Today's news

March 14, 2003

Clarke disowns report on student targets
Education secretary Charles Clarke has been forced to disown a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England that will call today for targets for universities to admit students from working-class families. The proposal will fuel middle-class fears of "social engineering" in higher education. The Department for Education and Skills said yesterday that the government had no intention of bringing in targets and that the funding council could not act without Mr Clarke's consent. Damian Green, shadow education secretary, said: "Hefce has let the cat out of the bag. They could not have produced a five-year strategic plan without close consultation with ministers." An education department official said Mr Clarke was committed to "aspirational" benchmarks rather than targets for social inclusion.
(Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, Times)

Bingham and Patten lead Oxford race
Chris Patten and Lord Bingham of Cornhill are leading the race to become the next chancellor of Oxford University as voting begins today.  Bookmakers have cut the odds against Lord Bingham, the senior law lord. William Hill makes him and Mr Patten, the European Union's external affairs commissioner, joint favourites at 6-4. Ladbrokes makes Lord Bingham the favourite at 5-4 with Mr Patten at 6-4. Voting opens at Oxford’s Divinity School today and continues tomorrow: 100,000 Oxford graduates are eligible to vote, but must do so in person.

Darwin lingers in lonely hearts columns
Scientists perusing lonely hearts columns have found powerful evidence that the evolutionary forces identified by Charles Darwin are as strong as ever.  An analysis of advertisements placed by 3,000 heterosexual romantic hopefuls has found that women are far more likely to place wealth and professional status above looks when seeking the perfect partner. Men are far more interested in finding an attractive mate and boasting of their own good looks. Richard Atkins, a psychologist at Thames Valley University, London, said the findings were consistent with Darwin's theory of evolution.

Men prefer to stay at home with children
Nearly half of all new fathers say they would stay at home and look after their children "if they could", researchers said yesterday. A survey of 1,000 fathers also found that four out of five would like to spend more time with their children, and 68 per cent would have liked to make use of new provisions for two weeks’ statutory paternity leave, paid at £100 a week, to be introduced on April 6. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the Manchester School of Management, Umist, said: "Men are starting to appreciate family life more."

Lemon balm lifts the puzzled mind
The common garden herb lemon balm can improve the memory and increase feelings of calmness, according to research at Northumbria University. For centuries it has been used for its beneficial effects, and the research suggests that its reputation in folklore is justified. The research found that it also increased the activity of acetylcholine, an important chemical messenger linked to memory, the level of which is reduced in people with Alzheimer's disease.

Exams put pupils off favourite subjects
Subjecting children to the pressure of exams can put them off their favourite school subjects, even when they pass with flying colours, a study shows. Researchers from Stirling University found that children who had to sit important exams in English, mathematics and science not only forgot much of what they had learnt for the tests, but also lost interest in the subjects after being tested in them.

Computers get to the truth
People may find it easier to be open and honest with a computer than with other human beings, according to a researcher at the University of Westminster. People responding to internet psychometric tests, or tests to assess anxiety, are more forthcoming than when responding to tests on paper or answering verbally to humans. Researchers say the findings, involving more than 1,600 people, might mean online test results would not tally with similar tests done by other means.

Conspiracy fears fuelled
A belief in conspiracy theories may be the result of people feeling distant from the big institutions that run society, a researcher from Royal Holloway, University of London, reports to the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Bournemouth.
(Guardian, Independent)

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