The week in higher education

January 31, 2008

- The press took a number of different positions on a research report on university admissions by the 1994 Group of smaller research-led universities on 23 January. The Daily Telegraph reported that the research showed that pupils from independent schools were "likely to tighten their grip on leading universities" when the new "elite" A* grades are introduced to A levels in 2010. Metro reported that straight A grades would "no longer guarantee a place at Britain's best universities". The Daily Mail focused on the finding that four in ten admissions tutors surveyed said they were unlikely to accept applicants holding the new 14-19 diploma because they did not believe students would be adequately prepared for the rigours of university study.

- A "shock survey" by Cambridge student newspaper Varsity was a focus for the Cambridge Evening News on 25 January. It found that students "who have the most sex get the worst results". At Homerton, the worst-performing college in the university's league table, students have had, on average, seven sexual partners. Christ's College, second in last year's Tompkins table of Cambridge exam results by college, reported the highest number of virgins, with more than a quarter of respondents never having had sex. The story was picked up by The Sun, which reported: "too much nookie can stop you getting a degree, a survey proves".

- There was much debate about Martin Amis's salary from the University of Manchester in the weekend papers. University staff campaigning against job cuts have calculated that Mr Amis earns just under £3,000 an hour, or £80,000 a year for a total of 28 hours, for teaching creative writing. The Times compared his earnings to those of Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney and noted that his salary is more than 240 times that of an average full-time academic, pro rata. The Daily Telegraph noted that Mr Amis's 1984 novel Money was "about the effects of excess and greed".

- Almost all UK papers reported, on 28 January, on the first three companies to be handed "awarding body" status by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, thereby receiving official recognition for their in-hour training schemes. News that Network Rail and the independent regional airline Flybe would be able to award nationally recognised qualifications was somewhat drowned out by the fact that fast-food chain McDonald's would offer the equivalent of an A level for a "basic shift management" course offered to its staff. John Denham, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, called the move "an important step towards ending the old divisions between company training schemes and national qualifications", but after much criticism of dumbed-down "McQualifications", the Financial Times, in a leader, said that Britain "should embrace" the McDonald's diploma.

- On 29 January, The Daily Telegraph reported on a study from the Institute of Education that found that "the educational gulf between rich and poor has widened over the past 20 years as more middle-class teenagers go to university". Stephen Ball, from the IoE's department of education foundations and policy, said the growth of faith schools, academies and trust schools gave middle-class parents new opportunities "to seek social advantage".

- As Times Higher Education went to press, the Association of Graduate Recruiters was due to predict a 16.4 per cent rise in the number of vacancies for graduate jobs this year despite current fears for the economy. Salaries for entrants are predicted to increase by an average of 2.1 per cent, around the level of inflation, bringing the median salary for graduates to £24,000. Despite this, recruiters still envisage having difficulties filling all vacancies, with 67 per cent anticipating challenges. Last year, 43.5 per cent of employers could not fill all their vacancies.

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