The week in higher education

April 24, 2008

- Jerry Jarvis, managing director of exam board Edexcel, warned in The Guardian on 17 April that up to 40,000 students could be saddled with "worthless" vocational diplomas. He claimed that teachers had not received enough training ahead of the launch of the diplomas this September and suggested that the 14-19 qualifications might be too demanding for teenagers.

- Proctors at the University of Oxford have fined graduating students more than £10,000 for bad behaviour during post-exam celebrations - with the aid of the social networking site Facebook, The Times said on 18 April. The sum of fines collected for "trashings" - the practice of finishing students spraying each other with champagne, foam, eggs and flour - was five times higher this year than the one before, thanks to evidence gathered online. The fines ranged from £40 to £500.

- David Zweig, director of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has criticised the quality of British degrees, The Sunday Times reported on 20 April. In a paper to be presented at a meeting in Paris next month he said: "Many returnees have MAs from very poor universities in England." He said he had been asked by Chinese officials to "kick the Brits" over the issue.

- A grammar-school pupil rejected by the University of Oxford has been given a £100,000 scholarship to study at Harvard University. Oxford's decision to reject Mark Parker will reignite the row over how universities choose students, The Sunday Times said on 20 April. Only 53 per cent of students admitted to Oxford are from state schools.

- Academics and writers are struggling to find a desk in the British Library's reading room, two years after undergraduates were given access to the famous research library, said London Lite on 21 April. The paper quoted Tristram Hunt, lecturer in history at Queen Mary, University of London, saying the library had become "a groovy place to meet", that it was impossible to find a seat after 11am and that the students undermined the "scholarly atmosphere".

- The Welsh Assembly Government must compensate Welsh universities for banning them from charging top-up tuition fees, Plaid Cymru's economics adviser, Eurfyl ap Gwilym, has said. "Student-paid tuition fees are becoming a significant ... source of funding for English universities," he said in the Western Mail on 21 April. "However, top-up fees are not levied on Welsh students. This means that either universities have to be compensated by the Assembly Government for this loss of income or they will suffer underfunding." The paper noted that that the funding gap between Welsh and English universities is £50 million a year.

- On 21 April, The Herald reported fears that higher education in Scotland could become a two-tier system in the wake of proposals to focus widening access on a few new universities. The warning came after the Scottish Funding Council announced plans to allocate a £3 million fund for widening participation to universities that traditionally recruit more students from low-participation backgrounds. Institutions to benefit include Glasgow Caledonian, Napier, Queen Margaret and The Robert Gordon universities, The Open University and the universities of Abertay Dundee and the West of Scotland. John Field, an expert in lifelong learning at the University of Stirling, said the initiative amounted to "educational segregation".

- The sudden death of Rosemary Pope, Bournemouth University's pro vice-chancellor, was related to anorexia, the Daily Echo reported on 22 April. Professor Pope, who had a professional background in nursing, died at home at the age of 49. Dorset police released the cause of death ahead of an inquest.

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