The Week in Higher Education

September 30, 2010



The government may be coming for higher education's funding but it seems that it will leave the sector's quangos alone. Reports on 24 September revealed that 94 quangos and other public bodies are under review, while 177 are certain to be axed. However, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is on the list of bodies to be retained, as are the seven research councils. After the Comprehensive Spending Review, there will be plenty to occupy the research and funding councils in working out how to allocate what remains.

What does former National Union of Students president Wes Streeting have in common with Tony Blair, Vince Cable and Sarah Brown? All have been given odds of 100-1 to succeed Ed Miliband as the next Labour Party leader. The odds quoted by bookies Ladbrokes put Mr Streeting above yesterday's man Gordon Brown (200-1), but below comeback king Lord Mandelson (33-1). The former NUS head, who is now a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Redbridge, did his best to deflate rising expectations. Tweeting about the odds on 25 September, he said: "PMSL (pissed myself laughing) - don't waste your money!!"

London Metropolitan University, the University of Gloucestershire and the University of Cumbria could disappear in plans to allow the "weakest" higher education institutions to fail. The coalition government has already made known its willingness to allow universities to go bust, in contrast to the Labour government's aim of propping up troubled institutions. The Daily Telegraph said on 25 September that it "understood" officials believe the new rules "could undermine" London Met, Gloucestershire and Cumbria. However, the paper provided little hard evidence for its story, which appeared to be an opportunity to give the financially troubled institutions yet another kicking.

Tuition fees could rise to £10,000 a year as the teaching budget is slashed by two-thirds and state funding for arts and humanities degrees ends entirely. These predictions appeared in a report on 26 September on the likely recommendations of Lord Browne's review of fees and funding, scheduled to be unveiled in October. It was reported that David Willetts, the universities and science minister, is discussing with the Treasury cutting £3 billion (64 per cent) from the teaching budget. Research would lose £1 billion of its £6 billion funding. According to the unsourced predictions, universities would be able to charge £7,000 - or £10,000 if they take on the risk of students failing to repay the extra £3,000 of state-backed loans.

Scientists calling for their government funding to be protected have joined the long list of people who make the Daily Mail angry. The newspaper has started a "Whinge Watch" column, attacking the BBC's "biased" reporting of planned cuts. On September, it cited the lack of challenge to warnings against science cuts made on Radio 4's Today programme by Lord Krebs, chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, and Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London. The newspaper said government grants were "just part of the equation", alongside the "huge proportion" of science funding that comes from the private sector. "A brain drain has been predicted for at least the last 50 years, during which time British scientists have cracked the DNA code, created the World Wide Web and mapped the human genome," it added.

A university in Pakistan has introduced a strict dress code for female students in what it claims is an attempt to discourage fashionable outfits. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Agricultural University told female students they will face disciplinary action if they turn up in trendy clothes, it was reported on September. The students must wear a loose knee-length white overall, white trousers and scarf. Shad Khan Khalil, the university provost, said he was attempting to prevent a class divide as middle- or lower-middle-class students "cannot afford to wear new and fashionable clothes every other day". No mention was made of the fashion sense of staff.

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