The week in higher education

April 28, 2011

A claim that 36,000 student places could be chopped to allow for the additional cost of subsidising tuition fee loans in 2012 prompted a rash of stories about policy chaos on 20 April. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said the places could be cut to pay for the "unfair and shambolic" fees policy because many universities aim to charge fees of £9,000. In an unlikely union, the right-wing Daily Telegraph joined Mr Miliband in delivering a kicking to the coalition government - or more specifically, to Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary. "To no one's great surprise - other, it seems, than the minister responsible, Vince Cable - the overwhelming majority (of universities) are charging the maximum fee," the newspaper said. "Mr Cable seems to spend much of his time these days perfecting his role as the coalition's licensed dissident. It is a pity that he does not spend longer ensuring that the policies for which he is responsible are fit for purpose."

The US medical company suing cardiologist Peter Wilmshurst for libel has gone out of business, it was reported on 20 April. NMT Medical has been pursuing Dr Wilmshurst, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, in the English courts since 2007, when he criticised a clinical trial of a heart device made by the company. Last month, NMT Medical launched a fourth libel suit against him over comments he made on BBC Radio 4 about the chilling effects of England's libel laws on medical science. Dr Wilmshurst said: "It is good news that it seems my libel case may now be over. However, it has cost me all my free time for the last three and a half years (and) hundreds of thousands of pounds of my own money." The government recently published a draft bill intended to make English libel suits easier to defend.

Several thousand people were sent an email by the University of Sussex erroneously congratulating them on securing places. It was reported on 21 April that a member of staff accidentally sent out the email welcoming thousands of people to the School of Education and Social Work, even though many of them had not even applied to study at the institution. A university spokesman said: "Of those who replied to us, most did so with good humour and understanding."

The turmoil at the University of Abertay Dundee continues after three members of the university court - including Justine Curran, chief constable of Tayside Police - stepped down. Their departure follows the decision earlier this year to suspend principal Bernard King, who was also head of Universities Scotland. In a statement on 21 April, David Currie, president of the University of Abertay Dundee Students' Association, said that despite the upheaval, he was confident that the "day-to-day running of the university will remain constant".

An academic who left his daughter and her friends to a late-night party that ended in tragedy was arrested on suspicion of possession of drugs and child abandonment on 23 April. Brian Dodgeon, a senior research Fellow at the Institute of Education, was subsequently bailed. A 15-year-old girl died of a suspected drugs overdose at the party and three other teenagers - including Mr Dodgeon's daughter - were hospitalised.

More than half of final-year students say that they would not have gone to university if their tuition fees had been £9,000 a year, according to a new study. The survey of more than 12,500 final-year undergraduates at 24 English universities by High Fliers Research comes ahead of the trebling of the fee cap to £9,000 in 2012. Some 51 per cent of respondents said they would have been put off doing a degree if they had faced fees of that level, while one in three said they would have discounted university if fees had been set at £6,000, according to the report published on April. Students at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford were the least concerned about fees, while those who went to state schools were much more likely to be put off than those who were privately educated.

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