The Week in Higher Education

April 3, 2008

- Gordon Brown has offered Labour MPs a free vote on controversial aspects of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in a bid to defuse a row over stem-cell research, the Financial Times said on 26 March. Although there will be no free vote on the whole Bill when it reaches the second and third readings in the Commons in summer, Labour MPs will be able to vote with their consciences on three elements of the Bill at committee stage: creation of hybrid embryos by crossing animal eggs and human nuclei, production of "saviour" siblings to help treat brothers or sisters with genetic conditions and research on in vitro fertilisation. The Government previously indicated it would whip all its MPs into voting for the Bill, the paper said.

- The owners of the Daily Mail, which has carried articles criticising the large number of foreign nationals studying in the UK, also owns a student recruitment service, Edinburgh student newspaper The Journal reported on 26 March. The Daily Mail and General Trust plc is the sole owner of Hobsons, which specialises in attracting international students to Britain. The Journal reported that in 2006 six universities, including Brunel and Robert Gordon, outsourced overseas recruitment to Hobsons.

- The Daily Mail reported a "row" on March over an award to the University of Essex to research the experiences of Irish homosexuals in London. The £82,000 Economic and Social Research Council grant will be used to study the lives of Irish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The newspaper quoted the Taxpayers' Alliance describing the project as being "out of a political correctness joke book". Roisin Ryan-Flood, who is leading the project, says she wants to "uncover the ways in which contemporary sexual citizenship, migration and LGBT imaginaries of the metropolis are mutually implicated in complex ways".

- "A thinly veiled attempt by the University and College Union national executive to reintroduce an academic boycott of Israel has brought a swift communal response", the Jewish Chronicle said on 28 March. A motion calling for discussion of "continued educational links" with Israeli academe will be debated at the UCU's annual congress in May. The paper noted that UCU president Linda Newman, "who made anti-boycott statements prior to her election last year", is seconding the motion. "There are fears that the motion, if adopted, would encourage a so-called silent boycott, whereby Israelis would not know if a paper was being rejected on grounds of quality or boycott," the paper added.

- There are "rumblings of criticism" over the merger of Henley Management College and the University of Reading, The Sunday Times reported on 30 March. Internal management accounts show that the college has a deficit of £1.2 million, the paper said. It quoted a former student as saying: "Henley should be able to operate on its own. It has done so in the past without government support or support from anyone else."

- The number of university students aged under 18 has doubled in five years, said The Daily Telegraph on 1 April. There were almost 8,000 under-18s studying at English universities last year, compared with fewer than 5,000 in 2002, suggesting that bright youngsters could be taking advantage of anti-age discrimination laws.

- Thousands of vocational qualifications face the axe in a "bonfire of certificates", said The Times on 1 April. The paper suggested that government reforms announced this week would promote the new 14-19 diploma while hastening the demise of the A level as the gold-standard qualification. The Government also abandoned its pledge that every local authority would have at least one institution offering the International Baccalaureate.

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