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Fewer students required for university status

Smaller colleges that offer degrees could be eligible to become universities, the government has announced. The qualifying threshold is to be reduced from 4,000 to 1,000 students overall, potentially opening the door for FE providers to make the switch. However, institutions would have to demonstrate that 55 per cent of their students were enrolled on higher education programmes. They would also be required to have degree awarding powers, at least 750 students studying for a degree and meet good governance criteria. "This will widen access to the university title for smaller, high-quality providers, and is expected principally to benefit many of the long-established colleges represented by GuildHE," said David Willetts, the universities and science minister.

Award for Prometheus star

Idris Elba, of The Wire and Prometheus fame, was among the recent recipients of an Association of Colleges Gold Award, which recognises former FE students who have become leaders in their field. The former Barking and Dagenham College student has paid tribute to the college for giving him his start as an actor. "Barking and Dagenham College was the first place I got to fall on my face as an actor, and get back up, to be supported by great people and a great college," he said. This year's winners - including boxer Amir Khan, inventor Trevor Baylis and the transport secretary Justine Greening - were celebrated at a reception at the House of Commons on Wednesday. Lord Willis of Knares-borough, president of the AoC charitable trust, said: "The nominating colleges, and the sector as a whole, should be enormously proud of the way they nurture the talents of their students and instil in them the skills, confidence and determination they need to succeed, whatever path they choose and wherever their ambitions lie."

Watchdog asks OCR what's in a name

Ofqual is investigating the OCR exam board's Cambridge TEC qualifications, owing to concerns about the new title. The watchdog is looking into the use of the "TEC" brand, to decide whether it could cause confusion for learners. An Ofqual spokeswoman said that the concerns related to the implicit use of the word "certificate", specifically in relation to qualifications that are not certificates. She added: "We rejected a suite of qualifications from OCR last year because their proposed titling of Cambridge TEC did not meet our regulatory requirements. These qualifications were subsequently accredited with titles such as OCR Cambridge level 2 certificate in business. We are now looking into OCR's branding of these qualifications as Cambridge TECs to determine whether or not our requirements have been met."

Commons debates free lunch campaign

The Association of Colleges' campaign to extend free meals to 100,000 disadvantaged students who currently miss out has reached the House of Commons, with an MPs' debate taking place on Wednesday. David Blunkett, who opened the debate in favour of the AoC's No Free Lunch? campaign, said: "There are three times as many students eligible for free lunches who are studying in college rather than school sixth forms. This means the majority of eligible teenagers are missing out. It is not only a bar to social mobility but also an inequality and unfairness that could mean teenagers going hungry." Extending free meals to FE colleges as well as schools would cost the government #163;38 million, according to AoC's estimates, and is also supported by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union.

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