The Week in Higher Education

September 9, 2010

The president of Universities UK resorted to post-watershed language when discussing the Browne review of higher education fees and funding. "I don't believe this bullshit that there are a small number of elite universities that will charge what they like," Steve Smith, who is also vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, was quoted as saying on 2 September. He dismissed talk of £20,000 annual fees as "completely ridiculous". On 7 September, it was reported that Lord Browne's review team is likely to propose higher tuition fees and not a graduate tax.

David Miliband may be a Blairite moderniser, but his rise to power was launched with a spot of old-fashioned academic nepotism, a newspaper has suggested. Writing in the Daily Mail, columnist Ephraim Hardcastle described Mr Miliband "squeezing into Oxford on the strength of an interview after a so-so three Bs and a D" in his A levels. The Labour leadership candidate was "admitted to Corpus Christi by economist Andrew Glyn, an old friend of his father, the late Marxist historian Ralph Miliband", the columnist wrote on 2 September.

Today's freshers need £3,500 of "essential" equipment, including a laptop and smartphone, for university. On 2 September, a survey by technology website eXpansys found that parents and grandparents are often "forced to pay" for the expensive goods to ensure that undergraduates are prepared to begin their degrees. Anthony Catterson, eXpansys chief executive, said: "In 2010, a laptop and a smartphone capable of accessing the internet and social media are no longer seen as luxuries - they are considered essential student kit." Bad news for those footing the bill, but good news for burglars.

On 5 September, The Sunday Telegraph highlighted empty places on "unorthodox" courses such as the University of Northampton's "dance with equine studies" - along with an equally unusual response from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Hefce reportedly sent the newspaper copies of internal emails by accident that revealed discussions of how to respond to journalists' questions. "The funding agency even referred to the questionable degree subjects in a derogative way, with one of the accidentally released emails carrying the headline: 'Response to The Sunday Telegraph on Mickey Mouse courses'," the article said. "This newspaper did not use that phrase when posing the questions." Also inadvertently released was an email from Toby West-Taylor, Hefce's head of funding, urging no mention of statutes barring political interference in academic decisions lest it prompt calls to change "such sound legislation". The newspaper argued that ministerial control would be best for students and universities because Hefce had "demonstrated that it is unsuited to decide which courses should be supported with taxpayers' money".

Cuts of 35 per cent in public funding would have "serious consequences" for higher education, the head of the CBI has warned. On 6 September, Richard Lambert told the press: "There is talk of 35 per cent cuts over the lifetime of the spending review ... Some institutions would find it difficult to pull through on that basis." He added: "Thirty-five is a hell of a figure." Times Higher Education reported last month that Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet secretary, had advised vice-chancellors to plan for 35 per cent cuts between 2011 and 2015, the period to be covered by the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The government is to "slash tens of thousands from the number of foreign students flocking into Britain". Damian Green, the immigration minister, signalled the further tightening of student-visa rules on 6 September as Home Office research revealed that a fifth of non-European Union students were still in the country five years after entering. The research also showed that 90,000 of the 196,000 overseas students were studying courses below degree level. "Mr Green said it showed the image people had of foreign students attending the UK's most prestigious universities - paying large tuition fees which kept many institutions afloat - was wrong," the Daily Mail claimed.

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