Oxford University involved in Twitter row with David Lammy

Rikama Education 23rd May 2018

Oxford University has apologised to David Lammy after retweeting a post labelling his criticism “bitter”.

The original tweet, sent by a student, was in response to the Labour MP saying Oxford was “a bastion of white, middle class, southern privilege”.

Mr Lammy asked if the tweet represented the university’s official position – at which point a senior staff member apologised and took responsibility.

Just 11% of last year’s undergraduates were from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Oxford’s director of public affairs, Ceri Thomas, said Mr Lammy’s comments showed “no sign of bitterness” and there was “work to do” to improve diversity among students.

Mr Lammy’s original remarks came as Oxford University data revealed about a third of its colleges accepted three or fewer black applicants in the past three years.

The university said it was “not getting the right number of black people with the talent to apply”.

Director of undergraduate admissions Dr Samina Khan told the BBC she was “pushing hard” on outreach activity to make sure those students felt welcome.

Mr Lammy told the BBC that Oxford was “failing badly”.

The proportion of students identifying as black and minority ethnic was 18% in 2017, up from 14% in 2013.

One college, Corpus Christi, admitted just one black student resident in the UK in its 2015-2017 intakes.

The number of admissions from state schools, during the same period, rose by 1%, from 57% to 58%.

The report also showed a divide between the north and south of the UK.

London and the South East made up 46.7% of UK applications between 2015 and 2017, (and 47.9% of students admitted) while the North East accounted for just 2% (2.3% admitted).

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Lammy said the university had to explain why – having looked at the data – a person was twice as likely to get in if they were white, not black.

Mr Lammy previously accused the university of “social apartheid“, after a Freedom of Information request by him revealed 10 out of 32 Oxford colleges did not award a place to any black British pupil with A-levels in 2015.

This prompted more than 100 MPs to write to Oxford and Cambridge urging the universities to recruit more students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.

Reacting to the latest figures, Mr Lammy said the problem was “self-perpetuating”.

“If you’re on the 20th floor of a tower block estate and you’re getting straight A’s, you apply, go for a difficult interview.. you don’t get in, then none of the other kids apply the following year.”

‘Eton row’

“It’s very elitist, very, very white,” student Taiwo Oyebola said. “For me, applying for Classics, I was very aware I’d be the only black person or one of a few people of colour.”

“We have this joke in lectures, I go in and there’s this group we call them the Eton row, because all the Eton boys sit there.”

Joshua Tulloch of the Oxford African and Caribbean students society said his organisation was involved in targeting younger black students.

“We have a vast access infrastructure which targets students from as young as Year 9,” he said.

“The university is supporting us in making sure that we are visible and people can see that they can succeed in Oxford.”

Oxford has said it must do more to attract talent from all backgrounds.

“We want a diverse university,” Dr Samina Khan told Radio 4.

The university has agreed to a scheme which would fund the interview travel fees of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It said it is doubling its spring and summer schools, which work with students from under-represented backgrounds.

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The YouTube stars being paid to sell cheating

Rikama Education 2nd May 2018

YouTube stars are being paid to sell academic cheating, a BBC investigation has found.

More than 250 channels are promoting EduBirdie, based in Ukraine, which allows students to buy essays, rather than doing the work themselves.

YouTube said it would help creators understand they cannot promote dishonest behaviour.

Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister for England, says YouTube has a moral responsibility to act.

He said he was shocked by the nature and scale of the videos uncovered by the BBC: “It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale.”

The BBC Trending investigation uncovered more than 1,400 videos with a total of more than 700 million views containing EduBirdie adverts selling cheating to students and school pupils.

EduBirdie is based in Ukraine, but aims its services at pupils and students across the globe.

Essay writing services are not illegal, but if students submit work they have paid for someone else to do the penalties can be severe.

The company is not just aiming to capture the attention of university students with its advertising.

Popular YouTubers, some as young as 12, are being paid to personally endorse the service.

In some of the videos YouTubers say if you cannot be bothered to do the work, EduBirdie has a “super smart nerd” who will do it for you.

The adverts appear in videos on YouTube channels covering a range of subjects, including pranks, dating, gaming, music and fashion.

They include several by stars such as Adam Saleh whose channel has four million subscribers, and British gamer JMX who has two and a half million subscribers.

Following the BBC’s investigation, both have now removed videos with EduBirdie adverts from YouTube.

The BBC also approached the mother of one 12-year-old, who had promoted the company to his 200,000 followers. She also took her advert down.

Image captionAdam Saleh is one popular YouTuber who has advertised EduBirdie in his videos

More time for games

Channels with tens of thousands of subscribers can be offered hundreds of dollars for each advert.

They are not clearly labelled video ads, which are common on YouTube channels.

Instead the YouTuber usually breaks off from what they are doing to personally endorse EduBirdie, promising that the company will deliver an A+ essay for money.

Some YouTubers suggest that using the service will free up time to play video games or take drugs.

So prevalent is the promotion of EduBirdie that very young children are posting videos on YouTube of themselves mimicking the ads.

Image captionUniversities minister, Sam Gyimah, said he was shocked by the scale of the videos.

Sam Gyimah said that EduBirdie’s marketing was shocking and pernicious as it presented cheating as “a lifestyle choice”.

He said the YouTubers involved should be “called out” for abusing their power as social influencers.

“I think YouTube has a huge responsibility here,” he said.

“They do incredibly well from the advertising revenue that they get from the influencers and everyone else. But this is something that is corrosive to education and I think YouTube has got to step up to the plate and exercise some responsibility here.”

About 30 of the channels promoting EduBirdie are from Britain and Ireland.

They include a student vlogger at a top UK university.

Another is a popular 15-year-old YouTuber, whose mother was unaware he was promoting the company until she was approached by the BBC.

Shakira Martin, the President of the National Union of Students, said: “I think it’s totally disgusting the fact that these type of organisations are exploiting vulnerable young people through getting them to promote something that isn’t good, isn’t ethical.”

She added that students who were working to support themselves while studying might be most tempted to use EduBirdie.

Google’s own research found YouTubers were more influential than celebrities when it came to promoting products.

Toni Hopponen, from the tech company Flockler, advises businesses and some universities on how to tap into the power of social influencers.

He said this was creating new challenges as it is outside the regulations that apply to traditional advertising.

“There’s always been unethical advertising out there – but now the channels like YouTube provide a way for all of us to be publishers and the scale is huge. ”

One British YouTuber, Alpay B urges viewers in one of his videos: “Don’t waste your time doing your essays, let these people do it for you.”

In a statement, he told the BBC: “Whether a student wants to cheat or not it’s totally their choice. You can’t really blame EduBirdie or creators who promote them because everyone’s got their own hustle.”

The BBC ordered two essays through EduBirdie, opting for them to be written from scratch.

One was an English Literature GCSE coursework essay, the other a first-year degree course assignment.

Both were delivered with only the students’ names left blank to be filled in.

The GCSE essay was given a C or 5/6 and the university assignment 60% – not quite the guaranteed A+ grade promised by EduBirdie.

Serious consequences

On its website EduBirdie says the essays provided by its writers are “100% plagiarism free”.

In practice, this means the essays are written to order, rather than copied and pasted from elsewhere on the internet.

So if a student submits an EduBirdie essay as their own work, it might not be detected by anti-cheating software.

Any university student found to have submitted work done by someone else would face disciplinary action.

“If you’ve worked hard to get to university, you potentially throw it all away by cheating and getting found out. It is wrong, full stop,” Mr Gyimah said.

EduBirdie is run by a company called Boosta, which operates a number of essay-writing websites.

In a statement it said: “We cannot be held responsible for what social influencers say on their channels.

“We give influencers total freedom on how they prefer to present the EduBirdie platform to their audience in a way they feel would be most relevant to their viewers.

“We do admit that many tend to copy and paste each others’ shout-outs with a focus on ‘get someone to do your homework for you’, but this is their creative choice.”

It added that there was a disclaimer on the EduBirdie site which suggested that the work it provided should only be used as a sample or a reference.

A YouTube spokesman told the BBC: “YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies. We do not allow ads for essay writing and so paid promotions of these services will be removed when we discover them.”

They added: “We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in video promotions must not promote dishonest activity.”

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Young can ‘only read digital clocks’

Rikama Education 25th April 2018

Do young people really struggle with traditional analogue clocks with hands?

That’s the claim in a debate between teachers – with suggestions that digital clocks are being installed in exam halls for teenagers.

It follows a report in the Times Educational Supplement of a conference being told that pupils needed a digital clock to be able to tell the time.

Malcolm Trobe, of the ASCL head teachers’ union, said young people were much more used to using digital clocks.

As such, schools could be trying to give them more help by letting students use digital clocks in exam rooms during the summer GCSEs and A-levels.

“To adults it might seem second nature to use a standard clock face,” said Mr Trobe, ASCL’s deputy general secretary.

But younger people were much more familiar with seeing the time in a digital format – on computers or mobile phones.

“Young people find it a bit easier to use a digital clock – and if they’re timing themselves for questions, it might make it less likely that they’ll make mistakes,” said Mr Trobe.

He said, as an example, if students had to answer a question in 15 minutes, it could be easier for them looking at a clock with a digital format, if that was how they usually told the time.

There were no official indications about taking down analogue clocks, he said, but such claims were being made by teachers on social media.

One of the examples on Twitter being quoted is from a head of English, “Ms Keenan”.

But she told the BBC that the digital clocks that had been installed had broken down – and now had been replaced by a traditional analogue clock.

She said it wasn’t the case that a majority of students can’t tell the time using such analogue clocks, but it could be a barrier for some.

For the “digital generation”, she said an analogue clock could be becoming an “anachronism”.

Will this be a trend for the approaching summer exams?

Only time will tell.

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More pupils take term-time holidays, data shows

Rikama Education 22nd March 2018

More pupils in England were taken out of school to go on holiday in the last academic year, government figures show.

Around one in six youngsters (16.9%) missed at least a half day of lessons during 2016-17, compared with 14.7% in the previous 12 months.

The figures also show that the proportion of parents being fined for taking their children out of lessons without permission has fallen.

The data covers the time of a father’s court case over a term-time break.

Jon Platt, from the Isle of Wight, won a high-profile High Court case in May 2016 over taking his daughter out of school for a holiday to Disney World, Florida, without the school’s permission.

The latest Department for Education (DfE) figures suggest that after this ruling, many mothers and fathers took decisions to take term-time breaks, thinking it was unlikely that they would face action as a result.

But Mr Platt’s case was later referred to the Supreme Court, where he lost in April 2017.

He was also given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £2,000.

A spokesman for the DfE said: “Children only get one chance at an education and evidence shows that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs.

“Therefore we believe that no child should be taken out of school without good reason – and the Supreme Court agrees with us.

“The rules on term-time absences are clear and we have put schools back in control by supporting them – and local authorities – to use their powers to deal with unauthorised absence.”

The overall unauthorised absence rate – pupils missing lessons for any reason without permission – rose from 1.1% to 1.3% between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

According to the statistics, the rate is at its highest level since records, covering state schools in England, began.

“This increase in unauthorised absence is due to an increase in absence due to family holidays that were not agreed by the school,” government statisticians said.

Separate data published by the DfE shows the number of penalty notices issued to parents for their child’s unauthorised absence dropped by 5.4% between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The majority of fines issued – more than three-quarters (77.5%) – were for unauthorised holidays, the statistics show.

Separate figures on penalty notices show there were 149,321 fines handed out in 2016-17, compared with 157,879 the previous year.

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‘Wasted potential’ of mature students

Rikama Education 14th March 2018

A university group says that the government’s review of tuition fees in England should make a priority of finding ways to attract more mature and part-time students.

The Million Plus group says there is a “huge pool of untapped potential” among adults who missed out on university.

After fees increased in 2012, mature student numbers fell by 20%.

Les Ebdon, head of the university access watchdog, backed calls to reverse this “very worrying trend”.

Mature students – counted as people starting courses at the age of 21 or over – were among the most likely to be deterred by the raising of tuition fees to £9,000 in 2012, which have since risen again to £9,250.

‘Forgotten learners’

Part-time students also saw a significant drop in numbers – and this often overlaps with older students, who might be working and unable to study full-time.

A report from the Million Plus group of universities says that for some courses, such as nursing, part-time, mature student numbers have fallen by 49% since fees were increased.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has launched a review of post-18 education, which will examine fees and financial support for students.

Million Plus, representing new universities, says there should be targeted efforts to attract more mature students, such as restoring maintenance grants, offering better financial support and more rapid write-offs for unpaid student debt.

Image captionThe university group wants the fees review to look beyond school leavers and young students

The report, Forgotten Learners, also calls for more flexible ways of studying that would make it more practical for part-time, adult students.

The particular needs of mature learners should be recognised, says the report, such as having family responsibilities, financial pressures that make full-time study unlikely and a preference for living at home rather than on campus.

“The steep decline in mature student numbers at our universities has been tolerated for too long,” said London South Bank University vice-chancellor David Phoenix, who chairs the Million Plus group.

“The UK faces a daunting productivity challenge in the decade to come and in response we need a better and more flexible offer to those over 21 to ensure that we are able to up-skill and re-skill many more people,” said Prof Phoenix.

Prof Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “There is a clear societal and economic benefit to people succeeding in higher education, whatever stage of their life they come to it.

“But too often, talented people are excluded because of a lack of options that meet their needs.”

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