Thursday, March 30, 2006

What do pharmacy graduates want

Dr. Karen Hassell of the University of Manchester has headed a team who have just delivered an interesting report into the motivations of pharmacy graduates in the UK to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The teamhave been tracking pharmacy entrants since 2004, and they're due to graduate this year - they'll then be followed up until 2008.

The report shows a fascinating picture of an industry that sees increasing numbers of intelligent female entrants, who have expectations of their employers (with regards to flexible working and the chance for career breaks) that the employers may not always be willing or even able to meet.

Added to that is the desire of a large number of pharmacy graduates to own their own business - an aspiration that is now far more difficult to achieve than a generation ago due to the twin pressures of big chains and supermarkets on the one hand, and a saturated market on the other.

The overall impression is that the pharmacy industry is on the verge of some sizeable changes in attitude and possibly structure.

There is an allied issue, less addressed in this report. The excellent salaries available to registered pharmacists make academia financially unattractive, and with expanding numbers of university applications to the subject leading to new departments opening, there are real concerns over the supply of academics.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Quick education update

Two quick stories while I have a few minutes.

1: The BMA conference has heard how medical training in the UK is facing some serious problems. From the Guardian story,

Professor Sir Charles George, the chairman of the BMA's board of medical education said many challenges faced medical education, including a lack of appropriate teacher training, teaching methods and funding shortfalls.

"Teaching, and a success in that, has not had the same recognition as research," Sir Charles said.

Basically, we're trying to train doctors, but there has been a terrible problem attracting good quality academics to medicine because the comparative financial rewards compare very, very unfavourably with medical practise. The BMA have been flagging this up for ages, but it hasn't seemed to have percolated through. Perhaps when we stop being able to cater for HE demand in the subject, it will.

2. The Office of Science and Technology commissioned a report into the impact of UK science in conjunction with Evidence Ltd..

They found that we're second behind the US in terms of citations, producing 9% of the world's scientific papers, but getting 12% of the citations. In the Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004, the respective figures were quoted as 8.5% of published papers, and 11% of citations, so either British scientists have been writing a lot more papers, or other nations have slackened off.

Says the Guardian:
The Evidence study of research from around the world showed the UK ranked in the top three in eight disciplines - biological (2), clinical (2), environmental (2), humanities (2), maths (3), pre-clinical and health (2), social sciences (2) and business (2).

However, physical sciences are significant by their absence, which has to be a concern. Good to see clinical and health sciences there in light of my first story.

The report is currently erroring when I try to access it. Link will be provided later.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Oversea student numbers in HE continue to rise

Today brings news from HESA that the number of overseas students studying in UK HE rose by 6.1 per cent in 2004/5, after a rise of 9 per cent in the previous year.

HESA breaks the data out into EU and non-EU students, noting that the number of EU students has risen sharply due to the accession of the new member states last year, but none of the top 10 countries are actually in the EU. This is very important, as fees are much higher for non-EU students, and the universities get a great deal of money from these overseas students. There were 52675 Chinese students in UK HE alone in 2004/5.

Universities are very keen both to attract more overseas students, to increase fee income, and to find out what they do when they leave, in order to assess whether the eduation they gained here has had a benefit.

Non-EU students are not covered by the first destination survey, and there have been concerns about the quality of services offered to overseas students. Research into careers provision for overseas students was carried out by the Centre for Research and Evaluation (CRE) at Sheffield Hallam University and the Centre for Research into Quality (CRQ) at the University of Central England in Birmingham last year, and the report concluded that the expectations of overseas students often did not match the reality of what was available. Although this was often not the fault of the universities, some of the information that was available about such things as the possibility of term-time working was lacking and needed improvement. Similar gaps between the promised experience and the reality are likely in other areas of HE.

Many overseas students in HE complain that they are seen as revenue sources first and foremost, and as they are so important to the sector, we have to be sure that we are giving the increasing numbers coming the the UK a really high-quality experience. That does not always happen at the moment.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Higher Education Makes Better Cities

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has just published a lengthy report by Professor Michael Parkinson, Director of the European Institute for Urban Affairs at Liverpool John Moores University, entitled, 'State of the English Cities'

It is described as
...the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of England's cities and towns. It focuses on 56 major towns and cities in England and covers five main themes: demographics, social cohesion, economic competitiveness & performance, liveability, governance & the impact of policy.

Not surprisingly, the south and east is wealthy compared to the west and north, but one of the main conclusions is the difference a university makes to a city. These 56 cities contain 63 per cent of the UK's total jobs, and the report shows how these urban jobs are becoming more and more skilled.

One the one hand, this is partly because manufacturing is withering away. Much of this growth, however, is knowledge-driven, and those cities with universities have, with a couple of exceptions, outperformed those without. This is not just because of the skills and labour force that they can supply, of course. A large university is an extremely significant local employer, especially of graduates. Manchester University employs over 8,000 staff, and is the second largest employer in the city (the NHS, thanks for asking), to take an example.

Equally, there is a strong and significant link between the economic success of a city, and the number and proportion of degree holders working there.

This research backs up findings from many previous reports, most recently the Leitch Review, and it is clear that the Government regards universities as key components in their regional strategy. But how much support are they getting centrally, and, in particular, are the RDA's really properly aware of HE's central place in their own regions? There remains a strong suspicion that universities are taken for granted, and seen solely as a place where people are trained to work in London. Other concerns are raised by the unsurprising finding that the south east attracts the most foreign investment, whilst the North, with plenty of appropriately skilled labour, goes begging.

As the Leitch Review reported, the UK is the most centralised country, with the exception of Belgium, in Europe. This reinforces the image of London as the place for graduates, and graduate employers, to go. This has to stop, and this needs to be tackled at a central and a regional level. It is all very well saying 'What's good for London is good for the rest of the country', but it drains the skills from regions that need those skills more than an already overcrowded city does. In particular, central government needs to stop all the foot-dragging and making of excuses, and move more high level functions out of the capital.

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