Today's news

November 7, 2002

Blair hints at delay to top-up fees
Prime minister Tony Blair appeared to throw a lifeline to millions of middle-class families yesterday with a hint that top-up fees for university tuition may be delayed. Pressed by Iain Duncan Smith to rule out legislation in this parliament that would allow universities to charge higher fees soon after the next election, the prime minister said: "I urge him to await the outcome of the review, when he may find that his strictures are unjustified." (Times)

Only 15 regraded students switch university
Only 15 students have changed universities after their A-level results were regraded, the head of the admissions service said yesterday. Three have moved to their preferred university this term and 12 will switch from their current course at the start of the next academic year. Eight students who had no place offered had been accepted by universities for entry next year. Tony Higgins, the chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said that one other student had changed courses within the same university. An inquiry led by Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, ordered grades awarded to almost 100,000 students to be reviewed after allegations by schools that exam boards deliberately depressed results.

Sacked exam watchdog bites back
Two of the government's senior media advisers may be called before MPs to explain their part in the A-level fiasco after a devastating attack on Labour's news management. Giving evidence to the Commons education select committee yesterday, Sir William Stubbs, who was sacked as chairman of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, said that officials from the Department for Education had briefed against him. They had told journalists he would be sacked before the result of an independent inquiry into the debacle had been known. (Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Times, Independent, Financial Times)

Record income earns Newcastle staff day off
Newcastle University announced a record-breaking income of £213 million last year and has celebrated by giving more than 4,000 staff an extra day off at Christmas.

Parkinson's hope from Manchester
Ecstasy-like drugs might be useful to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, even though ecstasy has been identified as having a strong causal link to the brain condition, according to scientists at the University of Manchester. Their experiment, involving marmoset monkeys, is reported in New Scientist .

Thalidomide helps combat bone tumours
Thalidomide, the drug that caused birth defects in thousands of children, is an effective treatment for cancer of the bone marrow. Trials have shown that in combination with an established cancer drug, dexamethasone, thalidomide causes multiple myeloma to retreat. The results are comparable with those from intravenous chemotherapy, but the side-effects are much milder, the study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, showed. The results are reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology .

Breast X-rays increase risks of getting cancer
Women who have a genetic risk of breast cancer could be increasing their chances of developing the disease with regular mammogram screening. Scientists from the University of Göttingen in Germany have discovered that the X-ray radiation used in mammograms can be highly damaging in young women who carry genes predisposing them to breast tumours, giving them up to 2½ times the normal risk of contracting cancer.

Doctors demand smoking ban in all public places
Smoking should be banned in all public places and a new tax on tobacco companies established to fund information campaigns about the danger of passive smoking, doctors’ leaders recommended yesterday. The British Medical Association estimates in a report that 1,000 non-smokers a year die through exposure to other people's cigarettes. It is urging the government to learn from smoke-free policies in other countries and to introduce a ban on smoking in shops, bars, restaurants and all office buildings.
(Times, Daily Mail, Independent)

Study finds no autism link to MMR
New evidence of the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is published today in the shape of a study which found no link between children being given the triple jab and the onset of autism. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine , examined the medical records of more than half a million children born in Denmark over eight years. Of the 537,303 children born between January 1991 and December 1998, 440,655 (82 per cent) were given the MMR vaccine, usually at around the age of 15 months. Researchers found that 758 children had been diagnosed either with autism or with autistic-spectrum disorders, but that the vaccinated children were no more likely to have such a diagnosis than those who had not been vaccinated.

Fellow writers honour Rushdie
The novelist Salman Rushdie, was honoured by his peers last night, winning the London International Writers Award 2002. Martin Amis presented him with the prize of a first edition of Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers .
(Daily Telegraph, Independent)

Bristol lecturer and Ionesco translator dies
Donald Watson, one of the most successful translators and promoters of French literature since the second world war and a charismatic teacher of French and drama at Bristol University from 1958 until his retirement, has died, aged 83.

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