection resulted in CQC serving a warning notice on University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust in relation to staffing in the department.

While inspectors who visited the Royal Lancaster Infirmary on 21 December 2011 found that emergency care was being delivered according to clinical guidelines, they also noted:

  • a shortage of staff during busy periods
  • problems with staff training
  • limited coordination in planning elective bed management within the hospital, which was affecting the working of the emergency department and the flow of patients through the care pathway.

Even though the department was relatively quiet on the night we inspected, CQC’s inspectors found that staffing levels did not always meet the needs of people using the department when there were high demands. This could have an adverse impact on the level of monitoring for less urgent cases or patients awaiting transfer to an appropriate ward. Inspectors also looked at staffing records for the whole of December.

One of the people using services at A&E told the inspectors that they had also been there the previous night, when it had been “really busy” and that the patients “had been lined up down the corridor and people were waiting”.

A member of staff told the inspectors that “often staffing is at crisis level”; another member of staff said “staffing levels are dangerous”. People told us that staff had raised concerns about the staffing levels and the safety of people due to staff shortages at times but nothing has been done about this.

Ambulance crews also confirmed that the previous week they had been ‘stacked’ – meaning ambulance crews were waiting with patients.

Inspectors found that a lack of bed capacity in the hospital was having an adverse impact on the emergency department. On the night of the inspection there were no surgical beds on the surgical admissions unit, but there were people waiting for beds leading to the potential for people to be kept waiting in A&E, blocking the department.

Inspectors also checked on staff training. They did not see evidence in the department that staff had received appropriate training for medical equipment – a training log should be kept with each piece of equipment. Staff told us that there was very little time for equipment training.

Debbie Westhead, CQC regional lead for the North West, said: "This inspection raised real concerns about staffing levels – staff themselves told our inspectors that these were 'at crisis level'. As a result of this inspection and other information, we served a warning notice on the trust. This report highlights the other areas where the trust needs to make rapid improvements.

"We were concerned at the blockages caused by the trust’s failure to plan effectively for admissions. This has knock-on effects in A&E and could put people at risk of poor care.

"It is important that staff training is up to date and that staff training needs are identified and met. To ensure the safety of people using the department, the trust needs to make sure it has the proper systems in place support staff.

"The trust must tell us how it how it will make sure it complies with the essential standards. We will check on progress."

The report can be found on the Royal Lancaster Infirmary page of the CQC website.

The inspection of the Accident & Emergency department found the trust to be non compliant with

  • Outcome 13, which says there should be enough members of staff to keep people safe and meet their health and welfare needs
  • Outcome 14, which says staff should be properly trained and supervised, and have the chance to develop and improve their skills

The trust was found to be compliant with

  • Outcome 1, respecting and involving people who use services
  • Outcome 4, which says people should get safe and appropriate care that meets their needs and supports their rights (although we had minor concerns with this outcome and said the trust needed to make improvements).

CQC’s investigation

A CQC investigation focussing on the emergency care pathway is looking in-depth at the care patients receive when they arrive at the hospital for emergency care, and what happens to them subsequently.
Why not have a look at our website to see how Words Worth Reading can support all aspects of the CQC registration and training.

Queen celebrates Charles Dickens anniversary

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended a performance that featured some of Dicken’s most popular characters to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novelist’s birth.

Characters from the novels Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby were brought to life in a new piece called Mr Dickens and the Actors.

Put together by actor and director Philip Franks, it was staged at the Guildhall in London, marking the bicentenary of the birth of Dickens.

The Queen found that at one point during the afternoon, she was not the only Queen in the room: one of the characters in the performance was Queen Victoria, played by Spiro.

This was a significant moment, because Dickens is said to have snubbed Queen Victoria after a performance in 1857 - a revelation that provoked laughter from the crowd.

After the performance, the Queen met people from the Royal Theatrical Fund, including Janie Dee, one of the Fund's directors, who is starring in Noises Off at the Old Vic.

The director of the performance, Richard Clifford, said of putting on a show for the Queen: "It's always a great privilege particularly as she's not a huge theatre-goer.

"It's lovely for us to celebrate his (Dickens) bicentenary with her."

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