How to: find out about pupil place shortages in local schools

In some places of the UK primary school pupils are expected to rise by up to a fifth in the next few years, with new funding announced this week to help local authorities cope with the rise.

But if you want to find out more about the demands on school places in your own area, how do you go about it? Continue reading

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Students seeking counselling goes up by one third

The number of university students seeking counselling has risen over a third in the last four years, according to an investigation by Help Me Investigate.

And at five universities numbers have more than doubled.

The University of Glasgow had the largest increase in number of students in counselling. In four years numbers increased from 513 students to 1180. The second largest increase took place in Lancaster University, with a 127% rise.

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said: “We are working hard to reduce waiting lists, but would emphasise that we aim to provide all students with an assessment appointment within two weeks and that we also offer a daily drop-in service.”

“Whilst it is true that there has been a rise in the number of students seeking assistance, this may – at least in part – be due to increased awareness of the services and support that is now available.” Continue reading

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How we did it: looking at the data behind academic zero hour contracts

Research by the University and College Union (UCU) revealed that more than half of British 145 universities have staff on zero hour contracts: a controversial arrangement that doesn’t guarantee pay or continuous work hours.

According to figures from FOI requests, academic institutions are twice as likely to employ staff on these terms, which might affect lecturers’ ability to help students with their studies.

Seventy-one universities responded to the Freedom of Information requests sent by UCU, revealing that:

  • 21,371 teaching staff,
  • 901 researchers, and
  • 2,155 academic-related staff

work for academic institutions without certainty of monthly pay. This amounts to a total of 24,427 nationally.

In analysing the data Help Me Investigate Education (HMIE) found some discrepancies in the data provided which were highlighted in UCU’s notes about the report: Continue reading

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Students’ parents don’t know they have credit cards – and other “truths” about student spending

How do students spend their money? Are they careful? Do they lie about it to their parents? What about the dreaded overdraft?

An infographic (shown below) created by ZenithOptimedia and Natwest has revealed how young adults spend their money during their university years. The data was taken from an online GMI survey*.

By surveying 200 full-time students aged between 18-25 and 200 parents of full-time students in first, second and third year the infographic compares parents’ and students’ attitudes toward money.

According to the data in “The truth about student spending” infographic 28% of students admit to living in their overdraft and that one in two students use credit cards to splurge – but only three in 100 parents suspect their kids have credit cards. Continue reading

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Hundreds of academics on zero hour contracts at midlands universities

zero hour staff at midlands universities - chart

Help Me Investigate’s Nicole Froio has been looking at the use of zero hour contracts in Midlands universities. She reports in the Birmingham Mail: Continue reading

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Full Fact publishes education data for factchecking

Full Fact logo

The factchecking site Full Fact has launched a new section on its website hosting key data on education.

The Full Fact Finder covers 5 areas: immigration, health, the economy, crime and the law – and education. Continue reading

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Useful education links for July 11th through August 8th

These are the education links we found interesting between July 11th and August 8th:

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Help Me Investigate Education are looking for a new editor

We’re looking for a new editor to help run Help Me Investigate Education, as I have a new job following my work on the website.

Over the early months of this year we have explored education issues that have been at the forefront of political discussions, crunched figures, analysed data and dug into a complex sector.

We have:

Posts have included infographics, interactive graphs and visualisations which have helped to tell the full story.

If you’re interested in or concerned about education – and curious about using FOI and data to uncover hidden truths – then you could be well placed to lead the website.

We need someone who can innovate investigations alongside the community of journalists, researchers and concerned individuals that make up Help Me Investigate, whilst keeping them informed of interesting and important news about the world of education.

Whether it is part of your degree, a part-time project or simply a hobby, we want an educated, informed and passionate individual with a specific interest in education- particularly someone with a background in journalism or research.

While I have moved to a full time job in journalism I will still be around in the background to help members of the new team with posts, leads and ideas for the website.

Current members of the team include journalists from all backgrounds, data analysts, students, and people from a range of different professions.

If you’re interested in becoming involved with the website and helping to investigate the UK’s education system then email: 

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Tip: finding leads in university council minutes

The minutes of meetings at public institutions are an often-overlooked source of possible story ideas and leads. Local authorities and hospitals regularly have their board meetings scrutinised by reporters – but university council meetings are less closely followed. Continue reading

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Useful education links for June 6th through July 5th

These are the education links we found interesting between June 6th and July 5th:

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International Students Myth 5: If the PSW exists, all foreign graduates will want to stay

In the final part of this series on common misconceptions about international students and visa lawsNicole Froio looks at whether foreign students want to stay in the UK.

International Students Myth 5: If the PSW exists, all foreign graduates will want to stay

Only about 9% of international graduates applied for the PSW visa in 2009. That’s 38,000 out of 405,810 non-UK students in higher education.

This means that an overwhelming majority – 91% of people who came to study in the UK in 2009 – did not want to stay in the UK at all.

Most foreign graduates want to leave the UK and go back to their foreign countries, so the danger of immigration numbers soaring up is not big. In addition to this most foreign scholarships (like the new Brazilian program Ciências Sem Fronteiras) require that applicants express interest in coming back to their home country with their new skills.

Nicole Froio is Assistant Editor at HMI Education and blogs at and tweets at @nicolefroio.

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International Students Myth 4: Scrapping the Post Study Work visa means there will be fewer illegal immigrants in the foreign graduates’ pool.

In the fourth of a five-part series on common misconceptions about international students and visa lawsNicole Froio looks at the Post Study Work Visa.

Myth 4: Scrapping the Post Study Work visa means there will be fewer illegal immigrants in the foreign graduates’ pool.

Actually, there could be fewer legal immigrants. By making the rules tighter students will have more, not less, reason to stay in the UK illegally. If they can’t stay legally, they’ll go for the next best thing.

By giving students a legal option to stay in the UK, people will rightfully go through the process of applying, being known by the government, and be assessed by their skills, personality and intelligence.

The Post Study Work (PSW) visa program was a choice and never meant that all foreign graduates should be able to automatically stay in the UK after they get their degree. They just had the choice to stay if they wanted to. And this was meant for genuine students who had means to prove their universities existed.

The problem of illegal immigrants doesn’t lie on the fact that graduates simply stay after their studies – it lies on the process of letting bogus students into the country in the beginning of their ‘courses’.

The Telegraph revealed that since the new visa measures were enforced around 50,000 bogus students were let into the country through the means of fake universities that sponsored them:

“However, the system relied much more heavily on students being “sponsored” by colleges and universities. It soon emerged that bogus colleges were accrediting thousands of visa applications, while other students were simply failing to turn to courses where they had enrolled.”

– The Telegraph, ‘Tens of thousands of immigrants illegally entered Britain under new visa system’

The problem is in the beginning of the process, not the end – and in determining whether a college is genuine

“The National Audit Office found only a third of colleges had been inspected by the UK Border Agency to make sure they were genuine before the system came into force.

“The report also strongly criticises the efforts to find fake students. The National Audit Office took 800 cases considered too difficult by the immigration authorities and traced a quarter of these people within a week at a cost of just £3,000.”

– The Telegraph, ‘Tens of thousands of immigrants illegally entered Britain under new visa system’ 

One of the main issues of this whole affair is that there are many, many conflicting statistics on the matter. For example, the Telegraph shows that 50% of sham weddings involve bogus international students.

“There were a suspected 2,000 sham marriages last year alone, with a Home Office survey over three months showing that 50 per cent of the fake weddings involved immigrants who had first entered the country as students.

The Telegraph, “Half of sham marriages involve foreign students

However 50% of sham weddings is around 1,000 illegal immigrants – that’s only 0.2% of international students as a whole. And it could be argued that the scrapping of the PSW visa has made this number increase because of a lack of legal means to stay in the UK. Actually, since the visa laws tightened the number of sham weddings has increased.

“A BBC Freedom of Information request has found a sharp rise in the number of people being arrested on their wedding day by the UK Border Agency. Until three years ago hardly any such operations were taking place. However, in the year to March 2012 there were 197 arrests in the UK and 27 in Scotland as a result of “marriage abuse enforcement visits”

– BBC South Scotland, ‘Wedding day arrests by UK Border Agency rise sharply’.

Tomorrow, the final part of the series looks at the myth that all foreign students will want to stay in the UK. Nicole Froio blogs at and tweets at @nicolefroio.

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