News in brief

December 22, 2011

Student financial aid

Berkeley's middle-class plan

The University of California, Berkeley has unveiled plans for a financial aid scheme specifically to help middle-class students with their tuition fees. The Berkeley Middle Class Access Plan is thought to be the first programme at a publicly funded US university that gives comprehensive assistance to such students. Under the plans, parental contribution to the total annual cost - including tuition fees, accommodation and books - will be capped at 15 per cent for families earning between $80,000 (£52,000) and $140,000 annually. Robert Birgeneau, chancellor of UC Berkeley, said that the scheme was "necessary and completely consistent" with the institution's ethos. However, the university's stance is at odds with a recent report by the College Board, which criticised institutions for "giving a lot of the money to people who could be fine without it".

Further education colleges

'Cut red tape to cut costs'

Further education colleges could make "substantial" savings by cutting the costs of bureaucracy, according to the National Audit Office. The body said last week that colleges spend about £180 million a year on administrating funding, qualification and assurance systems. This amounts to £150 per student. Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said that "substantial savings can be made by reducing bureaucracy in further education" and there is a "need for focused and systematic management of these costs to drive sustained improvements in efficiency". But the NAO said that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had "not yet measured the size of this burden on further education colleges and other providers" despite recognising that some administration is unnecessary.

Ucas statistics

No sign of 2011 applicant surge

Just over 700,000 people applied for higher education courses in 2010-11. Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show there were 700,161 applicants in the 2011 cycle, a 0.4 per cent increase on the previous year. A total of 492,030 students were offered a place, an increase of 1 per cent on the previous year, with 70.3 per cent of all applicants accepted on to a course. However, applications to defer entry for a year fell by more than 40 per cent as students looked to avoid higher tuition fees in 2012. Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas chief executive, said: "Application rates provide no evidence of the predicted 'scramble for places' before the introduction of new fee arrangements in 2012. Securing a place in higher education remains competitive, but recent declines in the acceptance rate were arrested in 2011." Ucas estimates that about 32 per cent of the UK's 18-year-olds applied in the 2011 cycle.

Commons inquiry

Research and the market road

The Commons Science and Technology Committee is to investigate ways to bridge the so-called "valley of death" between research and commercialisation. The inquiry will examine a number of issues around commercialisation, including the difficulty of obtaining funding, differences between sectors, and instances of the commercialisation of UK research abroad. It will also examine previous initiatives by the government and the Technology Strategy Board, and will consider the likely effectiveness of the government's research and innovation strategy, published earlier this month. The deadline for written submissions is 8 February.

ONLINE NOW

"Inflammatory and misleading", said one online reader about the headline of a story on Equality Challenge Unit figures revealing that 76 per cent of UK national staff at professorial level were white men. "If there is discrimination in UK HE, it is in seeking to appoint excellence regardless of colour or ethnicity," he said. But "a female lecturer" countered: "If you want to claim that being a man or a woman is socially irrelevant and has no consequences in your [professional] life, you'll have to bring in a good deal of ideology and deny the result of a lot of research on the topic."

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