The week in higher education

September 3, 2009

Credit: Nick Newman

More than 22,000 university places - the vast majority of those available - were filled within a week in this year's clearing process. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said that in the week after A-level results were released, 22,599 places were snapped up, compared with 9,236 in the same period in 2008. Estimates at the start of the clearing process suggested that about 24,000 places would be available in total. The unprecedented scramble, which follows an increase in the number of university applicants and a cap on student numbers, could leave more than 130,000 eligible candidates without a place, it was reported on August.

In what may be an indicator of future trends in higher education, traditional subjects such as maths, physics and chemistry grew in popularity in this year's GCSEs. The results, released on 28 August, set new records, with two thirds of GCSEs awarded grades of at least C and one in five scoring an A or an A*. Exam boards said the intense competition students face getting a place at university had contributed to the increase in traditional subjects, though teachers also noted there had been a decrease in language subjects.

A law graduate who said she was given low marks on two papers by Cardiff University through no fault of her own has won a legal battle to have the grades quashed. Alice Clark, 43, argued that low marks in two papers for the Bar Vocational Course were the result of "previous incidents involving tutors". She was given 40 per cent in an advanced criminal law paper and 46 per cent in a negotiation paper. An independent marker later improved the first grade to 71 per cent, and she resat the second paper, raising her mark to 62 per cent. After a four-year legal battle, a judge agreed that the university's records should be changed, it was reported on 28 August.

The University of Oxford has been "dragged into an Indian land-grab row", The Sunday Times reported on 30 August. The Indian developers of the new town Lavasa, a 12,500-acre site where Oxford is planning an overseas outpost, have been accused of intimidating indigenous farmers into selling their land for low prices - allegations strongly denied. The paper said the row "highlights the potential pitfalls of the commercial strategy pursued by universities of opening campuses abroad".

In another University of Oxford row - this time involving a "race disgrace" - the university has banned its students' Conservative Association from using its name, the Daily Mail reported on 1 September. The university has ordered the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) to change its name after a scandal in June when student politicians at a hustings event were urged to compete to see who could tell the most offensive racist joke.

"I think, therefore I'm a man" was the summary of a survey that found that philosophy in Britain is still dominated by men. The study, released on 1 September by The Philosophers' Magazine, found that only two out of every ten full-time, permanent academic philosophers working in Russell Group universities are female. Jennifer Saul, UK director of the Society of Women in Philosophy, said an aggressive culture within elite circles in the discipline may be to blame for the imbalance. "I think that the very combative 'out to destroy the speaker' sort of philosophy is something that a lot of women find uncomfortable."

At last something for students to cheer about - the cost of their student loans is to drop to zero. Those who took out loans after 1998 will see the interest rate set at 0 per cent from 1 September because of the unusually low retail prices index inflation rate. The news is even better for those who took out loans before 1998: their rate will be set at -0.4 per cent as their repayments are made through a fixed-term mortgage-style scheme linked solely to the RPI. But not everyone was happy. Aaron Porter, of the National Union of Students, said that most graduates "will doubtless feel a huge sense of injustice in comparison to their pre-98 counterparts".

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