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2018年03月28日
New university rankings
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‘put nursing and social work degrees at risk’

Universities have hit out at government plans to rank their academic teaching according to how much their graduates earn. Vice-chancellors warn they may be forced to cut vital degrees including nursing, social work and policing, because of these courses’ lower earnings potential.


Nursing academics say they are still “reeling” from the significant drop in applications since the government replaced nursing bursaries with loans. They are urging ministers to think hard about the impact of their education policies on the future workforce in NHS hospitals.


The government’s controversial teaching excellence framework (Tef), launched last summer, already gives universities a gold, silver or bronze ranking. Ministers now plan to assess teaching quality at subject level, placing a new emphasis on graduate salaries. It says this will reward excellence and expose universities and courses where teaching isn’t up to scratch.


Prof Nick Petford, vice-chancellor of Northampton University, which won a gold for its teaching in the last Tef, is angry that his university could lose a medal that helps to attract good students, simply because it trains many midwives, nurses and police officers – whose earnings after graduation are much less impressive than lawyers’ or accountants’.


“It would be beyond ridiculous to link teaching excellence with salaries for institutions graduating workers into a public sector, where pay is capped by the government,” he says. “We have no control over what a nurse gets paid. But we are rightly proud to help provide the great nurses the country needs.”


The new policy has been enabled by the launch of the government’s experimental Longitudinal Education Outcomes [PDF] dataset, which is the first of its kind to track graduates into the workplace, using information from different government departments.


Petford says: “No matter how well intentioned, if used crudely as a comparator, the data could destabilise the system and put some courses at risk.” He adds: “If you seriously believe university X is better than university Y based on graduate salaries you will by default be favouring those who educate vets and bankers over those who train dementia nurses and primary school teachers.”


The head of another university, who asked to remain anonymous, puts it starkly: “The practical thing for me to do if I want a Tef gold is to close nursing and social care and recruit a load of lawyers. I think it will be incredibly socially regressive.”


Similarly, feelings are running high at the University of the West of England in Bristol, which trains large numbers of students for careers in nursing, social work, paramedicine and the police force. Steve West, the vice-chancellor, says: “Many will start their careers in public services where salaries have been suppressed for years and career progression has been squeezed. Many will be keeping our hospitals, schools and social services open.


“The rather simple notion that value equates to earning power is naive and insulting. Young people are driven by many things, and for most that is not how much they earn when they graduate.”



Ian Dunn, deputy vice-chancellor for student experience at Coventry University, points out that some of its students of economics – one of the courses with the highest earning potential nationally – choose to go into the civil service or into teaching. “Under this new measure I should be advising them to go on to the trading floor instead. At a time when we need great teachers, that would be morally reprehensible.”


Ben Craig, 24, who is training to be a paediatric nurse at Northampton University, says that although he wants to know he will earn a “steady wage”, he chose his course because he wanted to work in a caring profession and feel fulfilled. “Working on the ward can be emotionally taxing. But there would be nothing worse than getting up in the morning and doing a job I dreaded.”


Alongside his studies he has periods of working full-time on a children’s ward in Kettering general hospital, often on 13- or 14-hour shifts. But he says he doesn’t resent the hard work. “As a nurse you’re a friend to the child you are assigned. It can be a daunting environment for children, and you have to be this positive spirit for them. Plus you give the doctors an insight into that child, which is so vital.”


Craig, who is in the third year of his nursing degree, says he is one of the “lucky ones” because he started studying before nursing bursaries were abolished. He is the first person in his family to go to university and says he would have thought much harder about taking a nursing degree if he had had to pay fees of £9,250 a year.


Applications to nursing degrees in England were down by 13% in January this year, according to the latest data from Ucas,

Kevin Crimmons, associate professor in adult nursing at Birmingham City University, says: “We are still reeling from the removal of the nursing bursary. For our undergraduate degree in nursing we have significantly more mature students than school leavers. Their needs are completely different and so is their reaction to debt.”


He worries that the changes to the teaching rankings will be another poorly thought through “soundbite policy” that could have grave knock-on effects for nursing.


“The government has been irresponsible in abolishing bursaries, which was a profound change, without thinking what the impact would be, and without a national media campaign to explain the new finances to potential students.”


He adds that nursing students are motivated by compassion rather than salary. “They tell us that they want to do nursing because they want to make a difference in people’s lives.”


A survey on how students perceive value for money published by the new Office for Students this month, found that students were “overwhelmingly” more concerned with the quality of teaching, fair assessment and helpful feedback from tutors than with how much they would earn at the end.


Dunn says: “Students are getting the message that they are going to be working for 50 years, so it is quite understandable that they shouldn’t just be focused on salary. They have a broader idea of being happy in their careers and their lives.”








































































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