what you think.
Is FE keeping up with tech? One government minister thinks not - 12 June 2013
A culture change is needed in England's FE sector to harness the use of technology more widely and successfully, a senior government figure has said.
Speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) in London, Baroness Garden of Frognal, the government's skills spokeswoman in the House of Lords, questioned whether the sector understands how knowledge is becoming more available.
"We live in an age in which knowledge is being increasingly democratised," she said.
"Young people are growing up accustomed to having knowledge at their fingertips. The means to access it are becoming more diverse. Have we as educators grasped this?"
Lady Garden, standing in for skills minister Matthew Hancock whose wife was due to give birth today, called herself an "unashamed champion" of vocational learning.
She said colleges and providers are being given more room to be innovative, and should explore how technology like massive open online courses (Moocs) and virtual learning environments (VLEs) could be used to break down barriers and reach more employers.
"We have to start with the learning and understand the diverse ways learners in FE can use technology. A culture change is needed to see technology harnessed more widely and successfully," she said. "We must ensure FE culture is more open; sharing knowledge and best practice and supporting teachers to use technology to enhance the learning experience."
Stewart Segal, the new chief executive of AELP, said this message is "absolutely right"
"This has been a bit of a paper-based industry, especially in terms of ongoing assessment," he said. "Technology can play a major role in ongoing assessment and effective learning.
"The cohort we are talking about - 16- to 24-year-olds - are very familiar and comfortable with technology, and we can utilise that to great effect."
He said regulatory barriers to using technology more widely in the past are now less of an issue for many providers.
Thinktank proposes the return of the polytechnic. Pigs might fly - 10 June 2013
Polytechnics should be revived by renaming further education colleges and expanding their degree-awarding powers, a thinktank has proposed.
But while the government said the plan offered "food for thought", its policies so far have been aimed at preventing a resurgence of the "binary system" of universities and polytechnics.
The Institute of Public Policy Research's Commission on the Future of Higher Education today called for the creation of 20,000 cheaper, pound;5,000-a-year degree courses, focused on vocational education and primarily provided through new polytechnics, formed from FE colleges.
"It would declare that the university title and the university route are not the only form of high status in our system," the commission said.
The resurrection of the polytechnic title aside, some of this has already been taking place since reforms to the higher education funding system increased the cost of most degrees to pound;9,000 a year, creating a market for a lower-cost alternative.
But after FE colleges began expanding their number of HE places through the core-and-margin process, winning more than half the 20,000 places set aside for colleges and universities charging less than pound;7,500 a year, ministers put the brakes on.
David Willetts, universities and science minister, has explicitly said that he is concerned about recreating the polytechnic-university divide. "If you had a much bigger core and margin, you would have a kind of binary system. You might want a binary system but I don't want to deliver one," he told the TES last year.
Similarly, there has been little progress on the expansion of degree-awarding powers. Newcastle College and New College Durham led the way by earning the right to award foundation degrees, equivalent to the first two years of a BA.
But when Bradford College tried last year to become the first college to gain full taught degree-awarding powers, it was rejected by the Quality Assurance Agency.
It is not clear, either, that there is any particular value in the name "polytechnic". The last institution to use the title was Anglia Ruskin University, which changed its name from Anglia Polytechnic University in 2005 having decided that it was off-putting to students.
That means that today's new undergraduates were only 10 when the term "polytechnic" was last used and soon there will be students who have never heard of it.
So perhaps the best name for an institution you attend as an alternative to university in order to gain a more work-oriented education is the one we already have: college.
What's in a name? Quite a lot when it comes to the new professional body for FE - 10 June 2013
Ever since it was announced that an FE guild would be established to set professional standards in the UK's post-16 sector, practitioners have eagerly awaited further details.
Last week FE Focus caught up with David Hughes, chief executive of adult learning charity Niace and chair of the FE guild steering group, to discuss the latest developments.
Firstly, Mr Hughes explained why the "guild" moniker had been dropped and the body renamed the Education and Training Foundation. "FE guild was always just a working title," he said. "Lots of organisations in the sector felt FE didn't describe them, that it was for colleges.
"Then the word guild got all sorts of reactions. Some wanted to recapture itas a modern word, but some thought it was too old-fashioned. The new name is not associated with predecessor names."
Mr Hughes said the board was still being established and would meet in an "embryonic form" for the first time later this month. It is looking for an independent chair, although he ruled himself out.
The Foundation would be made up of around 30 people, he said, and there were indications that the second year's budget would be similar to the first's, around pound;18 million. In July, a series of consultation events will be held with the sector to discuss the Foundation's priorities.
Mr Hughes said the board had agreed the general priorities, including supporting better teaching and learning, addressing issues with literacy, numeracy and functional skills and improving capacity, but the difficult part would be agreeing how to get things done and how to make sure the funding had an impact. "We are trying to come up with a particular way of doing our work," he said. "It should be delivered with the sector, not to the sector. I want to keep people involved and use their knowledge and passion."
Mr Hughes is confident the Foundation can succeed in uniting the disparate elements of the sector. "I'm optimistic that if we get this right, people will start to see themselves as more together than apart," he said.
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