Today's news

November 22, 2002

Universities accused of impeding working-class
University vice-chancellors were accused by the government yesterday of hampering efforts to recruit more students from working-class backgrounds. Charles Clarke, the education secretary, said it was ridiculous that the proportion of working-class students had remained at between 5 and 10 per cent when the proportion of young people in higher education had risen from around 12 per cent when he was at university in the late 1960s to 41 per cent now. He said he doubted that some vice-chancellors shared his desire to widen access. "If I ask myself do I think they are committed to ensuring people from all backgrounds have an equal crack at getting into university, I have to say I don’t think so," he told a head teachers' London meeting. The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents the leading independent schools, has claimed that their pupils are being rejected in huge numbers by leading non-Oxbridge universities, with certain departments at Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, St Andrews and the London School of Economics raising particular concern.

Graduate tax gaining favour
Opinion inside the government is shifting towards a graduate tax rather than allowing universities to charge top-up fees, senior ministers said yesterday. The Whitehall review of higher education funding is drawing up options on how to bridge a "cash gap" before the state would recoup money from graduates when their income reached a certain level – perhaps £30,000 a year. Gordon Brown, the chancellor, is believed to favour a graduate tax, arguing that it would be fairer than the top-up fees to which Tony Blair is sympathetic. Charles Clarke, the secretary of state for education, is understood to be opposed to top-up fees. In a further sign of jitters over top-up fees, Peter Hain, the secretary of state for Wales, became the latest cabinet minister to voice concerns that poorer students might be deterred from going to university.

Latin passion stirs up the Cambridge dons
A dispute about whether medieval church-goers could understand Latin is threatening to torpedo a Cambridge historian's eight-year struggle to be promoted to professor. At the centre of the dispute is Dr Gillian Evans, 58, a senior lecturer in medieval history at Cambridge, who has been a persistent thorn in the university's side. She has repeatedly accused Cambridge, where only 15 per cent of the dons and 6 per cent of professors are female, of discriminating against women academics and her in particular. Earlier this month, Cambridge's general board of the faculties recommended that applications from Dr Evans and four other women to be made professors should be accepted. However, the recommendation still has to be ratified by the university senate next Tuesday and it can be challenged by Regent House, the dons' "parliament". In a letter, published last week by The Times Higher Education Supplement , Donald Welbourn, an engineer and fellow of Selwyn College, has openly gone on the attack, questioning Dr Evans's scholarship and fitness for promotion.
(Daily Telegraph)

Minister of hypocrisy
Higher education minister Margaret Hodge was privately educated and has her own trust fund. As leader of the Socialist Republic of Islington, she turned its schools into basket cases yet educated her own children in another borough. Now she plans to punish the middle classes for daring to want the same chances for their children as she had.
(Daily Mail)

Students, and others, not too keen on Margaret Hodge's recent performances have a last chance to make their feelings known. Since March an online petition and comment log,, has been collecting the views of the nation's students on the higher education minister. You have two weeks left to vent your spleen before the results are presented to the minister.

Half of secondary schools set to drop languages at 14
More than half of England's secondary schools are poised to end compulsory language learning from the age of 14, a survey has found. The research also discovered that those schools planning to drop the subjects are more likely to serve poorer catchment areas, suggesting that linguists will be produced in future only by good state schools or the independent sector. The survey of 393 secondary schools, carried out by The Times Educational Supplement , comes after the publication of a green paper earlier this year which contained proposals to make a foreign language optional after 14, instead of compulsory up to 16. At the same time all primary school children from the age of seven would be given an "entitlement" to learn a language, but not until 2012.
(Times, TES, Daily Telegraph)

2m papers retained in A-levels scandal
Around 2 million A-level exam papers completed by students in the summer are to be kept instead of being destroyed. As Labour faces a deepening crisis over the 'grade-fixing' scandal, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has ordered the country's three exam boards to hold on to the scripts. The papers are usually destroyed within three months of marking if they are not the subject of appeals.
(Daily Mail)

Cannabis linked to mental illness
Cannabis increases the risk of schizophrenia or depression, new studies have shown. A long-term follow-up of a 1960s study of Swedish army recruits shows that, broadly, using cannabis doubles the risk of schizophrenia, and using it 50 times increases the risk about sevenfold. The link persisted after correcting for cigarette smoking, social background and the use of other drugs. A New Zealand study shows that 10 per cent of those who used cannabis by the age of 15 developed schizophrenia, compared with 3 per cent of non-users. The authors of the report, from King's College London and the University of Dunedin, say: "Our findings suggest that cannabis use among psychologically vulnerable adolescents should be strongly discouraged." An Australian study of 1,600 students from 44 secondary schools found that frequent cannabis use was linked to later depression and anxiety, particularly in girls. Daily use increased the risk fivefold. Weekly use doubled the risk. The results are all published in the British Medical Journal .
(Times, Daily Telegraph)

Author goes from top to bottom
Days after Hari Kunzru's latest novel was shortlisted for the Whitbread book award, he has suffered the indignity of being a contender for Britain's most dreaded literary honour: the annual prize for rotten erotic writing. The Impressionist , a story set in India at the turn of the century, is up for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, founded by the Literary Review to recognise the worst, most embarrassing description of the sexual act in the modern novel.

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