The week in higher education

May 8, 2008

- Four months ago Britain enjoyed a priceless reputation, earned over many decades, as a world leader in pure physics. Not any more." This was the message of The Times's leader column on 1 May, following the House of Commons' science select committee's damning report on the "poor leadership" of the Science and Technology Facilities Council and its handling of £80 million-worth of cuts. However, the paper added: "The damage done to physics in the country of Newton and Rutherford is not irreparable, but it will take swift action, at a high level, to reverse."

- The Guardian - hot on the heels of last week's Independent - published its version of the annual university league tables on 1 May. Oxford headed the list, as it did the Independent's. Cambridge was second, followed by the London School of Economics, the University of Warwick, the University of St Andrews, Imperial College London, University College London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) and the University of Edinburgh.

- "Doubts and uncertainties" about the implementation of the Government's new diploma qualification could undermine its introduction in England in the autumn, according to head teachers. The BBC news website reported on 2 May that the National Association of Head Teachers had put a list of questions to ministers over how it is to be introduced.

- Universities Secretary John Denham and higher education minister Bill Rammell are in danger of losing their seats in the House of Commons at the next general election, newspapers reported on 3 May after the Labour Party's humiliation in the local elections. The Sun reported that in Mr Denham's Southampton Itchen constituency, the Tories staged a "spectacular victory", taking the council from the Labour Party.

- New and more difficult A levels, designed to stretch the brightest students, will simply "widen the gulf between state and independent schools", The Daily Telegraph said on 5 May. Official forecasts showed that almost a quarter of private school pupils were expected to gain at least one top A* grade when they are first awarded in 2010, compared with just 9 per cent from comprehensive schools. Meanwhile, The Times reported the Conservative Party's claims that the £165 million package of student support due to be introduced in September will "disproportionately benefit undergraduates from middle-class families". The decision to lift the family earnings cap to allow more students to benefit from maintenance grants will mean that 90 per cent of the extra spending will initially go to richer families, the Conservatives said.

- Only just over half of foundation degree students think that their course is well organised and running smoothly, according to a report published as Times Higher Education went to press. An analysis from the Higher Education Funding Council for England says that 56 per cent of students responding to the 2007 National Student Survey agreed with the statement, "the course is well organised and is running smoothly", an increase on 2006. Seventy-six per cent of students a significant way through their course agreed with the statement, "overall, I am satisfied with the quality." Growth in the number of students studying on foundation degree programmes is on track to meet the Government's target of 100,000 by 2010.

- As Times Higher Education went to press, Universities UK warned that new rules on skilled and temporary workers published this week as part of the new immigration points system could hit universities' ability to attract visiting international staff. Under the rules all visiting staff will have to seek sponsorship from a third-party organisation and not from the university where they will be based.

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