News in brief - 16 October 2014

October 16, 2014

Work performance
Black dog days for most staff

Nearly two-thirds of higher education staff say that their work performance has suffered as a result of mental health problems, according to a survey. A poll by the Teacher Support Network, a charity that offers health and well-being support to people who work in education, suggested that an overwhelming majority of university employees have experienced a common mental health condition in the past two years. Some 84 per cent of the 314 higher education staff surveyed said that they suffered from stress, 67 per cent reported anxiety and 46 per cent had depression. Sixty-two per cent said their work performance suffered, while 63 per cent said they lost confidence as a result. This led to a quarter taking time off work, with 5 per cent quitting their job. Julian Stanley, chief executive of TSN, said: “These results show how poor mental health at work is destroying the quality of teaching in higher education.”

Student visa system
Oxford v-c: ‘Hostility’ is baffling

The head of the University of Oxford has said that he is “baffled” by the UK’s “hostile” student visa system, and called for a shift to evidence-based policymaking. Giving the vice-chancellor’s annual oration to the institution on 7 October, Andrew Hamilton questioned the political decisions that have led to a decline in the number of students coming to the UK from India in particular. He said that current immigration policy is harming the country’s interests, adding that the public do not think of students when they think about migration. This is now “beginning to dawn across the political spectrum”, which is good news ahead of the general election, he said. But Professor Hamilton added: “Wherever I travel in the world, particularly in China and India, one question persists. Why has the UK adopted a visa system so hostile to student entry? I do my best to answer but, frankly, the question baffles me as well.”

Parity for private providers

Labour has made an attempt in Parliament to give students at private colleges the same entitlements on complaints as those in universities. Unlike publicly funded universities, private colleges are at present not required to sign up to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Labour – in a move signalled earlier this year by Liam Byrne, the shadow universities, science and skills minister – has now moved an amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill in the House of Lords. The amendment would make institutions granted designation for their courses by the government – the process by which students on those courses are given permission to access Student Loans Company funding – qualifying institutions for the purposes of part 2 of the Higher Education Act 2004, which established the OIA.

Shore up STEM, says committee

A committee of Welsh Assembly members has called for the country’s government to show “stronger leadership” on supporting provision of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The enterprise and business committee said in a report that although universities received £9,000 in tuition fees per student, they were required to spend £1,500 on widening access, and the estimated cost of teaching engineering or laboratory science was £10,000 per learner. On top of this, the Welsh funding council has removed additional payments it previously offered universities for science and engineering subjects owing to the “increasing costs of tuition fee grants”, the committee pointed out.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Our article by Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman on the shadows cast by Francis Galton’s eugenics theory, and UK universities’ role in its development, provoked a strong reaction online. @jonathanwebber said the piece was a “superb article…on the role of British academia in developing eugenics and vice versa”, while @JJ_Bola said it was “probably the best article I’ve read this year”. @MaliaBouattia described the column as an “important article…on how British Universities invented racism”. However, commenting under the article on our website, Alex Blakemore said: “Surely the birth of eugenics was at least as much about social class as it ever was about race?”

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