Today's news

August 14, 2002

Blunder gives failed pupils pass rating
Scotland’s examination system was thrown into turmoil for the second time in three years yesterday after Highers students were incorrectly awarded points entitling them to a university place. Information supplied by the Scottish Qualifications Authority was wrongly interpreted by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, leading to the immediate suspension of clearing throughout the UK. Some 5,000 students were affected.
(Independent, Financial Times, Times, Daily Mirror, Guardian)

Toss of a coin ‘as good as A levels’
A levels are only slightly better than tossing a coin as a way of predicting who will do well at university, two professors of education said yesterday. The relationship between students’ A-level scores and the class of degree they obtained was so weak that admissions tutors might as well trust to chance, according to Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black of King’s College, London.
(Daily Telegraph, Independent, Daily Mail, Guardian)

AS levels blamed for fall in A-level entries
Thousands of students have opted out of Alevels, fuelling fears that the controversial AS exams have watered down standards. Statistics today will show that entries have fallen from 748,000 last summer to around 704,000.
(Daily Mail, Guardian)

A levels ‘must be tougher’
A leading education expert yesterday called for a major overhaul of A levels amid claims that the exams are getting easier. Professor Alan Smithers said: ‘They no longer distinguish between the brightest, average and weakest students.’
(Daily Mirror)

Greenfield attacks Israel boycott
Scientist Susan Greenfield deplores the recent call for a boycott by British academics of Israel, saying it flies in the face of what academics, and scientists in particular, should be about. She goes on: ‘Two of the original wannabe statesmen, Professors Dawkins and Blakemore, having built such a divisive fence, now seem to wish to sit on it.'
Should there be an academic boycott of Israel? Join our web debate at

Postgraduate scheme to boost school science
Top universities are to send some of their best postgraduates into 300 US-style ‘laboratory’ schools to inspire a new generation of scientists and mathematicians. Members of the Russell Group of leading universities want to replicate a pilot project launched by Imperial College London and Glaxo SmithKline. In each case, a university would be teamed up with about 15 state specialist schools in its area and the postgraduate students would give ‘masterclasses’.
(Financial Times)

BBC atheist ban attacked
A heavyweight clutch of writers and academics is leading a protest against the Thought for the Day slot on Radio 4’s Today programme, saying it discriminates against atheists. A letter signed by more than 100 prominent figures accuses the BBC of appearing to promote religion as the only source of ethics, but the corporation made it clear that it had no intention of changing its policy.
(Daily Telegraph, Independent, Guardian)

Tories try to tap campus youth vote
David Davis, the former party chairman, is spearheading a move by the Tories to recruit young professionals. He and several members of the shadow cabinet are to embark on a nationwide tour of university campuses this autumn to try to win the votes of a new generation.

Blairs' marriage is weird, says Greer
Germaine Greer, the mother of modern feminism and author of The Female Eunuch, accused Tony Blair of presenting a skewed example of marriage to the nation. Speaking on the unequal nature of marriage, in which women were forced to make huge sacrifices, Ms Greer said: ‘The marriage of our prime minister is an interesting case in point. That is a very weird relationship. I want to say to him, "Leave her alone, for Christ’s sake. She’s 47 years old. She doesn’t practise contraception because she is a Catholic. So stay off her!"'

Students ‘victims of real Big Brother’
A French couple who rented out rooms to a succession of attractive young catering students in the southern seaside town of Banyuls are in danger of prison after their lodgers discovered that their most intimate moments were being recorded by 17 hidden cameras.

‘Academic ghetto’ has streets paved with gold
The Hallam district of Sheffield is home to the largest number of affluent people anywhere in England outside London and the Southeast, says Barclays bank. Some 7.9 per cent of the inhabitants of the area, home to departments from both Sheffield universities, earn more than £60,000.
(Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Guardian)

Rich neighbours pull the birds
Birds seem to be as aware of property prices as humans and prefer to have rich neighbours, according to ecologists Ann Kinzig and Paige Warren of Arizona State University. They found that more bird species live in wealthy neighbourhoods than in middle and lower income areas.
(Daily Telegraph)

Lost manor unearthed by Dugs Bunny
Rabbits have unearthed the remains of a rare medieval stained glass window from a 14th-century manor house. Archaeologists believe the rabbits recently extended their warren into the remains, at an undisclosed site in Warwickshire, and began digging up shards of coloured glass.
(Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian)

Oxford don quits over red tape
An Oxford classics don said yesterday that he was leaving a job he loves to work in the US to escape a hostile government and its ‘oppressive mass of regulation’. Richard Jenkyns, who has been a tutorial fellow in classics at Oxford for 21 years, said morale in top universities was at rock bottom. He is to be professor of classics at Boston University.
(Daily Telegraph)

How the horse civilised mankind
A new genetic study has shed new light on the domestication of the horse and its role in the growth of civilisation. The research, by Drs Peter Forster and Marsha Levine of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University and Dr Thomas Jansen of Bonn University, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(Daily Telegraph)

The dumbing-down debate
This year’s A-level results are likely to be among the highest ever. But, asks John Clare, are exams really getting easier?
(Daily Telegraph)

Down the brain drain
Too many graduates are chasing too few high-skill jobs. Is the government’s plan to increase the number of university places sensible, asks Simon Parker.

Set the universities free
'The dependence of tertiary education on public funding has become so pronounced that the state feels free to indulge in micro-management, even to the extent of attempting to dictate entrance criteria. Such social engineering debauches the idea of a university,’ argues a Telegraph editorial.
(Daily Telegraph)

A levels still have their uses
An editorial in the Independent reminds university admissions tutors that, whatever the finding from academics at King’s College London that A levels are unreliable, prospective students are more than the sum of their exam results.

Bac to school
An editorial in the Financial Times argues that there is little evidence to support the A-level grade inflation hypothesis but that the government should stop tinkering with sixth-form exams and switch to the international baccalaureate.
(Financial Times)

Warning over vitamin E pills
Daily vitamin E pills may increase the risk of coughs, colds and chest infections in elderly people, a Dutch study of 652 people has found. The findings are reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
(Daily Telegraph)

Historian of women dies
Bridget Hill, the dynamic historian of 18th-century women and wife of Marxist historian Christopher Hill, has died aged 80.

French mathematician dies
Professor Laurent Schwartz, who won the Fields Medal, the equivalent of the Nobel prize for mathematics, has died aged 87.
(Daily Telegraph)

Danish don dies
Elias Bredsdorff, former reader in Scandinavian studies at Cambridge University, has died aged 90.

East End museum curator dies
Molly Harrison, curator of the Geffrye Museum in London, has died aged 92.


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