Today's news

August 8, 2003

Record rise in vacant university places
A record increase in the number of vacant university places will be revealed next week at the start of the last-minute clearing system scramble for courses. Universities have admitted they will have thousands of unfilled places on their courses after they receive students' A-level results this weekend, before schools and individuals get them next week. The education courses information service, Ecctis, revealed yesterday that 75 per cent of institutions had already declared vacancies, compared with 54 per cent at the same time last year. The unexpected surfeit is good news for students who miss out on their first choice of university by failing to get high enough grades, but will raise fresh questions about the government's ability to meet a demanding higher education target.

Undergraduates demand digs with parking spaces
A study into student life, carried out by Mori on behalf of the UK's biggest student landlord, UNITE, shows students are no longer prepared to lug bags of washing to the nearest launderette and even expect car parking spaces. With this year's intake due to start making arrangements to take up college places following the publication of A-level results next week. Location remains the key factor in choosing accommodation. Cost of accommodation comes second, with evidence that many parents foot the bills for rent.

Graduates to get £150 a week to train as teachers
Graduates will be paid £150 a week to train as teachers in unpopular subjects such as maths and science under a scheme to be launched by the government in the new year. The Teacher Training Agency project will enable those who already have degrees in related subjects such as business or economics to go on "enhancement courses" to brush up on their existing maths or physics skills. They will then be eligible to go straight into school and take a job in the classroom within six months, training for their certificate while they work. The moves comes as figures show that the £4,000 "golden hello" programme for teachers of shortage subjects has failed to solve the crisis in recruitment.

Publisher warns of school textbook cutbacks
Reed Elsevier, the country's largest publisher of textbooks, warned yesterday that shortfalls in education funding were forcing schools to cut back on books. The Anglo-Dutch company has urged the education secretary to protect spending on textbooks as schools try to balance their budgets. Schools have been promised an extra £400 million next year by Mr Clarke.
(Financial Times)

Everyone online for six degrees of cyber-separation
The theory that any two people in the world are only six handshakes away from meeting has been proved in cyberspace. Scientists in the US have established that on average it takes between five and seven key strokes for one individual to contact any other named individual picked at random in any country. The "six degrees of separation" theory was originally devised by Stanley Milgram, a Harvard psychologist, in the 1960s. In the cyber version, researchers at Columbia University asked volunteers from 166 countries to help to relay a message to one of 18 people in 13 different countries, including an American professor, an Estonian archivist, a Norwegian vet and an Australian policeman.

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Recent controversy over the future directions of both Stanford and Melbourne university presses have raised questions about the role of in-house publishing arms in a world of commercialisation, impact agendas, alternative facts – and ever-diminishing monograph sales. Anna McKie reports

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