Today's news

November 14, 2002

Ministers accused of 'softening us up' for top-up fees
A shake-up of universities with the prospect of students paying top-up fees is the most controversial education proposal in the Queen's Speech. Top-up fees are just one of several options being considered, alongside a graduate tax and the reintroduction of means-tested grants. Officials said existing legislation might allow the introduction of top-up fees. The government is allowed to "fine" universities £1 of their grant for every £1 earned from introducing top-up fees, and it might be enough simply to announce that these powers will no longer be used. Labour has a manifesto commitment not to allow top-up fees in this Parliament, so they probably cannot be introduced for three years. The issue is causing a split in Labour ranks with even some cabinet ministers opposed to top-up fees. David Blunkett, a former secretary of state for education, is one of the biggest opponents. A total of 92 backbench Labour MPs, including five former ministers, have signed a Commons early-day motion condemning them.

Top-up fees alone won't help us compete
Susan Bassnett, pro vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, comments on another education public-relations disaster zone.

Harvard bars Oxford poet
Harvard University has cancelled an appearance by the controversial Oxford academic Tom Paulin after more than 100 students and faculty members objected to the poet's inflammatory anti-Israel views, which include the claim that Jewish settlers in the West Bank are "Nazis" who should be "shot dead". Mr Paulin was scheduled to give the Ivy League university's prestigious Morris Gray poetry reading tonight, but Harvard said that, after protests, the event had been shelved late on Tuesday "by mutual consent of the poet and the English department".
(Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail, Times)

Education goals will be missed, Unesco warns
More than 70 countries will fail to meet essential education targets by 2015, Unesco said yesterday, in part blaming poorly directed aid programmes and a looming global teacher shortage. An independent annual report on progress towards the targets, agreed at Dakar, Senegal, in 1999, concluded that 28 countries might miss all three of the measurable targets set. As a result, more than a quarter of the world's population will live in countries unable to achieve universal primary education, gender equality and a halving of illiteracy rates.
(Financial Times)

US farmers pay college fees with pork chops
To Sally Miller, a recent graduate of Lindenwood University in St Charles, Missouri, a pork chop is not just a pork chop. It's the meat that paid for her education. Her parents are pig farmers in a part of the country that has been hit hard by economic recession. And Lindenwood has been struggling to hold on to students daunted by the annual tuition fee of more than $11,000 (£7,000). So half a dozen farming families have come to an understanding with the university president: they can pay their higher education bill in hog meat. The cafeteria freezers are now filled to the brim with pork roasts, chops, ribs, sausages and bacon.

Why I wish I were Swiss
After visiting a cousin who does a similar job in Switzerland, Chris Dyke, a further education lecturer, is shocked to realise how much greener the grass is for teachers over there.

Whose rights come first?
Independent school teachers are complaining that their pupils are being rejected by universities in favour of those from state schools with lower A-level grades. Lucy Hodges investigates an issue dividing the education world.

Biographies, they wrote
The UK's first centre devoted to the skills of biographical research opened this week at Queen Mary, University of London.

Theory of ancient Greek athletes gathers momentum
Olympic athletes in ancient Greece swung heavy weights in their hands so that they could jump further, according to scientists who have discovered that the extra momentum markedly increased performance. Greek art frequently depicts athletes holding hand-held weights called halteres but historians were not sure whether these were to increase the jumping distance or make the challenge even more difficult. Two sports scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University, have calculated that the weights would have allowed an athlete to increase a 3m jump by 17cm – an improvement in performance of about 6 per cent.
(Independent, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Times)

MS research attacked
Scientists have failed to find a cure for multiple sclerosis because they have been investigating the "wrong disease" for more than a century, a controversial study has concluded. Conventional wisdom is that MS occurs when the immune system attacks protein sheaths that insulate nerve cells. However, in The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh , three neuroscientists say it is caused by malfunctioning of astrocytes - support cells in the central nervous system.
(Daily Telegraph)

Stradivarius auctioned to the tune of £600,000
A Stradivarius violin, dating from 1726, was the highlight of the Christie's twice-yearly musical instruments sale. Labelled as "Antonius Stradivarius Cremonensis", it sold to an anonymous buyer for £608,750, well down on the pre-sale estimate of £650,000 to £850,000, but the auction house said it was pleased with the sale.

Leading university v-c of the 1960s dies
Sir Charles Wilson, who has rendered memorable service to the universities of Leicester and Glasgow and served as chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals from 1964 to 1967, has died, aged 93. He will be remembered as a vice-chancellor's vice-chancellor: indeed, he was largely responsible for bringing the CVCP into its present form.

Oxbridge economic historian dies
John Hrothgar Habakkuk, economic historian and university administrator, has died aged 87.

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