Today's news

September 24, 2003

Lib Dems vow to oppose top-up fees
Liberal Democrats vowed yesterday to oppose any move to introduce university top-up fees and outlined radical proposals for American-style "mix and match" courses to replace conventional degrees. Delegates at the party's conference in Brighton overwhelmingly backed a motion calling for a system of state-funded vouchers to cover tuition fees in English universities, funded by the party's proposed 50 per cent tax rate on income in excess of £100,000. Phil Willis, the party's education spokesman, condemned proposals to allow universities to charge up to £3,000 a year in top-up fees as Tony Blair's "most blatant deception". He urged Labour backbenchers to rebel against the proposals.
(Independent, Financial Times)

Brain-teasers are Cambridge's test of genius
Brain-teasers intended to separate the Einsteins from the also-rans will be puzzled over by this year's applicants to Cambridge University. Candidates will be presented with a set of questions designed to reveal the intellectual reality behind the battery of top grades that most now brandish. Sample papers for the new 90-minute examination, described as "a combination of logic and problem-solving with an overlay of judgement and understanding", were released yesterday. They will be introduced by 17 of the 24 undergraduate colleges.
(Times, Independent)

Tories offer cash prize to woo student vote
The Conservative Party has decided to target the student vote with hard cash - the logical extension, perhaps, of a higher education policy that promises to end tuition fees. A campaign from Conservative Future, the party's youth wing, asks students to join a text-message petition against the government's proposed top-up fees for the chance to win £1,125 - the cash value of one year's current upfront fee.
(Financial Times)

Oldest human fossil in Europe found
The oldest modern human fossil ever found in Europe has been discovered in a cave in Romania, suggesting that Homo sapiens reached the Continent several thousand years earlier than generally thought. The find was made in a bear hibernation cave in the Carpathian mountains by a team of anthropologists from Washington University in St Louis. The jawbone has been dated to between 32,000 and 34,000BC. Details are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Global warming shatters Arctic ice
The Ward Hunt ice shelf, the largest in the Arctic, is breaking up, according to evidence gathered by Canadian and American scientists using aerial photography and radar satellite imaging. The discovery has raised fears that global warming is starting to affect northern latitudes as severely as it has Antarctica. The scientists found that the ice shelf, on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada, has split into two main parts, each of which has cracked into many smaller pieces.
(Times, Independent)

Biobank outlines its ethics for genetics study
The Manchester-based UK Biobank, the world's largest population genetics project, today publishes the "ethics and governance framework" that will enable it to recruit 500,000 middle-aged volunteers next year. The project, funded jointly by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health, will study patterns of sickness and health for up to 30 years in order to disentangle the genetic and environmental causes of common diseases.
(Financial Times, Guardian)

Cancer in retreat, says Oxford scientist
Deaths in Europe from breast and prostate cancer have fallen by a third since 1990 as a result of earlier diagnosis, surgery and the use of hormonal drugs, Sir Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University, has told the European Cancer Conference in Copenhagen.

Northwest sets up regional energy council
The Northwest Development Agency has set up a regional energy council in an attempt to strengthen its hand in winning the contract to host the UK's first energy research centre.
(Financial Times)

Other higher education items
Should universities discriminate against middle-class students? (Independent) • Letter: Who will do best at university? (Independent) • Letter: Undergraduates should be selected by ability (Daily Telegraph).

Terence Kealey, commenting in yesterday's Guardian, is vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, not Birmingham, as erroneously cited in yesterday's THES news round-up.

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