Today's news

November 18, 2002

Short breaks rank on top-up fees
Clare Short today becomes the first cabinet minister to break ranks on the controversial issue of top-up fees for universities, being considered by Downing Street as part of a shake-up of university finance to be announced in January. In an interview with The Guardian , the international development secretary says bluntly: "It's a really bad idea; I'm against it." She warns that if top-up fees are accepted by ministers, "we'd have real two-tier universities and the rich would pay extra fees and go to the classy, elitist universities rather like the US." Other cabinet ministers are known to be resisting the introduction of the fees although all agree on the need to find extra funds for universities. Ms Short's remarks will give heart to the growing number of Labour backbenchers who fear top-up fees charged by elite British universities will be accessible only to those capable of paying the higher fees. Some 50 Labour MPs, including the former the health secretary Frank Dobson, have signed a new Commons motion demanding a permanent commitment from government to rule out top-up fees as a matter of long-term policy. In total 120 MPs have signed statements opposing the fees in general. Mr Dobson stepped up his personal pressure yesterday calling for an income tax rise to fund any spending gap in universities.
(Guardian, Financial Times, Independent, Times, Daily Mail)

Brightest and best quit Bar as debts mount
The Bar is facing a drain of young talent as lawyers are forced out by heavy debts and shortage of work, according to a survey of the state of the institution published today by the accountant BDO Stoy Hayward. Nine out of ten junior barristers say that they have large debts and in most cases will be unable to clear them for more than three years because of the squeeze on publicly funded work. The result is a steady loss of the “brightest and best” from the profession, which could lead to a shortfall in experienced barristers in four to five years’ time. At the same time, financial pressures are dissuading barristers from providing training places, or pupillages.
(Times, Independent)

Trainee teacher levels best in 10 years
The number of trainee teachers is at its highest for more than a decade, the government's Teacher Training Agency announced yesterday. More than 31,000 trainees will begin studying for the teaching profession during this academic year - 2,000 more than last year - the TTA's annual conference in Birmingham was told.
(Daily Telegraph)

Resurgent otters take to life in big smoke
Otters, once almost extinct in many parts of the country, have returned to British towns and cities for the first time in 30 years, according to research published today. Conservationists have recorded the shy mammals in more than 100 urban centres, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster, Leeds, Newcastle, Carlisle, Canterbury and Norwich. The Wildlife Trust, which compiled the survey, said yesterday that the improvement in water quality and the easy availability of food was responsible for the movement of otters from some of the most remote parts of Britain into urban areas. Previous statistics showed that otters remained on the outskirts of towns and cities, rarely venturing within a ten-mile radius of an urban settlement.
(Times, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, Independent)

Heavenly fireworks at their best tonight
A dazzling display of shooting stars, unlikely to be rivalled for a century, will be visible tonight, as the Earth crosses a comet's debris trail. The celestial fireworks will come from the Leonids, a meteor shower that happens each November as the Earth crosses the tail of the Tempel-Tuttle comet. The first shooting stars should be visible from 11pm, as the constellation Leo, from which the meteors seem to appear and from which they take their name, rises in the east. Activity will increase during the night, to a peak at 4am. The best time to watch will be between 3am and 5am, and stargazers should look north or south, away from the moon, 90 degrees from the meteors’ eastern origin.
(Times, Daily Mail)

Fees for private schools go over £20,000 a year
Parents face fees of more than £20,000 a year for the first time to send their children to some of Britain's most famous independent schools, figures showed yesterday. Schools such as Roedean and Cheltenham Ladies' College are charging close to £7,000 a term for boarders. Others passing the £20,000 mark include the co-educational sixth-form centre Hurtwood House in Dorking, Surrey and Frewen College boys’ school in Rye, East Sussex.
(Times, Financial Times, Daily Mail, Guardian)

Bone marrow can help mend hearts
British and American experts have successfully treated cardiac patients using cells taken from their own bone marrow or thigh muscle. The cells appear to move to damaged areas of the heart where they form new cardiac tissue. Details of two trials were revealed yesterday at the American Heart Association conference in Chicago.
(Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph)

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