News in brief

June 21, 2012

Student loans

Poll shows lack of faith in system

The new student loans system designed by the government to support higher fees is "unsustainable in the long term", according to a survey of senior figures in higher education carried out by Barclays. The poll of 46 higher education professionals was taken at a Future of Higher Education debate hosted by the bank. Barclays said the survey found that 76 per cent of those asked "did not believe the new system of repayable grants was sustainable" and that "just 15 per cent were confident it could be maintained". The rest were unsure. In addition, 84 per cent said that prospective undergraduates and their parents had not yet grasped how the student loans system works and what it will mean for them financially.

Centres for doctoral training

Studentships come up short

The Economic and Social Research Council's new centres for doctoral training fell short of target figures for allocating studentships in 11 disciplines in their first year, guidance from the body has revealed. While allocations in most fields met or exceeded benchmark figures for 2011-12, the number of PhDs in science and technology studies, social work and statistics, methods and computing was more than 20 per cent below target. The number in economics and social history and politics and international relations exceeded targets by more than 50 per cent. According to the ESRC, the benchmarks, which are adjusted to increase focus on priority disciplines, are not intended to guide individual centres' allocations. However, the council said that where disciplines consistently failed to meet benchmarks across the board, it would intervene to increase recruitment.

Net migrant count

Reality checkpoint

The government would be "distorting reality" in its statistics if it agreed to Universities UK's request to withdraw overseas students from the net migrant count, according to a report from an immigration pressure group. In a briefing paper published on 13 June, Migration Watch UK said: "If the public are to have faith in the immigration statistics, excluding a high proportion of those who enter (and stay in) the UK would undermine the credibility of the entire system - especially as no other major country does so." Nicola Dandridge, UUK's chief executive, said that vice-chancellors were calling for "a clear distinction between temporary and permanent migrants for the UK's own internal policy purposes". "No one is suggesting that international students should not be counted in the immigration system," she said.

European funding

Continental divide

The economic crisis in Europe could open up a major divide in university funding, the European University Association has warned. An audit of national spending on research and teaching during the financial crisis, presented at the EUA Funding Forum in Salzburg, Austria, on 12 June, showed vastly different trends. Monitoring by the EUA's Public Funding Observatory found that Austria, France, Germany and Switzerland increased their spending on research and teaching between 2008 and 2012, as did Denmark, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Sweden. Meanwhile, many countries in southern and eastern Europe cut their budgets by more than 10 per cent, including the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain.


There was debate online about last week's story on the government's proposals to create a level playing field between providers of higher education. One reader noted that the proposal meant it would become even less clear what was meant by the term "private provider", saying: "There is no such thing as a 'public provider' any more - all universities will be working under the same system - attracting students who are personally liable for fees but may have this paid for by their government or employer."

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