News in brief – 19 March 2015

March 19, 2015

Consumer law
Universities warned

Universities have been warned by the Competition and Markets Authority that they “may be in breach of consumer law” if they fail to meet obligations to students. The CMA has published advice for higher education institutions to “help them comply with consumer law when dealing with students”, as well as guidance for undergraduates advising them of their rights under consumer law. The guidance says that changes to fees or aspects of courses could be “unfair”. It follows a recommendation from the CMA’s predecessor body, the Office of Fair Trading, that a “compliance review” of higher education should be carried out to see if some rules for students break consumer law.

UK must up spending

Scientists are being urged to lobby MPs and parliamentary candidates to back an increase in the UK’s level of public investment in research. The Tell Them Science is Vital campaign, which was launched on 13 March to coincide with the start of British Science Week, follows analysis by the volunteer-run organisation revealing that the UK’s level of public investment in research slipped to 0.48 per cent of GDP by 2012: the lowest figure for any Group of Eight country in the past 20 years. The Science is Vital group, which was originally set up to campaign for the research budget ahead of the 2010 spending review, has been calling since 2013 for UK science spending to be raised to the average for G8 countries, which was 0.8 per cent in 2011, the last year for which full figures are available.

Degree-level apprenticeships
September start

A set of new degree-level apprenticeships will be available from September, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced. The nine degree apprenticeships will cover subjects including chartered surveying, electronic systems engineering, aerospace engineering, laboratory science and public relations. More than 20 universities and colleges have worked with more than 100 businesses to develop the programmes. Apprentices will be able to get a full bachelor’s or master’s degree, with course costs being met by the government and employers. The courses will combine practical experience with academic knowledge, and apprentices will split their time between university and on-the-job experience. A new board is being formed by the government to oversee the roll-out of the programme. It is expected to include representatives from Universities UK, the University Alliance, the Russell Group and the CBI.

‘Too much uncertainty’

Leading private providers have called on the next government to regulate the sector by passing a higher education bill. A manifesto produced by Study UK, which represents more than 120 institutions, says the legislation could establish a system of licensing for higher education providers, and guarantee refunds or course transfers for students whose institution closes. Any bill should avoid distinctions between “traditional” and “alternative” providers, says Study UK, which supports the removal of the existing differences between institutions concerning home students’ access to financial support, and international students’ visa conditions. Alex Proudfoot, Study UK’s chief executive, said that the existing “patchwork” of higher education regulation offered far “too much uncertainty for both students and providers” and certainly placed “a heavy administrative burden” on institutions.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

The government’s publication last week of its Prevent guidance to universities on their new legal duty to help combat the radicalisation of students sparked many comments on Twitter. Reacting to our headline that the guidance would require universities to assess the “risk of students becoming terrorists”, @danmcquillan said “but funding for drone-related research is OK”. @DrBobLJMU, meanwhile, suggested the approach some institutions might take to gathering information for the risk assessment: “Dear Students, if you are a terrorist could you please fill in a declaration form to let us know”, he wrote.

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