News in brief

November 16, 2001

Middlesex students demand fees back
A group of university students is demanding their fees back after their course was cancelled before they had completed their degrees.

The 11 religious studies students from Middlesex University say that since the degree course was suspended, they have been offered very few options. Only two tutors are left in the department.

In a letter to the dean of the School of Humanities and Cultural Studies, Gabrielle Parker, they say that compensation should include reimbursement of fees "as the course originally advertised and offered in no way resembles the one which has been on offer since last year".

The letter is copied to Estelle Morris, the secretary of state for education, higher education minister Margaret Hodge and Middlesex's vice-chancellor, Michael Driscoll.

Those who took advantage of Middlesex's flexible learning by skipping a semester said they would be unable to finish their degrees. Student Ena Jesani said: "Middlesex offers flexible study patterns, but those of us who took advantage of that are not going to be able to finish."

In a statement, the university said it had "always taken care to ensure that students on programmes which are not recruiting can complete the award they have chosen".

Give Scots scientists job security, AUTS says
The Association of University Teachers Scotland is urging the Scottish Parliament to denounce fixed-term contracts and improve job security in higher education.

The AUTS argues that a better deal is crucial if the Scottish Executive's new science strategy is to be realised. David Bleiman, the AUT's Scottish official, said the strategy's success rested on the 5,000 contract research staff.

"More than 90 per cent are employed on fixed-term contracts and there is constant attrition, with a wastage of talent which Scotland can ill afford," he said.

Two MSPs - Scottish Nationalist Alex Neil, convenor of the enterprise and lifelong learning committee, and Labour's Richard Simpson, a former student activist and honorary professor at Stirling University - have tabled motions flagging up the plight of contract researchers. The AUTS is seeking cross-party support for both in a bid to promote a parliamentary debate.

Leave us alone, urge Cambridge students
Cambridge students are hitting back at press coverage of drunken college antics, saying they would be ignored if they happened at any other university.

In the past fortnight, students have been reprimanded at St Catharine's College for drunkenness and nudity and St John's has cracked down on vomiting and urination in public places.

Corpus Christi banned alcohol in its bar for a week after a quarter of its female undergraduates reported verbal and physical sexual harassment.

But Pav Akhtar, president of Cambridge student union, said: "(Bad behaviour) isn't an issue that is specific to Cambridge - it is happening at universities across the country. It is to the credit of the university that it is taking action. If it were anywhere else, this wouldn't be a national issue."

HE's techno-shy are stifling innovation
Higher education is lagging behind schools and further education in best practice in the use of technology for teaching and learning, according to delegates at a THES-sponsored symposium on video-conferencing held at the Royal College of Physicians this week.

They blamed the over-50, technology-shy age profile of many university leaders and a "not invented here" culture that shunned collaboration.

Peter Goodyear, of Lancaster University Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning who chaired the symposium, said that as technology was becoming more flexible, it was also more threatening, especially if it meant changing traditional behaviour.

Robin Mason, of the Open University Institute of Educational Technology, said video-conferencing's use for continuing development programmes, such as for dentists and surgeons, was welcome. But he said: "Video-conferencing is a mixed blessing. It doesn't require a basic rethink of teaching methods. But it is problematic if lecturers assume they can get up and lecture as they once did. A dull lecture via video-conferencing is twice as dull as face to face."

Details: picturetel

Glasgow investigates thefts after inferno
Glasgow University students evacuated from its botany building during a blaze have allegedly had personal belongings stolen from the damaged building.

The student newspaper, Glasgow University Guardian, quotes a postgraduate as saying his credit card was stolen and used, and that the undergraduate school had been "ransacked". Victims claimed that mobile phones, wallets and digital cameras had disappeared.

The upper part of the 100-year old Bower building was destroyed in a blaze that caused £10 million of damage. Laurence Edgar, head of Glasgow's central services, which includes security, said: "Following attempts by authorised personnel to retrieve belongings from the building, a number of thefts have been reported to university officials and the police. These allegations are now being investigated by Strathclyde Police." He insisted that the building was under constant surveillance, and no unofficial staff could have gone in.

A spokesperson for Strathclyde Police said: "We can confirm a number of incidents have taken place following the fire."

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