The week in higher education

September 25, 2008

It was a case of too little too late for Michael Reiss, who has stepped down as education director of the Royal Society, when The Guardian sprung belatedly to his defence. Professor Reiss, who was forced to resign after suggesting that creationism should be discussed in schools, claimed he had been misrepresented by the press. By 18 September, The Guardian seemed to agree, saying that "he did not say that creationism was scientific, he did not advocate including it in the science curriculum and he categorically denied that creationism and evolution deserved equal time". The Guardian admitted that "the headlines in many newspapers - including this one - did not convey the nuance of his message" and that "this appears to have cost him his job". On the day the story broke, The Guardian's headline was: "Teach creationism, says top scientist".

The "finite pool" of deprived sixth-formers with top A-level grades is preventing the University of Oxford from rapidly expanding its intake from poor backgrounds. In The Daily Telegraph on 18 September, Mike Nicholson, Oxford's admissions director, highlighted the "limitations" on what could be done to widen access. Geoff Parks, head of admissions at the University of Cambridge, told The Times that increasing the proportion of students from state schools beyond 60 per cent would be difficult.

Some of Britain's best universities have the unhappiest students, The Sunday Times' University Guide suggested on 21 September. The guide put Bristol, Edinburgh and the London School of Economics among the bottom 25 institutions for student satisfaction, despite high overall ratings. Cambridge topped the table, and came second for student satisfaction; Oxford was second overall, with the seventh-happiest students.

Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips launched an attack on Baroness Warnock, on 22 September, over an article the academic wrote suggesting that elderly people with dementia were wasting the lives of their carers and had a duty to die. She said Baroness Warnock, who is on the Times Higher Education editorial board, was encouraging "a dehumanised society where the weakest are sacrificed for the benefit of the strong".

The long-awaited review of tuition fees, due to take place next year, will look at their impact on part-time students. Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell said the Government recognised the "inequality" in the system, which requires part-time students to pay their fees upfront, The Guardian reported on 23 September.

Academics hoping to work after the age of 65 suffered a setback this week after a key legal opinion on compulsory retirement went against them. On 23 September, an advocate-general at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg rejected a claim from Heyday, a member organisation of Age Concern, that forcing people to stop work at 65 is a breach of European Union equality laws. The legal opinion will be a blow to academics who have been forced to retire and have started claims for compensation. Although the advocate-general's view is not binding, it is expected to influence the European court, whose judgment on the case is due in December.

As Times Higher Education went to press, John Denham, the Universities Secretary, was due to announce in his Labour Party conference speech that nine of the most selective universities - Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter, King's College London, Leeds, Leicester, Newcastle, Southampton and Warwick - were working with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills on a new access scheme. The project, to ensure that the best students from the most-deprived schools were invited to apply, would not "impose admissions policies", DIUS said, but the universities would "work to find ways to ensure they do not miss out on the most-talented students".

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