Today's news

November 15, 2002

Old degree grades may be scrapped
Ministers are planning to scrap the centuries-old system of degree classifications and to replace them with a simple points score. Proposals to end the "blunt instrument" of first, second and third-class degrees will be contained in a strategy document on higher education that will be published in January. The plans, which have been leaked to today’s Times Higher Education Supplement, are modelled on the American system, under which students leave university with an average points score and a detailed account of their achievement. Margaret Hodge, the higher education minister, is understood to believe that degree "inflation" is threatening the credibility of the system. This year nearly nine out of ten students at Oxford were awarded a first or an upper second, a rise of 20 per cent over 15 years. Other universities recorded a similar effect.
Read the full story in The THES : US grading to edge out 'firsts'

Minister admits universities are in crisis
Students will have to pay more towards the cost of their degrees to end the crisis in universities, the higher education minister, Margaret Hodge, said last night as a rebellion among Labour MPs over top-up fees gathered momentum. She became the first minister to admit to a crisis in university funding as the former education minister Stephen Byers called for a new cap on tuition fees of £3,000 (currently £1,100) and the restoration of maintenance grants of £2,000 for poorer students.
(Guardian, Independent, Financial Times)

Top-up fees would hit poorer students, Cambridge warns
Cambridge University yesterday voiced fears that any introduction of "top-up" fees by the government could deter poorer students from entering higher education. Its ruling council agreed a statement drafted by Sir Alec Broers, the vice-chancellor, and Paul Lewis, president of the student union, which said: "It is for the government to show that access would not be adversely affected if it decided that fee arrangements were to be changed". The university said that it has no plans to introduce 'top-up' fees. The council believes that the present system of higher education funding is not sustainable.
(Guardian, Daily Telegraph)

Lecturers strike for capital allowance
Universities in London were hit by an almost total shutdown yesterday as unions held a one-day strike over their demand for an across-the-board £4,000 allowance for staff in the capital. The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (Natfhe), and the Association of University Teachers (AUT), were joined by Unison and Amicus support staff. Their protest was over the 10-year freeze in the London weighting of £2,134 for staff at London University, and subsidies of between £603 and £2,355 in the "new universities", the former polytechnics. The University of London has offered no automatic increase while vice-chancellors at the new universities have offered a £90 rise. The unions said 120,000 students were affected by the strike.

Deadly asteroid that rocked Britain
Debris from a massive asteroid impact more than 200 million years ago has been discovered in a cliff face in Bristol. The prehistoric explosion, 40 million times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, sent a supersonic shock wave and a cloud of white hot, marble-sized fragments of molten rock and glass sweeping across what is now Britain. The deposits were discovered by chance in sediments on the Avon coast by a team, led by Gordon Walkden of the University of Aberdeen, hunting for dinosaur fossils. The layer has been dated by Simon Kelley of the Open University. The age is significant, as it fits remarkably well with a 65-mile-wide asteroid crater at Manicouagan in Quebec, northeastern Canada, the most likely impact site. Details of the research are also published in the journal Science .

Disaster looms for chemistry
Professor Sir Harry Kroto, the Nobel prize-winning British scientist and the new president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, has warned the government that the number of chemistry students must be doubled if the UK is to translate its research successes into economic growth. He said the present number of around 3,000 new graduates a year was not enough: "To avoid disaster, immediate action must be taken to ensure that, during the next decade, there are enough molecular scientists with the levels of basic and nanotechnology."
(Financial Times)

Leeds v-c joins Mona Baker debate
"In defending the perpetrator and not the victims, Cohen and Williamson are turning their organisation in to the Campaign for the Prevention of Academic Freedom." Read, Leeds Metropolitan University v-c, Leslie Wagner's letter to The THES : Confusing victims with bullies

Estelle, the 'profession' thanks you
Mystery surrounds a fawning tribute to Estelle Morris which appears, unsigned, in today's Times Educational Supplement. One thing is for certain: whoever paid is not in the Cabinet.

Cathedral entry fee must be abolished, synod told
An attempt to stop cathedrals charging visitors for entry is to be made at the General Synod of the Church of England. A private member’s motion tabled by Tom Sutcliffe, a lay member from Southwark, aims to "reinforce the principles of free access and Christian hospitality" in the nation's 43 Anglican cathedrals. "The imposition of a charge for ordinary entrance to cathedrals risks turning these monuments to Christian commitment, which are tools of mission and opportunities for evangelism, into touristic commodities," he said.

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