News in brief

February 22, 2002

V-cs shun 'Mickey Mouse' and elite tag
Vice-chancellors have hit back at claims that universities are purveyors of "Mickey Mouse" degrees and elitism.

Universities UK launched its Employability and Diversity project yesterday. The project, run jointly with the Higher Education Careers Services Unit, aims to highlight the role of higher education in producing graduates ready to take their place in the workforce.

UUK president Roderick Floud said: "We want to move the public debate about employability on from lists of skills and generalised criticisms of 'vacuous' or 'Mickey Mouse' courses and 'ivory tower' academia to show how universities across the United Kingdom are producing graduates for the 21st century: flexible, entrepreneurial, socially responsible and enthusiastic."

The project will seek to identify and collate the many ways in which institutions are increasing the vocational relevance of higher education by talking to employers and through innovative course design and teaching methods.

The project will culminate in a conference and a report in July. It was due to be announced at yesterday's conference "Bridging the Academic/Vocational Divide" held in London.

'No incentive to study for a doctorate'
There is no longer any incentive to study for a doctorate and this could seriously damage the UK's economic health, according to a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Almost all the 39 university engineering departments that responded to a survey by the academy said they had severe difficulty recruiting high-calibre students and many could not fill teaching vacancies.

The report comes just before the Treasury publishes Sir Gareth Roberts's review of the supply of scientists and engineers.

As industry no longer pays a premium for PhDs, the RAE report suggests only two reasons for studying for a doctorate - personal fulfilment and as a first step for an academic career. But debts and stipends of half the salary of graduates in industry discourage the former, while academic careers have become unattractive and hard to establish.

The report calls for the funding councils to survey engineering departments and address lecturers' salaries and contractors' employment conditions.

It also says that the research councils need to further increase stipends while making training more relevant to work.

Scots celebrate per cent rise in part-timers
The number of part-time students in Scottish higher education institutions has risen by per cent over the past five years, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has revealed.
Shefc has published a bulletin based on the latest provisional figures. It says the increase in the number of part-timers is helping to widen access. Full-time and sandwich course numbers have risen by only 1.5 per cent.

Bell College and the UHI Millennium Institute, which last year became higher education institutions, and the Open University in Scotland together account for almost 39 per cent of the part-time students.

The number of taught postgraduates has risen by more than 11 per cent since 1996-97, double the increase in research postgraduate numbers.

Shefc says this shows institutions "responding to student demand and employer needs in the developing knowledge economy".

The figures show rises in student numbers over the past five years of 46 per cent in computing and information science, 24 per cent in health and welfare courses excluding medicine, 11 per cent in art, design and the performing arts, and 10 per cent in education.

There has been an 8 per cent fall in catering and hospitality management student numbers.

Warwick talent drive puts Pop Idol in shade
Forget Pop Idol, Britain's biggest talent search is being conducted by the University of Warwick. The brightest youngsters have been invited to apply for a place this summer at a National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, run by Warwick in partnership with Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
The government announced this week that Warwick and Johns Hopkins had won the £20 million contract to lead the new academy, supported by the Research Centre for Able Pupils at Oxford Brookes University and a network of other institutions, including the universities of Durham and York and the London School of Economics.

The academy has been set up by the Department for Education and Skills to seek out the brainiest children and to provide them with learning opportunities to help develop their talent. It will also give support to teachers and parents.

The academy's first task will be to find 100 11 to 16-year-olds to join a summer school to be held at Warwick in July.

Schools recognised as having successful strategies for identifying the brightest children will be approached to nominate applicants.

Students fight to widen bursary entitlement
Northern Ireland students converged on Stormont on Wednesday to urge the Northern Ireland Executive to fight for more Treasury funds, to axe tuition fees and restore grants and benefits.
Northern Ireland students with family incomes below £15,000 are entitled to bursaries of up to £1,500, but the National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland wants more students to be entitled to awards.

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