Today's news

January 15, 2004


Brown backs Blair's plan for top-up fees
Chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday offered his emphatic support for Tony Blair's legislation on university fees. In a setback to the revolt against the bill, Mr Brown told Labour MPs that they should "wholeheartedly support the government proposals, which both promote fairness and give the universities the resources they need". It was the first public backing from the chancellor of the principle that universities could vary the fees they levy.
( Financial Times, Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent )

Clarke woos rebels with cash for poor students
Charles Clarke, the education secretary, offered more financial help for students from poor yesterday in an attempt to win over backbench rebels. He told MPs he was ready "in principle" to give the poorest students a £1,200 annual payment as a grant to help them support themselves while at college, instead of paying the money retrospectively to cover part of their tuition fee. A Department for Education and Skills paper on the practical and financial implications of the proposed change will be published on Monday, and Mr Clarke will address Labour MPs again next week.
( Daily Telegraph )

Whips rally silent majority on top-up fees
Labour's top-up fee rebels were subjected to a sustained and organised onslaught by loyalist MPs and ministers yesterday, with some being accused of finding their socialist beliefs only after being dropped from the government. The whips mobilised what they called the silent majority to voice their backing at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party for tuition fees. Although the rebels are known to number well over 100, those who attended the packed meeting of backbenchers, peers and ministers in a Commons committee room yesterday were made to feel lonely, as several of them admitted as they left. Of the 23 MPs called to speak, only five were reported to have said that they would oppose the higher education bill outright .
( Times )

Government hails degree figures
The government yesterday hit back at those who claim its expansion of higher education will lead to the dumbing down of educational standards after hailing new figures that show students are continuing to get good degree results. In the annual "snapshot" of higher education produced by the Higher Education Statistics Agency it was revealed that 10 per cent of those awarded a first degree in 2002/03 got a first, while 45 per cent got an upper second. These were the same proportions as the previous year, but were set against an overall increase in student numbers; 3,400 compared with 267,100 in 2001/02.
( Guardian )

Women overtake men in top degrees contest
Record numbers of graduates are flooding the job market armed with a first-class degree - and a growing majority of them are women. Official figures show that 28,300 undergraduates were awarded firsts last year, an increase of 2,200 since 2002 and 7,600 since 1999. Over the past four years, the proportion of all students achieving the top degree classification rose from 7.8 per cent to 10.3 per cent.
( Times, Guardian )

Science still a minority subject
Scientists still make up the minority of university graduates, government figures from the Office of National Statistics showed. There were 114,000 first degrees in science awarded in 2003 - of whom 54,600 were to women - compared with 159,300 firsts in non-science subjects. Employers' groups complain about a shortage of qualified scientists in the labour market, and the science skills gap produces an educational vicious circle, with insufficient science teachers in schools.
( Financial Times )

Lecturer's claim 'sets mark for part-time workers'
Unions claimed yesterday that agency workers in public sector jobs had significantly advanced their rights to join occupational pension schemes after a European Court of Justice ruling. Debra Allonby, a self-employed temporary lecturer, claimed she was entitled to the same pay as a male lecturer directly employed by her college, whose pension scheme discriminated against her by excluding self-employed staff. Her claim made little headway at the Luxembourg court. But on the second point, the European Court of Justice said the rules of the pension scheme could be inherently discriminatory if the government's refusal to admit self-employed workers affected more women than men.
( Financial Times )

Hull university 'a centre of excellence'
Sun Microsystems, the US computer group, has chosen the University of Hull as a centre of excellence for the development of "digital campuses". Hull joins a group of some 50 universities around the world selected for their various special expertise, which is of strategic importance to Sun.
( Financial Times )

Great expectations on the Medway
The University of Greenwich and the University of Kent have joined forces to establish a joint campus at Chatham in Kent on the spot where the Royal Navy was kitted out and where Charles Dickens grew up. A new school of pharmacy will be formally opened at the campus site tomorrow.
( Independent )

Research fears over human tissue bill
The Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK said that the human tissue bill, to be discussed in Parliament today, could gravely damage medical research. They said that the bill, a response to the organ retention scandal at Alder Hey Hospital, was a mixture of "contradictions and ambiguities".
( Times )

Mummy find proves pharaohs held lions sacred
A mummified lion has been discovered for the first time in an ancient Egyptian tomb, confirming long-held suspicions that the great animals were held sacred by the pharaohs. The complete skeleton of an adult male lion, showing characteristic signs that it was mummified after death, was found by French archaeologists at a site that originally held the tomb of Maia, the wet-nurse of King Tutankhamun.
( Times )

Scientists serve up mathematical theory
Scientists have found that the sort of movements and judgements performed by the world's No 1 tennis player closely match a mathematical principle first formulated in the 18th century. The study by Konrad Körding and Daniel Wolpert of University College London demonstrated that tennis players unconsciously follow the 1763 theorem of the Rev Thomas Bayes, whose rules of probability state that the likelihood of an event occurring depends on prior knowledge.
( Independent )

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