News in brief - 4 September 2014

September 4, 2014

Participation
Rates to rebound

Higher education participation rates look set to bounce back this year after falling significantly in 2012-13 when £9,000 tuition fees were introduced, a new report says. Having almost hit the 50 per cent target set by Tony Blair’s Labour government (the entry rate for 17- to 30-year-olds without prior higher education experience was 49 per cent in 2011-12), participation rates in England fell back to 43 per cent last year, according to a study published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. That drop was largely caused by the slump in university deferrals in 2012-13 after students in the previous admissions cycle had scrambled to avoid higher fees by finding a place in 2011-12, says the report published on 28 August. Deferral patterns were likely to return to normal in 2013-14, the report says.

Scottish independence
EU judge sounds alarm on fees

A former judge of the European Court of Justice has said that the Scottish government’s plan to continue its existing tuition fee policy in the event of independence would be “incompatible” with European Union law and “could not survive challenge” in the courts. Sir David Edward, who served in the court from 1992 to 2004, also said that the government’s White Paper on independence was “shot through with confusion, inconsistency and irrelevance” in its argument for maintaining the current arrangements. At the moment, Scottish domiciled undergraduates and other EU students from outside the UK are charged nothing to attend universities north of the border. But students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland face fees of up to £9,000 a year. The Scottish government has argued that it could convince the EU to allow it to continue with this arrangement should the country vote for independence to avoid a damaging influx of English students if fees were scrapped.

Elitism
Privately educated in top jobs

New research has demonstrated the monopoly of a small social elite over public leadership positions in Britain. The research, carried out by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, analysed the educational backgrounds of more than 4,000 people in positions of power. It found that those educated at independent schools and Oxbridge were extremely over-represented in this group. Among the most dramatic findings: 71 per cent of senior judges, 62 per cent of senior officers in the armed forces, 55 per cent of Civil Service permanent secretaries and 53 per cent of senior diplomats had attended independent schools – compared with 7 per cent of the UK population as a whole. The commission also found that 75 per cent of senior judges, 59 per cent of the Cabinet and 50 per cent of diplomats had attended Oxbridge. Less than 1 per cent of the general public go to the universities of Oxford or Cambridge.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Are today’s intellectuals too obedient? That was the question asked by last week’s cover feature, which explored the obligation of academics to speak truth to power.

The article had our Twitter followers talking. “Perhaps [they are too obedient],” said @profcolinclark. “But why? Job insecurity? Pressures from above?” @johnbrand11 added: “How desperately South Africa needs some real intellectuals and academics ‘to speak the truth and expose lies’.” @orsoraggiante agreed that academics were too obedient “compared to the 1960s…but those were crazy times!” and @CarlKiek asked if academics were “out of touch with…reality”.

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