News in brief - 9 January 2014

January 9, 2014

Undergraduate applications
December tally lowest since 2010

The number of English students applying by mid-December for undergraduate degree study in the UK is the lowest in five years. A total of 2,850 English residents had applied by 16 December for courses starting in autumn 2014, according to Ucas figures released on 3 January. That represents a drop of 1 per cent on the same point in the 2013 cycle and is lower than any figure for the same point going back to 2010, the oldest figure supplied by Ucas. But as the final deadline for applications is 15 January, there is time for this year’s total to bounce back. In the 2013 cycle, applications grew by 72 per cent between the December comparison point and the January deadline.

The Defamation Act 2013
New protection for public debate

New libel laws could serve to protect academics from the threat of legal action when publishing in peer-reviewed journals. The Defamation Act 2013, which came into force on 1 January, is designed to give those publicly expressing opinions clearer and better protection than previous libel laws. The government said the changes will reverse the “chilling effect on freedom of expression current libel law has allowed”, and permit legitimate debate. Critics believed that old libel laws failed to protect freedom of expression and open and honest public debate. In the past, scientists and academics claimed they faced unfair legal threats for fairly criticising a company, person or product. Under the new law, which covers England and Wales, claimants must prove that statements made against them have caused serious harm before legal action may be taken.

Overseas students
Healthcare charges on horizon

International students could be hit by new healthcare charges for migrants in the UK. The government announced on 30 December that it was extending charges, including for accident and emergency treatment, as part of a “clampdown on abuse” of the National Health Service. Students from outside the European Union, alongside other migrants and visitors, will be charged for minor operations carried out by a general practitioner and accident and emergency services, although “no one will be turned away in an emergency”, according to a Department of Health statement. Overseas visitors will also pay a higher, non-subsidised rate for optical and dental services.

University of Glasgow rectorship
Who’s who they’re hoping for

Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for actor Peter Capaldi to stand for the post of University of Glasgow rector. The new Doctor Who has been put forward for the Glasgow role via the website The rector, who is meant to represent the views of the student body to university management, is chosen by Glasgow students in elections held every three years. To nominate a candidate, students must gain the nominee’s consent as well as 10 supporting signatures from students at the university. Fiona Duncan, a fourth-year politics student at Glasgow who organised the petition, said she had yet to contact Mr Capaldi but hoped interest in the petition would encourage him to stand. She said that the Glasgow-born Mr Capaldi, who made his name as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in TV programme The Thick of It, was someone who “represents our interests now and what can be achieved in our future”.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Our report on the vice-chancellors of Russell Group institutions pocketing an average annual pay rise of about £22,000 at the same time as the tuition fee cap rose to £9,000 and university staff were held to a 1 per cent pay rise had many Twitter followers up in arms. “It’s wrong for university VCs to be pocketing pay rises when uni staff are getting a real terms pay cut,” tweeted @tomrutland, while @Molly4Europe said it was “very sad that Uni bosses have succumbed to culture of greed”. There is “always spare money for those at the ‘top’”, observed @planetbarton. However, @RockDoc66 offered a defence. “The turnover of a University is probably bigger than most big companies? If VC grows it they should be paid well,” he tweeted.

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