News in brief

November 19, 2009

Point-based immigration

Sub-degree scrutiny

A review of student visas announced by the Prime Minister will focus on colleges offering qualifications below degree level. The review of Tier 4 of the new points-based immigration system is aimed at preventing abuse of student visas by economic migrants. It will look at raising the minimum level at which overseas students can enter the points-based system from NQF Level 3 to Level 4. Other issues include whether there should be mandatory English-language testing for all courses, and the rules under which students on lower qualification courses are allowed to work part-time. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "We have been calling for a review of the accreditation arrangements for private providers for over two years. It is essential that the review focuses on ensuring that only genuine education institutions offering a quality education experience are able to bring international students to the UK." But she cautioned against a blanket exclusion of providers of programmes below degree level.

Extra student places

Institutions in for disappointment

Most universities that competed for 2,000 additional student numbers (ASNs) in 2010-11 will be turned down. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is allocating the places to "strategically important and vulnerable" subjects and some areas of health education. In an email to universities, Hefce said: "We have received 112 proposals from institutions bidding for about 7,500 ASNs. As this is substantially more than the 2,000 ASNs we have to allocate, most of these bids will be unsuccessful." Final decisions on allocations will be made by Hefce's chief executive.

STEM push

Regional promoters named

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are to be promoted in England and Wales. The universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Southampton and Swansea, and Manchester Metropolitan University will co-ordinate activities in their area as part of the National Higher Education STEM Programme, a £21 million initiative financed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The project will bring STEM employers into universities and widen participation in the subjects among school-leavers.

Scottish Universities Physics Alliance

Funding council provides £48m

A pot of £48 million will be shared by Scottish universities aiming to expand their research capacity in physics. The funding for the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (Supa) has been confirmed by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). Through Supa, eight Scottish institutions pool their expertise in physics. The new cash will help fund laser-drive plasma accelerators at the University of Strathclyde, new labs at the University of St Andrews and the establishment of a pan-Scotland physics and life sciences research team.

Match-funding scheme

Welsh to get gift top-ups

Welsh universities are being encouraged to fundraise via a match-funding scheme. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has set aside £10 million for a programme that mirrors a scheme already established in England. Smaller philanthropic gifts given to universities will be matched by HEFCW, which will supplement the largest donations.


News of a school initiative that trains children in "energy therapy" has sparked debate online.

Although academics have questioned the underlying scientific evidence for the programme, one reader said: "We hear all the same criticisms when something new comes along."

Another said too much faith could be placed in the methods of science. "Here are some more examples of cases at the limit of any claims about scientific measurement: parallel universes, brane-worlds, the 11th dimension of space-time (at the latest count), hyperspace, time warps; we might even add strings, superstrings and black holes."

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