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Revisiting the benefits of flexible working

One of the most prominent factors standing in the way of office workers’ ability to work flexible hours or to telecommute is management’s inability to let go of the need to control their teams through physical supervision. Many South African businesses still insist on having Internet-connected employees travel to work, to do work that can very easily be completed from home. However, there are many more benefits to allowing employees to work flexi-time, to hot-desk, or to telecommute.

 

What defines flexible working conditions?

Work flexibility refers to being able to arrive at work earlier in order to leave earlier (flexi-time) and avoid traffic jams or better cater to family responsibilities like after-school activities. Hot-desking is used in an office environment where not all employees need to be in the office at one time, but when employees do come in, they share a desktop or workstation alternately. Telecommuting is the holy grail of employment – being able to work from home.

 

Benefits of flexible working conditions:

  • Avoid having to commute by road to work every day, which is as unhealthy for the environment as it is for the drivers or motorcyclists who are exposed to vehicle emissions.
  • Decreased petrol and commuting time expenses for employees.
  • Decreased overheads (and increased profit) for employers.
  • 72% of South African businesses have benefited from the higher productivity related to flexible working conditions.
  • 76% of employees report working more when allowed flexible working conditions than when mandated to work in an office. Employees are more productive when the stressors of the office environment are removed and they can concentrate on getting the job done.
  • Increased energy efficiency in existing office space – fewer employees present at any given time saves water and power consumption.
  • When productivity increases as a result of flexible working conditions, employees are more likely to separate business from family time, giving themselves more time for family than when they waste it on commuting. An increase in quality of life as a result of this flexibility is one of the biggest benefits for businesses and their employees alike.
  • Being happier in their job is of utmost importance. Flexible employees report feeling happier, healthier and more motivated to work and succeed, which is beneficial to both businesses and employees.

 

If, as a manager, you are hesitant to adopt a mobile working model because you suspect your employees will abuse company time, try hot-desking to begin with, giving employees the option of working from home two days a week, with a weekly staff meeting for reporting back on the impact of flexible working conditions. The results may just surprise you.

Unprotected sex is widespread among students, survey reveals

• Many students are critical of sex education at school
• A quarter want sexual health information on campus

Two-thirds of sexually active students have had unprotected sex, a new survey reveals.

The StudentBeans website surveyed more than 5,000 young people at UK universities about their sex lives and sexual health. They answered questions on their use of contraception, whether or not they had had a sexually transmitted infection, and their experiences of sex education.

Of those with sexual experience (89% of the respondents), two-thirds had had unprotected sex. Only 27% of sexually active students say they always use condoms, compared with 31% in last year’s StudentBeans survey, while 35% use them sometimes and 26% just with a new partner.

The survey also found that more than two-fifths of students (45%) say they wish they’d had better sex education at school. One said: “Sex education at school was pretty awful. It was nearly all really basic biology stuff that we already knew and nothing about the relationship, trust or confidence side, which I think really could have helped. The boys never really took it seriously and, as a result, it became a bit of a weekly joke. The teacher didn’t seem comfortable talking to us about it either, which didn’t help.”

Another student commented: “Sex education was utterly useless to me in a girls’ school as a lesbian. I wasn’t told anything about how to have safe sex or even what sexually transmited diseases it was possible for a lesbian to get – the idea some of us might not be completely heterosexual just wasn’t entertained.”

The survey asked where students first learned about “the facts of life”; 63% said in sex education classes at school, 34% said their parents, 36% said in the playground and 19% had looked online.

A quarter of those who responded said they would like to see more information on sexual health being offered at university.

The students were also asked where they would turn now for advice and information. Some 73% said their friends, 72% said they would look online and 19% would read magazines. Just over a third (34%) cited their GP, and 37% said a sexual health clinic.

Many of the students said that university life offered an opportunity to experiment sexually. One said: “It is a community of young people, all wanting to have that university experience, and sex and relationships is seen to be part of it.”

Liam Burns, the NUS president, said student unions provide contraception and information, especially for freshers. “One potential issue is that local sexual health services can be overwhelmed when there are lots of students living nearby and it’s important that these services are fit for purpose,” he said.

“Sex education at schools is so focused on the experiences of heterosexual people that many young LGBT people can feel that they lack the information that they need.”

The Department of Health declined to comment on the survey’s findings, but the Department for Education said personal social and health education, which includes sex education, is being reviewed “to see how we can improve the quality of teaching”.


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Open courses: UK universities risk falling behind the US – video

We grabbed five minutes with Steven Schwartz, VC at Macquarie University, to talk about the online course revolution and how the UK and Australia compare on social mobility




South African Higher Education and Training Budget

The Minister of Higher Education and Training , Blade Nzimande recently presented the department’s budget vote in parliament.

He announced that  the Department of Higher Education and Training have ring-fenced R450 million for the 2012/13 to 2013/14 funding cycle to expand university infrastructure capacity for teacher education and plan to continue with this in the next funding cycle.

Mr Nzimande also noted a significant increase in full-time equivalent enrolments in initial teacher education progarmmes from 35 937 in 2009 to 41 292 in 20 120, a 15 % increase.The number of new teachers that graduated showed an increase from 6 976 in 2009 to 7 973 in 2010, an increase of 14%. He added that specific attention is given to the development of Foundation Phase teachers, and especially African language mother-tongue speakers.

He also announced that R499 million has been allocated to all universities for teaching development grants to assist in improving graduate outputs and R194 million for foundation programmes to improve the success rates of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Programmes will also be initiated this year to support the academic and professional development of lecturers at universities.

An additional amount of R177 million has been allocated for research development at 15 of the 23 universities to develop research capability of university staff.

R850 miiion has been set aside for the period 2012/13 to 2013/14 for universities to build and refurbish student residences. with the majority being allocated to historically black institutions.

Over the next two year, R3,8 billion has been allocated for universities’ overall infrastructure development of which R1,6 billion has been set aside specifically for the historically disadvantaged universities.

The information for this article was obtained from an article compiled by the Government Communication and Information System, and can be obtained from 7th Space by Clicking Here!   

South African government to re-open former Teacher Training Colleges

In a bid to produce more teachers in South Africa the government’s Higher Education and Training Department is planning to open three former teacher training colleges next year, Mr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training recently announced in his departments budget vote in parliament. The colleges are the Ndebele College Campus in Mpumalanga for foundation phase teacher education, and one former teacher training college each in Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape.

 To read more go to the article at 7th Space Interactive by Clicking Here!

Making an impact: when science and politics collide | Adam Smith | Talking science to power

The ‘impact agenda’ is spreading from research councils to the higher education funding council, with increasing demands for strategic goals and public engagement

By the time Professor Alec Jeffreys worked out how to create a unique DNA fingerprint in 1984, he had been prising apart DNA for years to see how it varies from person to person.

Scientific breakthroughs like Jeffreys’s exemplify what is known in modern science as “impact”. This contentious concept tiptoes along the intersection between science and society because it implies that scientific endeavours ought to reap benefits for society.

This is where the politics comes in. How much scientific research should be driven by curiosity and how much should be planned with an end use, such as DNA fingerprinting, in mind?

In the UK, this question is answered at the research councils: government agencies that manage the allocation of public science funding. The job of the civil servants at the research councils is not to decide which research to support. That is left to scientists on funding committees. But the councils do set strategic goals that interpret ministers’ desires to make research contribute to economic growth.

So research councils’ decisions leave them open to criticism in this regard. Theoretical physicist Professor Michael Duff of Imperial College London complained in March that “non-scientists trying to pick winners and constraining researchers with the straitjacket of ‘impact’ and ‘national interests’ is neither good science nor good economics.”

Duff’s charge was amplified by the 100 or so scientists who delivered a coffin to 10 Downing Street on 15 May as a protest against several policies – not just regarding impact – of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Chief among their concerns was “the introduction of non-scientific and subjective criteria such as ‘importance’ and ‘impact’ to determine funding”. The EPSRC replied that “scientific excellence – funding the very best ideas – is at the heart of all that we do.”

So controversy over impact has become a war of rhetoric, with this month’s battle fought in the blogosphere and on Twitter (which is Storified here).

University of Cambridge physicist Professor Athene Donald has tried on her blog to focus the debate onto scientists’ political tactics. Instead, her post inadvertently led to a bulging comment thread in which scientists quarrelled over the merits and linguistic nuances of impact.

University of Nottingham physicist Dr Philip Moriarty pulled apart the words of advice issued by research councils that grant applicants should draft an impact summary early “so that it informs the design of your research”. Scientists like Moriarty and Duff are annoyed by the idea that their research should be directed by end goals. “Exploratory scientific research is no longer ‘good enough’,” Moriarty says.

Is research council policy too prescriptive? Donald thinks not, arguing that Moriarty’s interpretation is “almost certainly a misreading”. And the EPSRC has refuted Moriarty’s and others’ criticisms, even defending the policy more broadly. “This is not an issue that we actually mind fronting on behalf of the research councils,” says Atti Emecz, the EPSRC’s director of communications, information and strategy, adding that he remembers when other research councils were the focus of the impact debate. “Perhaps it’s like tag-team wrestling,” he says.

So the game will go on, as the impact agenda expands. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council announced on Wednesday that it now expects its institutes to detail impact.

But is it good sport that the guidance for how researchers detail their “pathways to impact” appears to be unclear? Donald says that members of a funding committee she once chaired were uneasy when the policy came in, but found no problem in practice. “The person who writes a good grant proposal tends to be the person who writes a decent ‘pathways to impact’ statement,” she says. Plenty of researchers do overcome this hurdle, and research councils detailed how in case studies published just a few days ago.

And in any case, impact is but one criterion used by the committees. Other factors include the applicant’s track record and the feasibility of their proposed project. “Sometimes you reach a point where you have to choose between two grant applications,” says Professor Doreen Cantrell, who chairs a Medical Research Council committee. “Then you will tend to use the impact [statement], but it’s not the main driver.” Her experience is shared by those on other committees.

Among all the other boxes to tick, then, where did the idea of impact come from? Most academics trace the birth of the impact agenda to a 1993 white paper by William Waldegrave, entitled Realising Our Potential. Up until this report, UK scientists operated under a loose set of expectations on their research. They were left to get on with their work on the assumption that basic research would eventually benefit health, national security and the economy.

Since Waldegrave’s white paper, “the social contract has become rather more specific,” says Professor Ben Martin, who researches science and technology policy at the University of Sussex.

“The state has had increasingly specific expectations that work should yield more direct benefits to the economy and society,” Martin says. “In the early years after 1993, the term ‘impact’ wasn’t much used. It was ‘contributions or benefits to the economy’.” Since 1993, the concept has expanded to include environmental factors and explaining science to the public.

Indeed, public engagement has become a significant form of impact recommended by research councils. But when scientists who are funded through an EPSRC fellowship met in London on Monday, only a minority admitted to being involved in public engagement (one source estimated it was a fifth of those attending the meeting).

So it may be recommended, but it’s not easily taken up: after all, measuring the success of communicating science to the public is tricky. “How do you quantify Brian Cox’s impact?” says Moriarty.

Nevertheless, bureaucrats are already creating new impact metrics, especially for next year when the policy is due to be used in the assignment of core funds to higher education institutions. Under new plans, university departments will have to submit an impact statement for one in every 10 researchers to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The body will then weigh this criterion against others as it judges how much money to allocate to universities.

So although the research councils’ impact agenda has come under attack from scientists, the critics may have to shift their sights onto the HEFCE. It could be that “impact” in research itself is not half as problematic as it is in higher education in general. “My worry is that applying impact expectations to that will be much more damaging,” says Martin.

But this concern could be sidelined as the science community begins to prepare for another government spending review. This, along with the future of science in parliament, will be covered in next week’s article, which will be the last in this series.


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R15 billion set aside for Further Education and Training Colleges

South African Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has set aside R15-billion to increase the number of students attending South Africa’s Further Education and Training Colleges. This is part of a plan to improve the quality of education at FET colleges so that they become the tertiary institutions of choice. The plan also includes an agreement with retired accountants to step in as CFOs at these institutions.

Nzimande wants the  FET student population to grow from the current 400 000 to 4 million by 2030.

To read more go to the article on East Coast Radio Newswatch by Clicking Here!

South Africa plans to open 2 new universities

Mr Blade Nzimande, South African Minister of Higher Education and Training, recently announced that two new universities are expected to open in South Africa, one in the Mpumalanga province and the other in the Northern Cape Province. Two task teams investigated the appropriate models for these new universities and recommended possible sites to be seats of these universities. Mr Nzimande will announce the seat of learning of each new institution in three months time. The government plans to have the first intake of these tow new universities at the start of 2014.

To read more go to Sapa’s article at Sowetan Live by Clicking Here! 

Exam-hall nightmares: share your stories

From pigeons to piles – a lot can go wrong in the exam room

Can you imagine anything worse than sitting an exam that contains an unanswerable question, as AS-level business students did last summer?

How about being surrounded by exam invigilators as they play slowed-down games of “chicken” in the aisles?

Let’s not even mention the infamous Inbetweeener’s exam toilet scene

We asked Guardian journalists and readers to submit their exam-hall horror stories. To add yours to the collection post it in the comments section below or tweet with the hashtag #examhorror.

1. Rudolph socks

It was our final exam at university in Sheffield and my friend, David, had run out of socks – a result of revision-induced laundry avoidance. He thought no harm would come of wearing his comedy Christmas pair.

Halfway through the exam, a muffled, musical rendition of “Rudolph” emerged from his shoes. He was forced to hand his socks over to an angry invilgator mid-exam.

Clare Foyle, statistician at the University of Derby.

2. Fight or flight

I have to confess to having gone to university in Oxford, where you took your exams in a creepy Dickensian building on the high street called the Examination Schools. There we all were for the biggest exam in our lives, finals, sat at these rickety desks in a large echoing room, with the sound of the traffic from the street outside clashing rhythm with the anxious drum-beat of the blood streaming through our brains.

A tall, angular invigilator told us to turn over our papers and the woman next to me gave a small cry, picked up her handbag from the floor, dragged open the zip and peed into it.

Tim Maby, Guardian Audio Editor.

3. Mental block

I had a complete mental block and forgot how to spell “if” in my English language exam. I spent most of my time trying to rewrite sentences so that they did not require “if”. When I came out of the exam I didn’t want to speak to anybody about it, I was too embarrassed. I couldn’t even look it up in a dictionary.

Rachel Charlton, Leeds City Council.

4. Piles of pain

My friend had such chronic piles during our finals that he had to take a rubber ring into the hall with him. People were laughing at him so much that he had to leave without completing the paper and didn’t attend any other exams – or get his degree! He can laugh about it now though.

Ranjit Dhaliwal, Guardian picture editor.

5. Hitting rock bottom

It was 1979 at St Andrews University. While the rest of the country was still fretting over Margaret Thatcher’s election I was more concerned about my psychology finals. The exam-hall had been set out with wooden desks and old government green canvas chairs.

Everything had been going quite well, but during the primatology paper I felt this strange sensation as the canvas slowly gave way beneath me. Somehow I managed to avoid falling through the chair by balancing on its cross piece until the end of the exam.

Doug Moncur, IT professional.

6. High temperatures

I got bronchitis just before my intermediate certificate, the Irish equivalent of GCSEs, and was pronounced well enough to sit them but in danger of feverish collapse at any point. I was told to bring in a tartan rug to put on the back of my seat, to signify my endangered status to the examiner. Then, in the middle of each exam, a nun solemnly carried in a cup of tea, with two rich tea biscuits in the saucer, and set it on my desk — tracked by glares of pure hatred from everyone else in the hall.

Maev Kennedy, Guardian journalist.

7. Animal kingdom

The most traumatic exam for me was a spider crawling across the floor in my history GCSE. I am very arachnophobic. Fortunately the invigilator removed it.

Penny Woods, global development production editor.

I was sitting my philosophy MA exam at UCL last summer when a bird got trapped in the hall. It was flying around and coo-cooing in distress. We all carried on working regardless.

Steph, UCL.

8. Romantic distractions

One time, when mum was invigilating, Jeremy Rainer started stroking my leg under the tables to try to get me to laugh. And Dr Charlton once picked up my physics paper mid-way through an exam and started chuckling as he read it (I got an A* though).

Anon.

Other than the trauma of the exam itself was having to sit behind the overintelligent and at the time highly fanciable Rupert Harrison.

Anon.


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