The variable fees charged to access original documents risk putting archival research out of general reach, says Nell Darby
As county archives face continued financial pressure on their services, history researchers face increasing difficulty in accessing original archival documents. Reduced and often complex opening arrangements, fewer staff and closures over lunch periods makes pre-planning an inevitable part of the archival research process.
Increasingly, archives appear to be using fees to plug gaps in their finances and these fees can can often be idiosyncratic. Day passes are issued for users to photograph documents to transcribe later, from home or university. These can vary in price from £2 at Birmingham to £25 at North Yorkshire County Record Office. Berkshire Record Office charges £1 per image and for those needing access to long documents, the cost can become prohibitive. This includes me. I am researching 18th-century magistrates' notebooks, which can run to hundreds of pages of dense text.
These fees matter. Archivists are not the only ones under financial pressure – researchers are too. Research students have limited budgets and are also time-strapped. Transcribing documents in record offices is time consuming and taking photographs to access documents in our own time is invaluable. It means less time spent using record office resources, yet we are being charged inconsistent amounts to use our own cameras.
The costs and difficulties in accessing archival documents has an impact on history researchers who might feel that it is too hard to access these documents, and instead rely on more limited sources or digitised resources. In doing so, they miss out on a wealth of information.
I raised this subject on Twitter and got a significant response among professional researchers, academics and students. My own supervisor, Drew Gray, criticised the charges at Berkshire Record Office, pointing out that "even the British Library's copying service is better value". He added: "There should be a standard charge and it should be fair and reflect costs, otherwise it penalises researchers without considerable funding behind them, which is elitist."
This was also a point raised by Cathryn Pearce of Greenwich Maritime Institute, who argued that it was "very elitist to only allow the rich or funded to take photos for research. Many of us doing good work … can't afford that".
Louise Falcini, an 18th-century historian based at the University of Reading, also pointed out that the National Archives lets all researchers photograph documents for free. She said: "I took almost 500 photographs at the National Archives – all for research purposes. £500 wouldn't have been an option."
Lucy Bailey, another PhD student at the University of Northampton, had hoped to photograph a Victorian shop account book on her visit to Berkshire Record Office, in order to transcribe it in her own time from home. Surprised at the £1 per image cost, Bailet queried the reasoning behind it with a county archivist who responded: "We charge a unit rate rather than a daily rate simply because we believe that it better reflects what a user is acquiring. It seems to us analogous to making printouts from microfilm or from a digitised image and to the supply of photocopies, where the charge is directly related to the number of copies supplied."
What Berkshire's price structure fails to recogniseis that researcher photographing documentscosts the archive less than if they were copying documents or sitting for days transcribing material. Using your own camera and asking an archivist to photocopy documents, are simply not analogous.
A survey conducted by Lucy Baileylooking at self-service photography costs levied by County Archives across England, showed a striking lack of consistency. Hampshire Archives charge £12.50 for a daily camera pass, and East Sussex £15, second only to North Yorkshire's £25. Conversely, Herefordshire Archives, Devon Heritage Centre and North Devon Record Office charge only £3 per day. Yet some other regional archives, including Northumberland and North East Lincolnshire, continue to let researchers photograph documents for free.
Archivists argue that photograph fees should be seen as separate to research fees. Anna McNally, history project archivist at the University of Westminster Archives, has pointed out that "research is still free even when photography is not". And Luci Gosling, historical specialist for the Mary Evans Picture Library, says researchers should bear in mind that many archive charges are funnelled back into maintaining or improvingthe resources or facilities of the archive itself.
It is the age of the digital historian. Technology gives researchers the means of carrying out their work more effectively and quickly, and archivists need to respond positively to these changes. Without encouraging researchers to use and disseminate their material, archive buildings risk becoming populated only by those with the incomes to be able to indulge in research – and we will all be poorer for it.
If you're fed up with your job, don't be afraid to return to university – you're a much better student second time round
Your friend is chattering enthusiastically: some days she loathes her job, but most days are like today – challenging but rewarding. You try to be just equally upbeat, and mumble something about how at last you've worked out how to make the arms of your office chair fit under the desk.
Did you settle for the first job that took you after graduating? Or perhaps your dream job has turned into a real nightmare? With linear careers becoming outdated, professional reinvention is on the rise. So should you stop whingeing and return to study?
If a few years have gone by since you made your first-degree choices at 18, your aspirations and outlook are likely to have changed. The reality of working made me examine what aspects I actually enjoyed about my job in international aid – and what I needed to do to get the career I wanted.
There are benefits to studying a second time. "I had more confidence. I was used to managing workloads and people," says Rosie Cervera-Jackson, whose work for the NHS Modernisation Agency spurred her to switch her focus from history to nursing. She's now a specialist organ donation nurse in London.
Time may not be on your side, but motivation will be. The determination to make the most of a second chance helps.
And you'll need it, says Gordon Jones, a UCL ancient history graduate who fell into recruitment for three years before committing himself to three years of accountancy training. Starting from the bottom again (including in salary terms) can feel like running up an escalator, but you'll proably progress more quickly – drawing on those professional skills the new kids have yet to acquire.
Now a senior manager at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Jones says he was more dedicated the second time round: "I was a senior citizen among my peers. For them it was just another exam; for me it was a major change," he explains.
But here's the big question for most people considering a return to studying: what about money? Leaping from a secure job back into the world of studenthood is scary. Choosing to study journalism at Birkbeck, I had to prepare myself for a lifestyle change – an important consideration when you've already upscaled from Lambrini to Pinot Grigio. No amount of student discount can compensate for a decent income.
Government policy seems to discourage second-time study: higher fees have come in while funding has been restricted if you hold an equivalent or higher qualification than the one you're going for.
But there are ways to study without going broke – such as accelerated courses for those with existing qualifications, evening study, or working and retraining in parallel.
Being older than first-time graduates can make getting your foot in the door of your next employer more difficult. So make the most of the people you meet.
"My masters was very useful in giving me the opportunity to build networks. Targeted networking and relationship building is important," says Mair Bosworth, a freelance radio producer who did an MA in radio production after five years in the charity sector.
Sarah Bagnall, a managing consultant at the recruitment agency Michael Page, cautions against change for change's sake. You need to give employers a coherent argument as to why you've switched career paths.
"Employers can tell if you're studying again because you just got bored of a job," says Bagnall. If all you really need is a break from the treadmill, you may be better off taking time out and travelling.
Second-time study is one route to jumpstarting a new career and putting you back in control. Cervera-Jackson recommends taking the chance – as long as you're realistic about how much time and money you're willing to put in.
"Be sure you know absolutely what you want to do next and why you want to do it. Make the most of the skills you've already got," advises Jones.
If I were you I'd grab a second chance if you get one – and make sure you're not still talking about office chairs in five years' time.
The Apprentice is a very popular TV show despite everyone seeming to hate it. There are interesting psychological reasons for why this is the case.
I saw The Apprentice once, many years ago. I didn't like it. I felt it was everything that was wrong with modern culture and the media in general. I vowed never to watch it again, and assumed everyone else would feel similarly. They did not.
Jump to present day, and The Apprentice is still as popular as ever, going by the fact that my Twitter feed mentions nothing else whenever it is on. I try to follow intelligent, liberal, clear-thinking people. So why do they all get sucked in to The Apprentice? I've not heard anyone say they actually like it, if anything they seem to actively dislike it, but still they tune in every week without fail.
What strange psychological system is in place that makes so many people want to watch the antics of a number of strangers they claim to find repugnant? Is everyone a secret masochist? Does Alan Sugar have some sort of mind-control power? Is the BBC employing weapons-grade schadenfreude?
There must be some interesting psychological phenomena in effect. This needs investigating. So, as someone experienced in numerous areas of psychology who is largely ignorant as to the current format and cast of The Apprentice, I felt I was in a perfect position to offer an objective psychological assessment of it. Here are the notes I made from viewing the latest episode.
2 min: OK, we're barely out of the recap and already Lord Sugar emphatically says he believes "actions speak louder than words". But many of the physical actions humans can perform produce little or no audible output. A metaphor, or does he suffer from synaesthesia?
3 min: I'm thinking Lord Sugar may be using psychological methods to control the contestants and produce the most "stimulating" television. He seems the sort. Also, he strikes me as a cross between an ageing human and a belligerent Brillo pad. Just saying.
5 min: Lord Sugar calls the contestants at 5.20 am. Bit early, a possible attempt at sleep deprivation, leading to an unstable mental state? Also, all the contestants seem to live together in one house. I'm assuming this is something arranged by the show and not a massive coincidence?
8 min: They're at a farm, as you do. Details aside, Lord Sugar seems to persist in addressing the contestants from a raised level, so it's a set-up where groups of supposedly ruthless people stand assembled in uniform while a man with absolute power over them looks down and barks orders. It really reminds me of something...
9 min: Lord Alan Sugar wants them to set up and run a farm shop, something completely unfamiliar to people who work in the economic/corporate field. Excessive environmental change can cause symptoms to worsen in delirium. Most of the contestants don't seem old enough for that to be a major concern, but then given the aforementioned sleep deprivation...
11 min: Maybe this friction between so many empty vessels is an attempt to generate large amounts of static electricity? Lord Sugar may want this to power some device he's working on. This doesn't sound like the most practical technology, but then again he is the head of Amstrad.
13 min: I don't think that guy Alex knows his eyebrows look like that. They must have drawn them on him as he slept for a cruel joke.
17 min: One of the women is on a farm and says the silage smells really nice. Maybe her insula or putamen is wrongly wired up?
19 min: Eyebrow guy showing obvious signs of dyscalculia. I'm sure that's not an issue for people who want to work with large sums of money.
21 min: There's a great deal of footage here of close ups of vegetables and vaguely glamorous women. It's like being backstage at the filming of a Marks and Spencer's advert.
23 min: The phrases 'Just use logic' and 'engage brain' have just been used with no sense of irony or self-awareness. Can the Dunning-Kruger effect ever be fatal? If so, we might not make it to a full series.
25 min: Announcer keeps saying 'milkshake' and now all the boys are in a yard. Nobody has mentioned the obvious joke yet.
28 min: I appear to be watching a lot of dislikeable people buy fruit, at prime time on BBC1. This may be an ingenious form of propaganda by the junk food industry.
29 min: I am struggling to tell these people apart, for all that they don't really resemble each other. The programme may have caused some form of prosopagnosia. Either that or my visual processing system has just grouped them together as some diffuse mass of absolute-tittery. I believe the gestalt theory of visual perception allows for this.
30 min: They've got to sell ridiculously expensive slabs of buffalo meat or they'll lose the contest, and yet nobody has said "the steaks are too high". It's like I'm doing all their thinking for them.
32 min: Heavily made-up woman just asked a passing pedestrian 'are you interested in some milk?' Freud would have had a field day with this show.
35 min: I don't think anyone would be willing to buy produce from a man in the street with the sort of eyebrows used to denote a cartoon character as 'evil'. How is it possible for a human to occupy the uncanny valley?
36 min: This show is instilling in me an intense loathing of these people and the capitalist system that produces and even rewards such individuals. This may be some clever use of associative learning by the BBC, subtly supporting its more socialist funding model. Good effort, if so.
37 min: It's no good; I'm going to need some booze if I'm going to get all the way through this. Back in a second.
37 min: OK, here we go again. I couldn't find any proper alcohol, so am sucking on an antibacterial kitchen wipe. It'll do.
39 min: I just realised that "Lord Sugar" sounds like the main bad guy in a cartoon that promotes dental hygiene. This could be worth a fortune. If only there was some way to present my business ideas to Alan Sugar...
42 min: Lord Sugar just made two weak cowboy jokes in succession, didn't get a laugh either time and seemed genuinely surprised at this. This suggests some sort of short term memory failing. It's probably fine, but I'd get that checked.
45 min: This whole set up is clearly designed to create animosity; it leaves the Robber's Cave Experiment standing. Arguments are bound to happen when you put people in high-pressure unfamiliar scenarios in competition with each other where survival is maintained by criticising others. You'd have less chance of starting a fight if you deliberately spill the pint of a guy with tattoos and no neck.
46 min: The Stanford Prison experiment showed that people will tend to conform to the roles assigned to them by a legitimate authority, however unpleasant they may be. So maybe the contestants aren't awful people; they're just behaving in a way they think is that's expected of them? This does suggest that Alan Sugar has another set of contestants chained up in his basement though.
48 min: People seem to fall back on blaming others for their behaviour when they pretty much did identical things themselves. There is some serious attribution bias going on here, it's all over the place.
55 min: All the confident/cocky men in this seem to have some form of facal hair or stubble. This could be a fashion thing, or maybe the excessive stubble is a subtle ploy. After all, facial hair is the result of testosterone, testosterone makes you more masculine, more masculinity makes you the alpha-male, and people fear the alpha male, and fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side... sorry, seem to have wandered off there for a minute.
58 min: Lord Sugar just sacked someone. I think it was the woman one, but to be honest I've lost all ability to pretend I care at this point.
So there you have it, the Apprentice seems to be an ongoing experiment by a skilful but possibly mad mogul with a fondness for psychological manipulation. Of course, it's important to not make conclusions based on a single source/example.
Someone else can gather the data in future though. No way am I sitting through that again.
Dean Burnett is usually silent on twitter when the Apprentice is no. See for yourself, @garwboy.
Assistant headteacher Peter Smith offers some guidance on how to make your department shine
Lead by example
All historians love a quote and that quite wise chap Gandhi once said: "You must be the change you want to see in the world." If you want a department where ideas are shared, students are enthused and teaching is dynamic, you have to take the lead. The job of head of department can be a lonely one; trying to be professional with your department members and therefore keeping a little distance (written by someone who married one of his department, this is more of a do as I say not as I do moment) and not always being taken seriously by SLT. Don't focus on you, instead put your efforts into modelling the very best practice. Be the first to share ideas; lessons, model answers, revision guides. Put all your lessons on the shared area, encourage others to observe you. Not because you think you're amazing, but because you want others to do the same, and if they see you doing it, they're more likely to return the efforts/opportunity.
Praise others, not yourself
While you should aim to be the best teacher in the department, you shouldn't publicise this. Go about your role with confidence, but let others work out that you're really good. If you go about listing your track record of outstanding observations or the time the local authority inspector cried at how beautiful your lesson on slavery was, it will only eventually demotivate and intimidate your staff. Instead praise your staff when you catch them doing something well or hear something good about their lessons. And pass these things on to the head; big up your staff whenever possible. By doing this you build their confidence. Linked to this, when you delegate roles out, leave what they produce alone. Resist the temptation to rewrite the revision guide front page as it doesn't quite fit with how you'd do it, or edit the material for the website. If it's correct allow the member of staff ownership of it rather than you taking the credit.
Don't do things for Ofsted
Ofsted is an important government body auditor and what they say about us is how we're judged as schools. It is not an improvement body and until it is, it won't have my support or credibility (I hear Mr Wilshaw is devastated by this news). Ofsted is important, and I'm not saying disregard it, I'm saying do things for the right reasons. And if you do that, turns out Ofsted will probably like it. So ask for student input into the department if you genuinely care and you're going to reflect on the results. If you're doing it just because it looks good then frankly don't bother; it's a waste of your staff's valuable time and when the inspectors scratch below the surface they'll realise it's done purely for effect anyway.
Protect your staff
As a department they're your most valuable resource. Appoint wisely and then look after them. Keep an eye on how hard they're working, and if they look stressed relieve some stress by sending them home without work for a weekend or helping with their mock marking. Sometimes this will put you in direct conflict with your line manager or headteacher, as sometimes you will be disregarding school policy. Be brave and stand your ground.
Deploy your troops wisely
Look at your subject. For example history really competes for students at GCSE and A-level and the more students the better; more resources, more specialist teachers, more status in the school. Make sure therefore that the people delivering your year 9 curriculum are those who are likely to make students want to study your subject and at year 11 – have your best teachers ensuring good results. This sometimes isn't an easy call to make, but your department lives and dies by results and numbers so get the staffing right.
Exploit what you've got
Exploit your subject matter to boost your profile. Again using the example of my department history lends itself to explaining current affairs, so shed the tag of being stuck in the past by keeping the department relevant. Ask to take over the Remembrance Day assemblies to publicise the importance of history, run a school election next time there's an election and make connections with the past, use your display boards to make links to current news stories, foster links with the primary schools. No other subject gives you as much scope to do this as history. Be as creative as you can, so in a World Cup year make a wall display of a footballing team from history and ask for students to contribute personalities who would be suitable for the various positions, Bouddica on the wing maybe?
Set, short, achievable goals each term/year
Most importantly, know where you're going as a department. Set the focus as a team of what you want to achieve; better GCSE results, higher numbers, better teaching. Then work out the steps to get there; better exam technique, revision materials, whatever. Next allocate jobs, but do more than your fair share. Finally meet regularly and discuss how you're getting on with the goal you set. Once it's achieved, celebrate, tell someone, and set another one.
Peter Smith has been teaching for more than 10 years. He is an assistant headteacher at East Bergholt High School in Suffolk.
Officials say closures are necessary to improve standards but teachers union president calls it 'a day of mourning'
The Chicago board of education voted Wednesday to close 50 schools and programs, an ambitious plan that has sparked protests and lawsuits and could help define — for better or worse — Mayor Rahm Emanuel's term in office.
City officials say the closings are necessary because of falling school enrolment and as part of their efforts to improve the city's struggling education system.
"The only consideration for us today is to do exactly what is right for the children," schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said before the board's vote.
Critics have blasted Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, and Byrd-Bennett, saying the closings disproportionately affect minority neighborhoods and will endanger children who may have to cross gang boundaries to get to a new school.
They protested during the board's meeting Wednesday and sent busloads of parents, teachers and students to Springfield to lobby lawmakers to approve a moratorium on the closings. Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis called it "a day of mourning" for the children of Chicago.
She also pledged to start a voter registration drive in an attempt to register 200,000 new voters before the 2015 municipal elections — when Emanuel will be up for re-election — and to raise funds to support candidates for mayor, city council and statewide office.
"We know that we may not win every seat we intend to target but with research, polling, money and people power we can win some of them," Lewis said.
The board — which is appointed by Emanuel — voted to spare some schools that were targeted for closure in March. Many experts say it is the largest number of closings at any one time by any school district in recent memory.
The mayor said Tuesday he believes closing the schools is the right thing to do, and that possible blowback from voters wasn't a factor in his decisions.
"I will absorb the political consequence so our children have a better future," Emanuel said. "If I was to shrink from something the city has discussed for over a decade about what it needed to do … because it was politically too tough, but then watch another generation of children drop out or fail in their reading and math, I don't want to hold this job."
Chicago is among several major US cities, including Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit to use mass school closures to reduce costs and offset declining enrolment. Detroit has closed more than 130 schools since 2005, including more than 40 in 2010 alone.
The school closings are the second major issue pitting Emanuel against the Chicago Teachers Union. The group's 26,000 members went on strike early in the school year, partly over the school district's demand for longer school days, idling students for a week.
Emanuel and Byrd-Bennett say the district's financial and educational struggles call for drastic action. They say the nation's third-largest school district is facing a deficit of about $1bn and that too many Chicago Public Schools buildings are half-empty because of a population drop in some city neighborhoods. They've also pledged students will be moved to schools that are performing better academically.
CPS says it has 403,000 students in a system that has seats for more than 500,000. The closures include one high school program; the rest are elementary schools, serving students up to eighth grade.
Alderman Jason Ervin, whose West Side ward includes several schools slated for closure, fears the closings could further destabilize the area. He said many area residents have grown frustrated because they feel the decision about which schools to close was made months ago, despite weeks of additional hearings and community meetings.
But he was less certain what impact, if any, it could have on Emanuel's political future.
"He's the mayor. I'm the alderman. We still have to work together," Ervin said. "People will make those decisions when the time comes."
The new British space race (To boldly go, G2, 21 May) has the potential to inspire young people and boost our economy. Space travel captures the imagination of budding young inventors and engineers – it is the stuff of childhood dreams. But there are other British industries at the forefront of technology that can inspire and propel young people towards careers in engineering and science. Without changing the way we teach, they will pass children by.
Engineers have designs on the future: fuel cells, driverless cars and super materials. Material scientists, for instance, delve into the depths of space at a micro-level, increasing the possibilities of product design and engineering. But children do not see this side of engineering. For them, engineers are men in greasy overalls fixing the boiler. We must bridge the gap in understanding – to plug the shortage of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates every year.
Our design and technology curriculum must reflect the potential of a career in engineering. Our foundation has worked with secondary schools in Bath, donating industry equipment and setting pupils briefs to make something with a purpose – much like in industry. It connects the idea that engineers design something tangible. The results have been startling, with more than twice the number of students signing up to study design and technology. A world class D&T curriculum that fuels young astronauts and aeronautical engineers alike would replicate this on a national scale. The results could be quite remarkable – getting Britain inventing again.
Founder of Dyson and chair of the James Dyson Foundation
My friend Joan Hooker, who has died aged 87, began her working life at 17, when she joined the Free French in De Gaulle's London headquarters, starting a lifetime of political involvement.
At the end of the second world war she became secretary to John Freeman, who had been elected to the 1945 parliament and was minister at the War Office. Here, at 21, one of a tiny nucleus of active Labour secretaries, she was instrumental in establishing a branch of the Clerical & Administrative Workers Union for parliamentary staff (working unsocial hours, for inadequate pay, in haphazard conditions – the Commons still a bomb crater). One early task was to meet the serjeant at arms with concerns that rebuilding plans for the House included provision for 40 secretaries, not the 300-plus who existed, and who had not been consulted about the rebuild.
This early union activity continued with Joan's subsequent career as a teacher-trainer, when she became the first woman elected to the national executive of the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutions (ATTI, later Natfhe). Later on, she thoroughly enjoyed her time as a mayoral consort in Islington.
Joan was a pioneer in so many ways, once telling me that her daughter Helen's birth in 1958 – not an easy time to be a single mother – was "the best thing that ever happened to her", and she combined motherhood and career with tremendous organisation, hard work and panache.
In retirement, exasperated with party politics, she turned her considerable energies to the voluntary sector, becoming chair of the Dulwich branch of Save the Children, in south London, and chair of the local Townswomen's Guild, also keeping active with the Fabian Society.
She was kind, clever, deceptively funny, and told the best stories – about everything from a stylish hat recently bought from John Lewis, to riveting political intrigue, from the last month or the last century. She had a real gift for warm, supportive female friendships: I knew Joan through my aunt Jo, their friendship forged as fellow secretaries in parliament; Joan's friendship with Nancy Bouvier was even longer, from their Free French days to Nancy's death in 2009.
Joan, well-organised to the last, arranged her own funeral a couple of days before her death, and on the day she died was still working on the Guardian cryptic crossword. She is survived by her daughter, Helen, her grandson, Will, and her sister, Sheila.
Nearly 90% of them have taken drugs, a higher proportion than in any other discipline, according to a poll of 21 UK universities
An Oxford philosopher this week described their drug experiences in a survey by online student newspaper the Tab. "Having dinner with parents while seeing the world in monochrome and feeling supremely dizzy! I think my speech was barely coherent."
Yawn. Other drug experiences recounted to the Tab are more entertaining. The Nottingham classicist who ran 4km home in 3D glasses while off their nut on illicit pharmaceuticals. The Oxford maths student who took MDMA, ketamine and laughing gas: "I thought I was Godzilla."
The Tab's survey of more than 5,000 students at 21 British universities reveals that 87% of philosophers polled had taken drugs, compared with 57% of medical students. Why this discrepancy? Is it because philosophy is easier than medicine and thus offers more recreational downtime? Really? Is grasping the Kantian noumenon less demanding than dissecting corpses?
The Tab's editors, sensibly, say the survey should be taken with a pinch of salt since respondents are self-selecting. But if so, why would philosophy students be more likely to self-select than others? Is it – and this is just a theory – that relative employment prospects drive philosophers to seek solace in drugs? If so, why would a higher proportion of business administration students than lawyers claim to be drug users?
Another theory is that philosophy – more than any other intellectual discipline (with the possible exception of a level three plumbing NVQ) – requires one to recalibrate the portals of one's consciousness in order to get one's intellectual freak on. In Thomas Nagel's superb essay What is it Like to be a Bat?, for instance, the great philosopher wrote: "I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task."
Nagel didn't think to take drugs to expand those resources, but other philosophers have done. William James took nitrous oxide and found, as he reported in The Varieties of Religious Experience, that it served to "stimulate the mystical consciousness to an extraordinary degree". It was only then he understood Hegelian philosophy's notion of god: "[T]o me the living sense of its reality only comes in the artificial mystic states of mind."
Perhaps James's drug experimenting is inspiring today's philosophers: 45% of students polled claimed to have taken laughing gas. Or perhaps not – 68% had taken cannabis. Until a cross-referencing of which types of students favour what kind of drugs, we are lost in a world of diverting speculation.
In ancient Greece and Rome, there was a drug called the tetrapharmakos, consisting of wax, pork fat, pitch and pine resin. Yummy. Hadrian considered it a delicacy and, possibly, commissioned a wall while under its influence. I mention it because Hellenistic philosopher Epicurus used tetrapharmakos to designate the four-part means of leading the happiest possible life. Clearly, too few of today's philosophers read Epicurus. Forget druggie hedonism, he counselled, the cure for what ails you is intellectual, not mystical: don't fear God, don't worry about death, what is good is easy to get, what is terrible is easy to endure.
With this cure, Epicurus recommended, one might achieve ataraxia – freedom from worry and distress. Good point. But if you want to understand Hegel or know what it's like to be a bat or Godzilla, try laughing gas.
Deputy PM reproaches alma mater as MPs urge companies to withdraw work placements from fee-paying school's auction
Nick Clegg has backed complaints about a prestigious private school's auction of exclusive work experience placements for its students.
A group of MPs have written to participants including Coutts bank, Fabergé and the high street retail guru Mary Portas asking them to withdraw their placements from an online auction at Westminster school, where Clegg was once a pupil.
The auction, described by one MP as "grotesque", is expected to raise thousands of pounds for the school, which charges annual fees of more than £21,000.
The letter, signed by seven Labour and Lib Dem MPs including the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, and the former secretary of state Hazel Blears, condemns the 15 organisations offering the placements for "explicitly favouring privilege".
Clegg also signalled his disapproval at the behaviour of his alma mater. A spokesman for the deputy prime minister told the Guardian: "Nick Clegg believes that internships should be made available on a fair and open basis to talented young people from all backgrounds, not just those who have the right connections."
Current bids for the placements average hundreds of pounds, with one of the highest at £825 for one or two weeks' work experience with a criminal defence barrister in London.
In 2011 the Conservative party faced flak for auctioning off internships at its Black and White ball to raise money for party coffers.
In their letter the MPs say: "Many have worked hard and secured a good education, only to find that the jobs market demands lengthy periods of work experience, without which they cannot find a job.
"By offering opportunities solely on the basis of wealth, you are explicitly favouring privilege, and excluding the vast majority of young people who don't have the financial support or family connections that those at Westminster school already have."
Portas, a government adviser, has come in for special criticism for offering a week's work experience at her communications company. The Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, said: "It's grotesque for Westminster school to be auctioning internships for hundreds of pounds, especially when many young people can only dream of having this sort of opportunity.
"It's very disappointing that Mary Portas, a government retail adviser, is allowing a one-week placement at her company to be sold to the highest bidder. Young people shouldn't have to work for free to get on in life. This appalling case shows why we need to ensure interns are always properly paid."
Gus Baker, of the campaign group Intern Aware, who drafted the letter, said the companies involved should be "absolutely ashamed of what they're doing".
"It's another huge leg up," he said, for the children of the rich "to be invited into an investment bank, an architects firm, to be part of a small network. These industries will just become the preserve of those who have significant amounts of money."
The auction, which opened at the start of May, is due to close on Wednesday night. Westminster school was not available for comment but has said the money raised from the auction will go towards its new capital projects and bursary programme.
Cheating at university takes many forms, says academic. Are student excuses moving with the times? Share your stories
Cheating students: you've probably had a few in your class. But cheating isn't always the sophisticated process some may think. According to Bernard Bull from Concordia University Wisconsin, who has set up a course for academics to look into why and how students cheat, a more simplistic approach he calls "poor cheating" sees students manipulating academic staff to extend deadlines or give them a second chance.
Students may think telling little white lies is harmless, but as Bull says, they are the most commonplace forms of cheating. "It's fair to say that more than half of students have cheated, even if only in some quite small way," he estimates.
We're interested to hear your experiences, from stories of sick relatives and hungry pets to more shameless white lies and elaborate tale-telling. Are student excuses for lost or uncompleted work moving with the times and should these incidents be labelled as cheating alongside plagiarism and examination fraud? Share your anecdotes in the comments section below: how have students tried to pull the wool over your eyes and how, in turn, have you pulled the rug from under their feet? Remember to keep all examples anonymous.
When Toni Pearce becomes NUS president in July, college students and youth unemployment will be top of her agenda
Builders are still wandering in and out of 275 Grays Inn Road, the NUS's sleek new offices in central London. Inside, it looks more like an imitation of Google's headquarters than a gritty hub of student activism. The corridors smell of new carpet, walls are brightly painted and the rooms are open plan.
Up two flights of stairs, Toni Pearce – who from July onwards will be the organisation's president – is sitting in a meeting room, perched below a sign that reads "students driving change".
She's describing how she plans to spend her time as leader: "It'll be successful if we can alter the way the education system looks – the binary that if you don't go on to A-levels at 16 then you're a failure. At the moment we have one marker for success: a degree.
"The majority of our members are actually in further education (FE)," adds Pearce, who will be the first NUS president not to have studied at university. She says the NUS is already doing more to support such students, which include apprentices and those enrolled at colleges.
The organisation is certainly in need of a fresh start. Two years ago student protesters rounded on their leader Aaron Porter for not fighting hard enough to stop the trebling of tuition fees. It was the NUS's darkest hour, from which it has struggled to recover. The latest national student protest, Demo2012, ended with outgoing president Liam Burns being pelted with eggs and fruit.
But in her denim hoodie and trainers Pearce is a far cry from Porter, who dressed for career success. She's also, she adds, "a very different person to Liam. We have very different backgrounds and we grew up in completely different circumstances."
Why did Demo2012 end so badly? Silence. "Did it really end that badly though?" chips in Pearce's press officer, who sits with us throughout the interview. "The eggs actually missed his head."
The NUS represents seven million student members, Pearce answers. "It's really difficult to balance and represent the politics of such a broad band of people. Sometimes people don't like you when you're running an organisation like the NUS, you just have to try and be as representational as possible."
Pearce was born in Cornwall to an ex-Navy aircraft engineer and a stay-at-home mum who was later to retrain as a chartered management accountant. After studying at Cornwall College – where she obtained two As and a B, in maths, English and history – she postponed an offer to study at Bath University, taking a one-year post at her college's student union.
"I was determined I was going to do one year, and then I'd go to university. But after one year I ended up doing another year, and in the end I didn't go at all. I vividly remember my mum saying, 'So you're not going to university then?' I just said no, and that was it – that was the end of that conversation."
Neither of Pearce's parents went to university and she says her family isn't especially political. Pearce only became involved in student union politics because she was obsessed with sports – "football, cricket, rugby, badminton, netball and basketball, I loved them all," – and she wanted to set up coaching at her old college. She was later diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome and experienced some of the difficulties that disabled students face. It was then that she realised that student politics was also a way to improve her experience at college.
Pearce says she was never "a stereotypical student activist", adding that actually there's no such thing. But growing up, she was always seen as "fiercely independent" by her mum.
"There are lots of stories about me… not causing trouble, but me saying 'I don't want to study in this way' and teachers saying 'Well when you've got three As at A-level, then you can come and tell me how to do my job.' I'm the youngest of three sisters, which probably explains it."
Pearce's assertiveness made her a successful VP for further education, a role she held for a year. During that time she won £41m for Care to Learn, a fund that helps young parents stay in education, and £50m in bursaries for adult FE student support.
But there's plenty more to be done, she says. Not least finding a replacement for the educational maintenance allowance (EMA).
"I want something better than the EMA," Pearce says. "Thirty pounds a week as a flat rate for people who are means tested: that doesn't take into account how many siblings or dependents your family might have, it stops after you turn 19 and is taken over by an adult learner grant that is even less funded… I don't really want to ask for a return to EMA. I want to ask for something better.
"It's an absolute farce that you're better off [if over 18] being out of education and claiming jobseeker's allowance than you are in further education, trying to improve your opportunities for work. It's absolutely ridiculous."
"It also really frustrates me," Pearce continues, "that if you're 24 and a single mother and you decide to go to uni you could get a full grant and a full loan, based on your circumstances. But if you're 24, a single parent, and you don't have any qualifications and you want to study in further education, then you'll still have to take out a loan but you don't get any maintenance support."
"It's a real disgrace because those are the people that we should be investing in."
Pearce recalls how adult learning helped her mum forge a career in chartered management. "My mum only went into work and studied after I was born. She studied for four years while she was bringing up my and me three sisters. Seeing my mum study in her 40s and become an amazing and talented woman, it made me realise how important access to education is."
Education doesn't exist in a vacuum, Pearce says – it's key to helping people find jobs. But she's suspicious of the emphasis some place on "employability".
"I don't think it's ok that we just teach people to be better at competing against each other for jobs that don't exist."
Young people need more jobs, and Pearce wants the NUS to do more to improve the employment market. "It's something we've shied away from in the past, we can't really afford to do that anymore. Of course I believe the government should be creating jobs, but if they're not, then maybe the NUS should be looking at how we can support student unions to create jobs in local areas. We can't just sit back and wait for something magically to happen."
The organisation should also take a realistic approach when campaigning, focusing on the most crucial issues, she adds, hinting that it is drawing a line under the tuition fee argument.
"I hate tuition fees. But when people wake up in morning and decide to drop out, that's not because they can't pay their tuition fees. It's because they can't afford to pay their rent or bills – these are the issues that need tackling. When we only talk about one issue, like tuition fees, we risk deprioritising everything else, almost by accident."
Instead it's important, she says, for the NUS to prove that it "stands for something", pointing to the traineeships the organisation has created after working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
And she admits, the organisation must do more to reach out to students.
"We've done some work on perceptions of the NUS. It depends on who the students are – it's important not to clump them together. There are people in FE who have been directly affected by campaigns we run, like Care to Learn, who will have no idea that we ran that campaign."
But she disagrees that students, university or college-based, are apathetic. "I genuinely don't believe there is anyone who isn't political because you must have beliefs about the people and the world around you. People don't not care about anything."
It's making the connection between life and politics that matters, she adds, and realising that student activism is about more than turning out for a protest.
• This article was amended on 22.05.13. The number of students represented by the NUS has been changed from seven billion to seven million.
Full list of the 102 free schools in England approved by the department for education for opening in September 2014
A total of 102 new free schools have been approved by the department for education for opening in 2014 and beyond.
The new schools planned include the Marco Polo Academy, a bilingual English-Mandarin primary school in Barnet, and the Phoenix in Oldham, a military-style academy staffed by former soldiers, which had its initial application in 2012 turned down.
Let us know what stands out to you – or any other related information you have – in the comments below, via Twitter to me directly @RichardA or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note: school names may change as projects progress.
Of the 102 free schools approved to open from 2014 onwards:
• 78 are mainstream schools
• 8 are special schools
• 16 are alternative provision
• 33 are primary
• 36 are secondary
• 11 are all-through age group schools
• 5 are 14-19 age group schools
• 5 are 16-19 age group schools
• 12 are other age groups
The category "mainstream schools" excludes special schools and alternative provision free schools. "Alternative provision" is the academy or free school equivalent of a pupil referral unit.
Types of schools and proposers:
• 70 set up by teachers, existing schools, and educational organisations
• 32 set up by parents, community, charity and other groups
• 15 designated faith schools, and will be able to select a maximum of 50% of their pupils on the basis of faith
East Midlands – 5
East of England – 9
London – 46
North West – 11
South East – 11
South West – 3
West Midlands – 8
Yorkshire and Humber – 9
Mental health among students is not good, according to an NUS survey – little wonder, when their situation today is so dismal
Being a student is hard, according to the latest study from the National Union of Students. Specifically, it's hard on your mental health: 80% of the 1,200 UK students surveyed reported feeling stressed, with 55% experiencing anxiety and 50% suffering from insomnia or sleeping problems. One in 10 reported "suicidal feelings" and, perhaps most poignantly, 40% of the sample reported feelings of "worthlessness" or "hopelessness".
Getting into university is an increasingly difficult affair, which explains why we simultaneously celebrate and lament the excellent results produced by a new cohort of students each year, more often than not outperforming their predecessors. The reward for their collective achievement will be renewed competition for the best universities, the top grades, and – now that it's not unusual for fees to cost at least £9,000 a year – an experience that's "value for money".
Gruelling interview processes are not unusual, especially for courses like medicine, dentistry, and veterinary science, or for institutions like Oxbridge. Additional hoop-jumping, such as the History Aptitude Test or the LNAT for law applicants, is similarly commonplace. Students should be highly academic but "well-rounded", with a stereotypically American idea of the all-singing, all-dancing star quarterback (or the British equivalent: best wing attack since 2008 and/or a Duke of Edinburgh silver award) becoming more and more pervasive. Once the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young intelligentsia pull up at their dank student halls, they should at least feel some semblance of achievement. The fact that almost half of them in any survey end up feeling "worthless" anyway is a damning indictment of education in 2013.
Perhaps it's to be expected that after all that performance and magicianry, all the cajolement to be your own publicist amid tears and retakes and pushy parents, that the promised reward of heady student days falls short. Surprisingly overpriced snakebites at the student bar glitter like so much fool's gold. The inner-city halls are a test in endurance (my own once memorably provided a dinner of roast potatoes with chips.)
The courses, mostly marred by educational cuts that haven't been balanced out by skyrocketing fees, often offer disappointing teacher-to-student ratios. Enthusiastic protests and occupations abound – and are summarily ignored. Deadlines come thick and fast for first-year students, and for their final-year counterparts, the recession beckons. Finally, when they emerge into this delicate economic environment, it will be in the knowledge that they're nothing special after all: UK graduate job vacancies recently outnumbered roles that don't need any qualifications. Is it any wonder that our students feel anxious?
Michael Chessum, president of the University of London Union, pointed out in response to the NUS survey that student poverty has been "rising exponentially, while more and more of us are being pushed into working long hours to make ends meet". The fact that his own job title is quite possibly soon-to-be meaningless – considering an internal review at the University of London recently recommended shutting down the students' union – is depressing enough. Meanwhile, groups like the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and movements like Occupy have made enthusiastic attempts to change things on a political level, but are usually dismissed by university boards and businesslike provosts. The large-scale student occupation of UCL ultimately ended in eviction. Most student protesters across the UK then graduated, and slunk off home to sign on the dole. After all, they'd been priced out of their university flats once the student loan ran out: rents in college areas remain stubbornly extortionate.
Meanwhile, the ones who could afford to stay in their university towns and continue the protests usually did it with the support of moneyed parents. Even activism looked like it was becoming the bastion of the upper middle class. During the aftermath of the UCL occupation, a slew of privately educated anarchists appointed themselves to continue "fighting the student fight. They did this by attending anarchist book fairs, holding long internal meetings about "the poor" of London, and organising the odd trip to throw stones at tanks in Palestine. In this world of unsure prospects, financial instability, champagne socialists, unmoved governments, and strip clubs urging female students to consider lap dancing their way out of student debt, there's no wonder that stress levels are through the roof. An ONS report of the recession years showed that student suicides had increased dramatically between 2007 and 2011, with rates of female suicides in particular almost doubling.
It's a shame, then, that during cuts that ravaged student welfare, mental health services have often been the first to go. In the callous words of the vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton last month: "Students don't come to university for support staff." But if modern student life continues to have such a bleak outlook, he might find that the brightest and best don't come to university at all.
My work experience led to my first job, teaching me I had a value. Charging parents creates a class of haves and have nots
On Monday the Times reported that parents are being asked by schools to subsidise work experience placements by paying around £50 or more for the opportunity, with an additional fee for placements in London. Following the government's decision to drop compulsory work experience for 14- to 16-year-olds last year, parents are now picking up the bill for risk assessments and admin associated with placements.
Placing a financial burden on parents seems not only unfair, but also likely to enforce social imbalances in the classroom and the workplace. Asking parents to pay a higher fee for placements that are further afield imposes a barrier that many young people and their parents will not be able to overcome. While students from wealthy families might score their dream placement in a big company in London, others will get left behind, stuck with a limited choice of local businesses in which to work.
If organised properly, work placements can be great experiences for young people. When I was 15 I did work experience at a local jewellery shop as part of a school requirement. It was my first experience in a working environment, and I loved it. I came back to school with a newfound confidence and love of jewellery-making.
After the placement I went on to get a Saturday job there, which I kept for three years. Many of my peers had similar experiences in which work placements became a first job, and it was in this job that I learnt the meaning of work and earning my own money.
Although I did not expect to be paid on the actual placement (where I was just observing what went on), it gave me the important experience that then led me into employment. That first job taught me that I have a value: I still have a photocopy of my first pay cheque. By telling young people and their parents to pay for these experiences we are setting them up to undervalue what they have to offer.
Work experience placements can be incredibly beneficial, and doing them while at school and still living with parents is perhaps the perfect time to get a glimpse of the working world without the worry of how to pay your rent. But making them the financial responsibility of parents sends out the wrong messages – messages that are hard to undo later in life. It makes young people believe from an early age that they should be willing to pay for these kinds of experiences, and it tells parents that it is their duty to support their children while they do so. For struggling families these additional costs could come as a real burden, a burden that risks splitting a class into those who can, and those who can't.
Perhaps change is on its way. Labour is reportedly working on a proposal to reinstate compulsory work experience in schools, in a bid to better equip young people with the professional skills to get them into the workplace. I believe that quality work experience placements are a great thing, and that they should be part of our curriculum. When done fairly they give school pupils invaluable professional experience, confidence and can lead them into employment. But just don't make the parents catch the costs. Because in the end it is the children who pay.
Guardian Students turns one today. We have plenty of birthday treats in store, including: an interview with Toni Pearce, the next NUS president, a showcase of our best student blogs – and best of all, presents.
We'll be giving away birthday gifts on the hour, every hour from 10am-5pm. Join Guardian Students now for a chance to win.
A UK-backed project in Western Equatoria state seeks to ensure domestic and social factors don't deny girls an education
Bridget Nagomoro used to get up at five in the morning to fetch water from the stream, cook breakfast for the family, then walk the five miles to school. In the evening, she would eat at 10pm having cooked dinner, done the household chores and completed her homework.
It's a familiar routine for girls in South Sudan, but Nagomoro was a trailblazer. She was the first girl from Ibba county – a community of 90,000 people – in landlocked Western Equatoria state to finish primary school. Being the only girl at her school was hard.
"Some of the boys used to threaten me because I got better results than them," said Nagomoro last week during a visit to Britain. Now a local government commissioner in Ibba county, she wants to make it easier for girls to get an education by setting up a boarding school for girls aged 10 and above – the point at which most drop out because of the competing pressures from family, household chores, childcare and early pregnancy.
Nagomoro has donated a large plot of land for the school and enlisted the support of local chiefs and elders. She has sought assistance from contacts in the UK, including Professor John Benington of Warwick University Business School, whom she met when he held workshops in South Sudan.
Nagomoro was in the UK with Pia Philip Michael, the state minister of education for Western Equatoria, to report to British supporters who are helping to raise money for the school through the Friends of Ibba Girls School, a UK-based charity. Also on the agenda was the enormous challenge to girls' education after decades of civil war, continuing unrest and a refugee influx from the north.
South Sudan, which became independent from Sudan in 2011, has one of the world's worst indicators for education. A Unesco report from that year said there were more than 1.3 million primary school-age children out of school in the country, which is second-to-bottom in the world ranking for net enrolment in primary education and bottom of the world league table for enrolment in secondary education.
The situation for girls is particularly dire. They are less likely to start school and more likely to drop out. A young girl in South Sudan is three times likelier to die in pregnancy or childbirth than to finish primary school, said the Unesco report. The shortage of teachers is acute; the ratio of pupils to qualified teachers averages 100:1, but is double that in some states. Only 12% of teachers are women, another factor discouraging girls from attending school.
Another challenge is the lack of facilities. "80% of our schools are under trees and it rains nine months of the year," said Pia. This poses problems for protecting textbooks, provided for primary schools by Britain's Department for International Development (DfID) for the first time this year.
Part of DfID's aid programme is to support 2 million children in primary education by providing textbooks, building classrooms and offering education to children who drop out or start school late. Support for education is one thing, changing attitudes towards girls' education another.
Pia spoke of a major campaign in Western Equatoria involving officials moving from village to village to spread the national message on educating girls. "We are engaging village chiefs on our education policies for girls," he said. "We say to them, 'Don't leave girls behind.'"
It is against this backdrop that Nagomoro is pursuing what she calls her dream of creating a boarding school for girls that will, to some extent, insulate them from the pressures that force girls to drop out. Enough funding has been raised from UK supporters to clear and fence the site for the school, and to instal two solar-powered water boreholes, one for the village and one for the school. Building the first classrooms, toilets, kitchen and dining space is now under way; the plan is to open in February, with 40 10-year-olds.
Nagomoro was fortunate that her parents believed strongly in the value of education, both for her and her four brothers. She went on to secondary school and served as a nun before studying for a degree in education and returning home. She still remembers what her father used to tell her: "A pen and a hoe, that is the future."
Do you need to worry about points on your driving licence when applying for a job? Alan Newland offers some advice for teachers worried about past convictions
Sometimes student teachers and trainees ask me if having a criminal record is a bar to teaching. The answer, you may be surprised to learn, is usually no. But it depends what the conviction is.
A lot of people get worried that something such as speeding points on your driving licence might be a problem, which of course it isn't. If we barred every teacher who had a driving ban, let alone three points on their licence, we'd have a major crisis in teacher recruitment.
However, teaching is exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and as a teacher, you will be subject to enhanced checks by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). As most people already on teacher training courses have declared their previous criminal convictions and cautions, or should have, and have already had a DBS check by the university or training provider, they have been deemed suitable to teach in accordance with the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
Of course, candidates with very serious convictions; such as murder, robbery with violence, serious sexual assault, dealing in Class A drugs and any at all involving violence against children or vulnerable adults, would normally have been weeded out as 'unsuitable' at an initial DBS check.
Some though, even ones as serious as 'manslaughter in self-defence' might not necessarily be a reason for barring someone from acceptance on a teacher training course.
However, if you have a conviction or caution of any kind, what will be worrying you right now is how the schools that you are currently applying to will view your application.
Minor convictions are almost always not considered serious enough to deem a person unsuitable for teaching. If someone has been silly in their youth and has been convicted of drug possession, a minor burglary, theft of a car or from a store, a minor affray at a football match or political demonstration; they probably have no need to worry about it affecting their chances of becoming a teacher. Of course, any convictions that includes violence against the person are taken very much more seriously, but still the circumstances and history of the offense would be the issue.
A trainee asked me recently whether a conviction for a domestic violence incident would count against him. He had declared it to the university and explained the circumstances but was worried now that he was applying to schools be a teacher. I suggested to him that most people have a very forgiving nature; given the circumstances. What I couldn't guarantee was that every member, of every selection panel, of every school that he might apply to, will react so forgivingly to such an incident.
It is always difficult to know how people on interview panels will react to a given issue, especially where parent governors are present, as they invariably will be. It won't help that currently, schools are likely to receive scores of applications for every post they advertise; so they can pick and choose in a buyers' market.
But do not completely despair. Many people including headteachers and parent governors do not view a misspent youth as necessarily a bad thing. In my experience, some governors even think a little bit of life experience equips someone to be a teacher in ways that help them relate more empathetically to pupils and students, particularly those demonstrating challenging behaviour.
Depending on what the issue is, you may even be wise to bring it out into the open at interview. Explaining to the panel how you mended the error of your ways and used the experience as a catalyst to make you a more reflective and mature person, might be seen as very positive. In my view, that approach is far better than leaving it as the elephant in the room. The point is, whatever the conviction or caution, declare it. If you don't, that in itself is a reason for summary dismissal.
If you want to know more about what might or might not be a conviction or caution deemed unsuitable to be a teacher, the DBS site has more information. Alternatively, if you have joined a union as a trainee, and my advice is you should, then consult them. The NUT has a very useful fact sheet which may help to answer some queries.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in Hackney and Tottenham for more than 20 years. He has also trained teachers, worked at the Department for Education and the General Teaching Council.
Liberal Democrat schools minister tells Michael Gove, the education secretary, the proposal is a 'non-flyer'
A proposal to require schools to check on the immigration status of their pupils has been shelved after the Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws decided the idea would be bureaucratic and difficult to implement.
In a sign of the Lib Dems' determination to assert themselves in the coalition, Laws told the education secretary Michael Gove the proposal was a "non-flyer".
According to Whitehall emails leaked to the Guardian in March, Laws asked officials earlier this year to carry out a "cost-benefit analysis" of carrying out checks on the immigration status of pupils "as part of school admissions".
Laws, who was understood to be sceptical about the idea, ordered the analysis after officials warned ministers that Britain would be in breach of the UN convention on the rights of the child if it attempted to ban illegal immigrant children from schools.
The ideas were being considered as part of the work of a ministerial committee, chaired by the immigration minister Mark Harper, that has been charged with drawing up new restrictions on immigrants.
Downing Street wants these in place ahead of the lifting of labour market restrictions on workers from Romania and Bulgaria next January.
The Lib Dems are full members of the ministerial committee and are signed up to toughening immigration rules. But they believe the Tories, who are nervous about Ukip, need to be restrained at times.
One source said Laws has vetoed the school vetting proposal. "David decided that this idea would be extremely bureaucratic and difficult to implement," he said.
"It would end up placing a major burden on teachers. Michael Gove has agreed to that and the Department for Education has said this is not an idea that is going to fly."
John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, told the Guardian in March – after examining the emails – that the immigration proposals were "scraping the barrel of morality".
In an email to David McVean, the deputy director of the Department for Education (DfE), one civil servant wrote: "The group has asked that DfE looks further at the feasibility of carrying out checks on migrant status as part of school admissions.
"David Laws has asked for a cost-benefit analysis of carrying out the checks. I think this needs to consider evidence of the extent of existing problems – Home Office have already provided some estimates for the number of illegal migrant children in English schools … [and] how migrant status information could be used.
"I think members of IMG [inter-ministerial group on migrants' access to benefits and public services] have agreed that there should not be a bar on illegal migrants going to school – David Laws certainly sees this as a red line."
Secondary school that promises to do away with traditional classroom lessons is among new tranche to open next year
An unorthodox secondary school offering "cross-subject projects" rather than traditional classroom lessons, is among the latest tranche of free schools to be approved.
XP school in Doncaster is one of the 102 new free schools given the go-ahead to open next year by Michael Gove, the education secretary, a slight decrease on the 109 schools opening this year.
XP's prospective chair of governors, Gwyn ap Harri – a former computer science teacher who went on to start a company selling educational software – says the school's teaching method is based on how learning takes places in the "real world", rather than sitting behind desks.
"We'll be still be teaching the national curriculum, the kids will still be doing GCSEs and A-levels. But the way we deliver the curriculum will be totally different," Harri said.
"If you want, for instance, an investigation into the wildlife in your back garden, there are loads and loads of different subjects you can cover within that. You can do maths in terms of the size of the garden, how many samples you can find, what percentage that is," he said. "Then there's the history of the place, the geography, biology, that sort of thing. So you can learn through a really wide project or expedition."
XP will be unorthodox in other ways too. Admission will be by city-wide lottery, while class sizes will be kept to a tiny 25 pupils, with teachers expected to multitask across subjects. "Teachers want to teach this way," said Harri. "They don't want to just teach GCSE music, they also want to teach art or PE or whatever their passion is."
Announcing the names of the majority of the 102 approved schools, Gove said: "There are many innovators in local communities set on raising standards of education for their children. I am delighted to approve so many of their high-quality plans to open a free school."
Of the 102 new free schools, more than half are in London (46) and the south-east (11). XP will be one of just nine in Yorkshire and Humber, with 13 in the Midlands and three in the south-west of England.
Kevin Brennan, Labour's shadow schools minister, accused the government of "ignoring the crisis in primary places" and setting up schools where there was already a surplus of places.
"Their damaging focus on their own pet projects is failing to put our children first," Brennan said.
The National Union of Teachers general secretary, Christine Blower, said the free schools risked squandering resources. The NUT's analysis claims that the department for education (DfE) has already spent more than £200m on free schools.
"It is time for the government to change tack and allow local authorities to open new schools in areas where there is a genuine need for new places," she said.
According to the DfE's figures, the new schools will eventually offer 50,000 places. Fifteen of them will be designated faith schools, able to select a maximum of 50% of pupils on the basis of religion. One will be the Seva school in Coventry, a co-educational Sikh school for four- to 16-year-olds.
Among the new schools will be the Family school in London, for children with complex psychological, family and mental-health problems, and two schools under the aegis of the National Autistic Society, in east Cheshire and Lambeth.
In Doncaster, the response from prospective parents for XP's unorthodox teaching style has been "really good" according to Harri, with expressions of interest far outstripping its initial intake.
"When you sit down and explain to parents what we are doing, it sounds straightforward, it sounds like common sense. And it makes traditional schools sound a bit crazy," Harri said.
"You won't just learn about bees and why bees are disappearing. You'll make beehives and install them in a local park. We'll have a really strong connection to the community. A massive part of the motivation for the kids to succeed [is that] they will exhibit to the authentic audience, to adults in the real world, rather than doing work that goes into a folder and never gets seen again."
Now XP has been approved, the Education Funding Authority will begin looking for a suitable site. Because it will use a lottery for admissions, Harri said his only concern was that the new school has good transport links.
Harri said he was inspired by a visit to a school in San Diego, High Tech High, which teaches using similar methods, and schools in New England.
After becoming frustrated as a teacher Harri said he created some software to improve teaching – sold through a company named realsmart, which offers licenses for £4,995 – and then thought the technology needed a school to model the techniques. XP will use realsmart's software. "It's the only way we can do it," said Harri.
• See the full list of 2014 free schools here.
Principals must be prepared to make difficult trade-offs, says Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted's chief inspector of schools
Headteachers may face a difficult balancing act between improved wages for their staff or smaller classes for their pupils, Ofsted's chief inspector of schools said on Tuesday.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, speaking at a seminar in London, said tight budgets and performance-related pay meant heads would have to make difficult trade-offs.
"You can't have both – you can't have small classes, small groups and a highly-paid staff," Wilshaw told a seminar hosted by Reform, a rightwing thinktank.
Wilshaw referred to his experience when headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, east London.
He said he told his own staff room: "I want to reward those of you who are prepared to commit yourself to the school and do a good job in the classroom. To do that might mean we have larger classes."
Wilshaw said headteachers could win staff over by offering improved pay while arguing that "we are going to have to reorganise the way we organise our curriculum, and our group sizes within the school".
Christine Blower of the National Union of Teachers said: "This is an invidious choice no head teacher or governor would want to make. It gives lie to the idea that changes to teachers' pay are a free chance for heads and governors to pay 'good teachers' more."
The comments came as the Department for Education (DfE) prepares to rewrite state school teachers' terms and conditions in England, scrapping annual increases and giving headteachers the power to award performance-related pay rises.
"The good heads know they have got these additional freedoms and will reorganise," Wilshaw said.
In response, a DfE spokesman said it expected headteachers to be able to judge what was best for their pupils.
"It is vital that schools can recruit and reward the best teachers. We are reforming pay so schools can attract and retain the best teachers who have the greatest impact on their pupils' achievements," he said.
Recent research suggests that the quality of teachers in schools has a greater impact on performance than smaller class sizes.
Reform earlier this week published a study, Must do Better, arguing that education spending budgets could sustain an 18% cut without hurting classroom standards.
Wilshaw – who has long been a vocal supporter of rewarding teachers on merit – agreed classroom performance should be linked to pay.
"It's a nonsense that we see failing schools where most [teachers] are at the top of the scale – and that's something that inspectors comment on," he said.
To immerse his students, James Cannon pulled out the PE bibs and created a classroom divide
I have always found teaching about Northern Ireland and the Troubles difficult. An intensely complicated back story makes it a fairly sticky subject. Others; the Battle of Hastings, the Gunpowder Plot or the outbreak of the first world war, do not require as heavy a discussion to understand the pretext of why events unfolded as they did. Cue the football bibs.
Period five dawned, always a joy with year 9, but I knew they would be unable to resist getting involved in what was planned. The room was split into four sections to replicate the four provinces, and students were placed in what would be their "homeland" for that part of the lesson. Each province was allocated a different colour bib depending on what religion they were, and were then given examples of how people were forced to live in Ireland in the early 20th century. Feedback was instantly given as students voiced their displeasure about being forced into different types of work based on their religion, and animosity grew towards the Ulster section of the room who enjoyed the luxuries that British rule brought.
Along came the Home Rule Bill of 1920 which pleased some of our groups, and bibs were then swapped as we all became part of the Ulster province. We were well into the lesson at this point, and there had been no mention of copying learning objectives or underlining titles; two of the drier aspects of learning and teaching that we too often get caught up in. Students were engaged, focused, and well in the mindset of their Irish counterparts. Learning was in the air.
As we now focused on the Ulster province, most of the class donned a yellow Protestant bib, while a few others were given green Catholic bibs. Who was happy with the new arrangement and partition of Ireland, and who was not? More scenarios were discussed and the greens got more and more frustrated. "Why can't they just move into the south?" said one yellow. "Would you move?" I asked. The silence was deafening.
The class then started to look at how some may respond to the situation. The difference between peaceful and violent protest, the impact it could have on others and the virtues of both were shared. Students even brought examples from other subjects to the table. "In RE, we looked at how Martin Luther King insisted on peaceful protest, but Malcolm X did not," said Mollie.
We then got back into groups and each student was given a character card, showing their religion and where they lived. Each had a to write a short diary extract about their lives in Ireland and then share it with a friend; the views, needless to say, often conflicted. We finished off with some tweets that might have been following the Home Rule Bill of 1920; which were most amusing especially when accompanied by the hashtags. Here are a few examples:
"Hmmm so the Brits have just renamed our beautiful country ..." #northernireland
"Not sure this will have the required impact ..."#theremaybetroubleahead
@irishcatholic_official "I live in ulster, consider myself irish, but am still ruled by the brits???" #notfair #selfgovernment
@northernprotestant: "woop woop loving this new rule" #iLOVElloydgeorge
Having been around the class and talked to the students, I gauged that their understanding was good, but I guess you can never really be sure until they are actually required to apply the knowledge. It was then – when I posed questions in the next lesson about the motives behind the IRA – that students were able to recall what they had done the week before to help them answer.
"Oh yeah, my character last week was a young, Northern Irish Catholic and I can see why a resistance movement became popular in some quarters," said Kieran. Great stuff, I thought.
By trying to develop empathy with my year 9s too, I found they engaged far more effectively with the topic. Northern Ireland is a highly sensitive subject, and during the weeks that followed countless students arrived with tales from home about their parents' and grandparents' opinions on the subject. This is what history at secondary school is about for me; it's not textbooks, or learning objectives, or endless PowerPoints. It's making it relevant to our students, it's making them think for themselves, and it's about getting them to engage.
So next time you're struggling, head for the PE bibs.
Leading authority on the chemistry of liquid crystals whose work led to the development of the ubiquitous LCD
The public gauges scientists by how their research affects everyday lives. The legacy of Professor George Gray, the world's leading authority on the chemistry of liquid crystals, could be measured by the quality of televisions, mobile phones and MP3 players and, at a deeper level, how we communicate with each other, whether through Twitter, Facebook or Skype. George, who has died aged 86, invented stable liquid crystal materials and in doing so unlocked the development of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) as everyday consumer items.
He was born in Denny, Scotland, to John, a pharmacist, scientist and botanist, and his wife, Jessie. After graduating with a degree in chemistry from the University of Glasgow in 1946, he moved to University College Hull, an outpost of the University of London, to take up the post of assistant lecturer. With the guidance of Sir Brynmor Jones he studied for his PhD in the new topic of liquid crystals. After graduation he spent the next decade laying down the rules on the design and preparation of liquid crystals formed by organic compounds, culminating with the publication, in 1962, of his book Molecular Structure and the Properties of Liquid Crystals, the first English text on the subject.
By the mid-1960s, George found it difficult to find support for his work on liquid crystals. With provision from the Medical Research Council and Reckitt and Sons (now Reckitt-Benckiser, a Hull-based consumer goods company), he moved his research into the closely related study of the chemistry of the cell walls of bacteria.
Towards the end of the 1960s, there were worries that the licensing of colour cathode ray tubes for TVs was costing the country more money than it took to develop Concorde. John Stonehouse, who was minister for technology and postmaster general, encouraged the scientists at the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment at Malvern to develop new technologies to replace such devices. Liquid crystals were already in the mind of senior scientist Cyril Hilsum as a leading candidate for exploration in displays, and potential exploitation, if only he could obtain suitable and stable materials.
At a scientific meeting Cyril met George, and subsequently the University of Hull, as it had become in 1954, was awarded a research contract by the Ministry of Defence to investigate "substances exhibiting liquid-crystalline states at room temperatures". George appointed two researchers, Ken Harrison and John Nash, and within two years they had success – not by designing favourable structures into molecules, but by leaving parts out, and so the stable cyanobiphenyls were born. They became the workhorses in the development of modern flat panel displays and inspired the creation of an international industry, such that now there are more liquid crystal displays in the world than there are people.
After the invention of cyanobiphenyls, more developments followed, including materials for colour-change thermometer strips, large screen LCD TVs and the eyepieces of digital cameras. In addition to technological developments, George made many fundamental contributions on the true nature of matter, including discoveries of new liquid crystal phases and their properties. His original research was published in more than 300 scientific papers and patents, and several textbooks.
George spent nearly his entire career in science at Hull, moving to work for Merck Chemicals at Poole in 1990. His research at Hull brought recognition to the university in the Queen's award for technological achievement in 1979, the first award of its type to a university, and, in 2005, a Historical Chemical Landmark was awarded to the university by the Royal Society of Chemistry to commemorate more than 50 years of liquid crystal research.
George won many awards for his research, including the Kyoto prize in 1995, and he became a fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Irish Academy of Sciences. He was appointed CBE in 1991. Apart from his many honorary doctorates and medals for research, George was proud to have a train, which regularly ran from Hull to London, named after him.
George was once asked what advice he had for young scientists. He replied: "Science is a difficult field that demands great effort and dedication, but if you are willing to make the effort, there is much to gain."
He married Marjorie Canavan in 1953 and they were a warm, fun-loving couple. Marjorie died two weeks before George. Their daughters Veronica and Caroline survive them. Another daughter, Elizabeth, predeceased them.
• George William Gray, chemist, born 4 September 1926; died 12 May 2013
My recent experience at Dartmouth College has shown me that we are still not the society we want to be
Like many universities, Dartmouth College has venerated traditions. The annual Dimensions show – a festive, student-organized musical revue performed to entice admitted, but undecided, students to come to Dartmouth – is one such tradition. Many prospective students decide to attend Dartmouth because of how much they enjoy the performance.
On 19 April, a group of students calling themselves "#Realtalk" interrupted the show, protesting sexual assault, racism, and homophobia at the university. It was a real jolt for the campus community. President Carol Folt cancelled classes on 24 April for the first time since the mid-1980s due to the backlash: a barrage of rape and death threats on social media sites and internet forums. The ugliness and volume of these threats – not to mention the negative PR – convinced the administration that the school was in a state of crisis.
In place of its usual academic schedule, we had a day of reflection that entailed a rally on the college green and a series of facilitated discussions. But even that was not enough to heal us. The school faces a possible Title IX complaint by students and alums who claim that Dartmouth fosters a hostile environment to women, racial minorities, and LGBT students.
Dartmouth is not alone. Similar problems and complaints at Oberlin College, Swarthmore College, Occidental, and Amherst show that Dartmouth is not alone in believing that the campus fosters respect and care for all, when, in reality, it might not. This isn't a Dartmouth problem. It is an American problem.
We are often too fragmented, insular, and uncaring – excluding those who don't fit into our perception of ourselves. At a time when basic American civic responsibilities from voting to jury duty to paying taxes are perceived as burdensome, it should be no surprise that lethargy about cross community dialogue manifests itself at Dartmouth (or any other college campus).
The "#Realtalk" protestors at my school speak for a larger constituency of students who find Dartmouth's traditions, which are both reinvented and reinforced with each incoming class, unhealthy and destructive. The protests and backlash expose our basic tensions. Can Dartmouth shed its more damaging aspects while still remaining Dartmouth? I argue that it can.
College culture introduces many opportunities for inclusivity through personal interactions. After being rejected from the Greek house (aka fraternity) to which I felt affiliated, I adopted a sorority as my house, flippantly joking that I was a "sister" and planned on attending the organization's events uninvited. The women rejected my attempts to get involved. While it was a humorous circumstance, it reminded me that even students aware of social problems unconsciously reinforce our community's deepest sexist assumptions.
We need to listen to each other if we truly are committed to the stakes of "real talk". At this moment, the Dartmouth community is a series of fragmented groups, for example, athletes and members of the Greek community. There are very few shared notions of mutual care.
I am not excusing myself. I don't have concern for community members who operate in circles I perceive as hostile to gays, minorities, and women. Should I care enough to feel a sense of accountability and engage insular communities in dialogue? I absolutely must.
Like many colleges, Dartmouth has a Principle of Community that expects students to respect one another. We passively assume that respect happens. If care were explicitly questioned on campus, then students would engage in discussing these issues consistently and with respect. We would understand criticism as an act of caring and a form of investment, rather than separation. The issues that the protestors mentioned should instigate outrage within every community member, but they haven't.
The Dartmouth motto, vox clamantis in deserto – a voice crying out in the wilderness – is old, yet highly relevant. The protests were a cry in the wilderness, but one that many students did not want to hear. Once we as a student body admit that the presence of care has become a question, then there is an incentive to start to care. We can turn stigma into leadership by making what people recognize as problematic the basis for social transformation.
It is not that Dartmouth students don't care about racism, rape, and homophobia, but the assumed tolerance makes change impossible. Singling out certain fraternities as racist or the protestors as anti-Dartmouth will not move us to a place of social transformation. We are all racist – or sexist, or homophobic – in ways we won't, or can't, acknowledge. We have begun these tough conversations, and I am optimistic that our campus and others can prove that caring is true to those "old traditions".
UK now has around 2.5m millionaire households, boosted by pensions and house prices, according to new book
One British household in every 10 now has total assets exceeding £1m, according to a new book based on work at the London School of Economics published on Wednesday.
Wealth in the UK crunched the findings from a comprehensive official survey that took place between 2008 and 2010, and found that 10% of households had total wealth of £967,200 or more.
The lead author, Prof John Hills – who previously headed Whitehall's National Equality Panel – says a subsequent surge in stock markets, London house prices and the valuation of occupational pensions will "have pushed the entry point into that wealthiest tenth over the million-pound mark today".
In the midst of a slump without end, news that Britain now has around 2.5m "millionaire households" may seem surprising. But over the decades since Frank Sinatra asked Celeste Holm: "Who wants the bother of a country estate?", general inflation has obviously done a great deal of work in devaluing the millionaire currency.
But surging house prices and – more recently – rocketing valuations of pensions have boosted Britain's wealth far beyond its overall earning power. Back in the 1960s, Britons' non-pension wealth was only about twice national income; by the mid-noughties Britons were instead worth four times what they earned.
Hills explains: "It is not that there are millions of people with millions of pounds in the bank, but rather that London property prices and – for those lucky professionals who retain them – final salary pensions have quietly made technical millionaires out of many who would only consider themselves as solidly middle-class."
The previous official Wealth and Assets Survey, which covered 2006 through to 2008, implied that the top 10% had total wealth of £853,000 or more. With house prices having fluctuated without much trend since then, at least outside London, Hills believes that the most important force that has subsequently pushed up the wealth of the well-to-do has been lax monetary policy.
"With rock-bottom interest rates and quantitative easing … any given fixed pension that has been promised for the future is now worth more, in terms of the money you would have to set aside to fund it today."
The valuations can be considerable: in the light of the 2006-08 data, actuaries at Hazell Carr calculated for the Guardian that the pension of a career police inspector on the point of retirement could be worth £1.3m.
Just as striking as the rocketing level of wealth at the top end, however, is the continuing gulf between the haves and have-nots. Inequality in British pay is familiar, but it is dwarfed by inequality in wealth: whereas the top tenth of households brings home roughly 10 times as much as the poorest tenth in annual income, the top 10% own 850 times as much as the bottom tenth. And if around one in 10 are in millionaire territory, then another one in 10 households – at the opposite end of the scale – have a total net worth of less than £12,600, the poorest among them actually saddled with a negative valuation on account of debt.
As in interpreting the figures for the wealthiest, it is important to remember that the definition of assets here is designed to be all-encompassing. As well as money in the bank it includes housing, pensions, vehicles, personal possessions such as furniture and jewellery – even the average of £1,300 that nearly 6% of households claim to have locked up in personalised number plates (making for a supposed total of £1.46bn).
With such a sweeping definition of wealth, Hills regards the implications of so many families having so little as frightening. If those with low or negative wealth were all youngsters, who had not yet had a chance to save or buy durable goods, then that would be one thing – much of the problem would then be expected to solve itself over time.
But what is really troubling, he says, is that "it's not just young people who have little or no assets. There are large parts of the population who have few if any assets, right across the age range."
Among households headed by an adult aged 55-64, for example, one in 10 have accumulated worldly and financial assets worth less than £29,000. A couple seeking to buy a joint index-linked annuity with that sort of pension fund would struggle to secure an income of £1,000 a year. In practice, seeing as much of that money will often be tied up in fixtures, furnishings and other personal effects, it is likely to leave next to nothing to contribute towards retirement. Hills warns: "A great chunk of the population is approaching retirement with no property, no assets to speak of, and no security beyond the state pension and safety net."
He also warns against the complacent temptation to regard the great surge in wealth at the top end as a "purely paper" phenomenon, arguing instead that it will have implications for social mobility for a long time to come.
"Inflation in house prices underlies the burgeoning wealth at the top end of the scale, and seeing as most of us are still living in the same old houses it is easy to regard this as an illusion. But that would be a mistake: whether through downsizing, inheritance or equity release, this notional wealth gets cashed in at some stage. And whether it is spent on a comfortable retirement or on master's degrees or deposits to help buy property in the right place, it will certainly have major implications for the life chances of some – but not others – in the next generation, and the one after that. The scale of the increase in wealth over the last 20 years makes the wins and losses from this lottery far bigger than it was in the past."
Wealth in the UK: Distribution, Accumulation and Policy, is published by Oxford University Press, and launched at the London School of Economics on Wednesday
UK universities need an alternative to the US technology meme that says higher education is broken, says Saint John Walker
An avalanche is coming. Education is broken. Classrooms kill creativity. Higher education is a rotten tree being hit by lightning.
All these things have been said about higher education recently (Clay Shirky wrote the last one if you're interested). In fact, when I playfully did a Google search on "higher education is doomed", it returned some 2 million results. Those who work in teaching, especially in higher education, have had a rough time of it recently. It seems everyone's got it in for them and everyone has a prognosis of what to do about it.
To paraphrase Monty Python, you'd think the university system had kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, gone to meet its maker, joined the bleeding choir invisible. But I disagree. I actually think that higher education system's vital signs are quite healthy even if I do think (to spin out the Palin-Cleese exchange a little further), it's probably been too busy pining for the fjords.
Higher education is often criticised for what it hasn't done rather than what it has.To quote the IPPR report, 'An Avalanche is Coming': "Nothing looked more impervious to revolutionary change than Brezhnev's Soviet Union in 1980, yet just over a decade later it was gone. The hegemony of the Catholic Church in Ireland looked unshakable in 1990, but two decades later it was gone". You get the subtle suggestion – higher education hasn't moved with the times, it needs glasnost and perestroika.
One of the biggest snowballs in this supposed avalanche is the MOOC (massive open online courses) phenomenon which has captured the imagination of so many observers. It's a rather simple and utopian ideal: education for all, free, delivered to your laptop, time-shifted to your schedule not the university timetable. It's also the notion of unlocking quality knowledge from elite campuses like MIT, Stanford, Harvard and UCLA that makes it such a seductive idea.
This story is also inextricably linked to the Silicon Valley meme of technology for good, and the alluring narratives of disruption and technical fixes that will create a new culture of mass learning. One of the noticeable things about this vision of the future is that it is (the launch of FutureLearn withstanding) very much an American story, and it's easy to see the reasons why.
According to the US Department of Education, student debt is now over $1 trillion, and an estimated 53.6% of degree-holders in the US are jobless or underemployed. The contract between higher education and the learner, who is willing to put up with short-term debt to get a great career, has broken down. There is a crisis of confidence.
Add to this mix the prediction that the edutech space is set to be worth $107bn (£70bn) by 2015 and you have a powerful impetus for change. It's often said when America sneezes, Europe catches a cold. Will that be the case in the higher education sphere too?
The European Union registered an unprecedented youth unemployment rate of 22.8% in September 2012, and in the UK 40% of graduates cannot find graduate-level work two years after their degrees. But student debt, despite recent changes, is nowhere near as extreme as in the US.
So, we have a different motive for our changes to education in the UK. We shouldn't just accept US-style MOOCs as a solution that also fits our national landscape. There are alternative narratives, different stories, and a more British vision of higher education that could be articulated.
We could use the language of complementing and collaborating a little more, rather than the US narratives of disruption, competition and overhaul. Let's critically evaluate the disruptive possibilities – good and bad – of MOOCs, and create our own hybrids to energise our particular university ecosystem.
Of course we too need edutech companies, entrepreneurs and educational venture capitalists. But here's my idea for a few acronyms that we Brits should create: POOCs, or Personal Open Offline Complements – real human gatherings based at scale; OAFs, or Open Access Funnels, that lead disenfranchised people from online courses to the real valuable experience of being part of a community at a physical place of learning; and how about hybrid apprenticeship and degree mixes?
There are plenty more acronyms we could create together. Let's include the most receptive and agile universities in those debates, treating them like a living breathing partner, rather than that poor old Norwegian Blue parrot with its feet nailed to its perch.