Today's news

September 9, 2003

80% against student top-up fees, says poll
With the government bracing itself for defeat on the issue of top-up tuition fees in a debate at the Trades Union Congress in Brighton today, a poll carried out for the Association of University Teachers shows that 80 per cent of the public said they now opposed them. The level of disagreement did not differ significantly across social classes. Only 12 per cent of respondents said they agreed with the introduction of top-up fees.

Lecturers prefer 50% tax top-up
Britain's two lecturers' unions will tell Tony Blair today that his policy of variable university top-up fees is a vote-loser that should be replaced with a rise in taxation for top earners. Lecturers will tell the TUC that raising tax to 50 per cent on earnings over £100,000 would not damage the Labour Party's support and would save the seats of MPs in marginal constituencies that would be lost by a policy of top-up fees.

MPs call for crackdown on sale of fake degrees
MPs will today press Alan Johnson, the higher education minister, to crack down on "bogus universities" that threaten the UK's multimillion pound overseas student market. Last year, the income to English universities alone from charging overseas students tuition fees was £763 million - 6 per cent of the sector's total income.
(Financial Times, Guardian)

Academic appointed to Downing Street policy unit
Julian Le Grand, professor of social policy at the London School of Economics, is to spend three days a week in Downing Street on a secondment of at least six months. He is likely to assemble arguments to persuade the Labour left that choice within public services can deliver greater equity, and help counter the Tory case that real choice can only be delivered by various forms of voucher that give people subsidies to exit the state system.
(Financial Times)

Not all universities prepared for Disability Act
From this month, the Disability Discrimination Act requires educational institutions to provide auxiliary aids, such as note-takers, for disabled students. But an investigation finds that not all universities are prepared.

Vaccine could end drug abuse
Researchers are developing vaccines that might soon help nicotine and cocaine addicts quit their habits, the British Association science festival heard yesterday. Addicts might find it easier to cope with their withdrawal if they found that their drug no longer delivered a rush of euphoria, immunologist Campbell Bunce told the gathering in Salford.
(Guardian, Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Independent)

Green tea may bag superbugs
Peter Taylor of the School of Pharmacy at the University of London told the British Association festival that the answer to hospital superbugs could be found in green tea, which contains a natural chemical that can make bugs sensitive to antibiotics.
(Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph)

'Super El Nino' could turn Amazon into dustbowl
The Amazon river could dry up and its lush vegetation turn into a dustbowl within 50 years because of global warming, Mat Collins, a senior research fellow at the Meteorological Office in Reading warned yesterday. The stark vision for the Amazon rainforest would result from a shift in rainfall patterns caused by changes in ocean currents in the Pacific. The chances of such a calamity are presently estimated at between only 10 and 20 per cent.

Sexes sing from the same songsheet
Most people who listen to cathedral choirs cannot tell the difference between boy and girl singers, according to David Howard of York University. He tested the same piece of music, recorded twice in Wells cathedral on alternate days, with top lines by girls and by boys. Only 53 per cent of the audience guessed correctly - almost exactly a chance result.
(Guardian, Times, Daily Telegraph, Independent)

Other British Association stories
Bridget Shield of South Bank University told the conference that noise might explain poor performance in primary schools · Tree belts running along motorways and train tracks can cut traffic sounds to a whimper according to Trevor Cox of the University of Salford · Between 1 million and 5 million tonnes of wild animal flesh are taken from the Congo basin alone each year, Guy Cowlishaw of the Zoological Society of London reports, but eating the cane rat could provide a solution · Liverpool professor Robin Dunbar shed light on how the mind evolved, pinning the birth of religion to between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago.
(Guardian, Daily Telegraph)

Cannabis linked to student's suicide
A student killed himself after developing a mental illness induced by cannabis use, an inquest was told yesterday. Charles King, 23, a student at Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design in London, had left a note saying, "cannabis has ruined my life". He hanged himself from a tree in a park in St Albans in June after drinking a bottle of vodka. The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide as a result of depressive illness.

Higher education letters
University place in the lottery of life (Times) · Sums for students (Independent).

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