Today's news

December 5, 2003

Blunkett leads top-up fees revolt
Tony Blair was hit by a cabinet revolt against university top-up fees yesterday. Home secretary David Blunkett led ministers demanding that the prime minister find an alternative to his politically explosive plans. Insiders said Mr Blair only just managed to win majority backing after a stormy discussion lasting over an hour. The cabinet split also fuelled speculation that defeat could end Mr Blair's reign and put chancellor Gordon Brown in Number 10. There was no official word on which ministers lined up with Mr Blunkett, but John Prescott, Margaret Beckett and Alistair Darling are all known to have serious doubts about the fees plan.
( Daily Mail )

Cabinet grills Clarke on fees
The education secretary, Charles Clarke, yesterday came under surprising pressure from cabinet colleagues to justify the cornerstone of his plans to introduce top-up university tuition fees. At a one-hour session of the cabinet, Mr Clarke was forced to explain why he was insisting on the introduction of variable fees, and exactly how much cash his plan for top-up fees as high as £3,000 a year would raise for higher education. He assured his colleagues that he would hold an unprecedented set of briefing meetings with Labour MPs in the next fortnight, designed to whittle down the daunting rebellion confronting the government. The government also signalled yesterday that Mr Clarke would not raise the income level at which graduates have to start to pay back their tuition fees above the currently proposed level of £15,000.
( Guardian, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph )

Labour MPs queue up to attack top-up fees
Five more Labour MPs added their names yesterday to a Commons motion denouncing Tony Blair's plans for university top-up fees. The number of signatories now totals 157, well over half Labour's backbench strength, almost double the figure needed to defeat the government.
( Times )

Tuition fee concession costed
Gains in funding from allowing universities to raise tuition fees could be wiped out by government concessions to rebel MPs, an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found. The government expected to raise an extra £1.4 billion for higher education if every university charged the maximum fee of £3,000 a year. About £700 million would be consumed by the cost to taxpayers of subsidising the interest rate on loans for students to pay the fees. If many universities chose not to charge the full amount, then the sum raised could drop to £500 million. Overall public spending on higher education is £9 billion a year.
( Times )

Oxbridge gets three-year deadline for reform
Universities were told that sweeping changes were needed to the way they managed their affairs  to repair a "breakdown of trust" with government. Oxford and Cambridge were highlighted in the Treasury report by Richard Lambert, which proposed a three-year deadline for the reforms needed to make them more responsive to business and international competition.
( Times, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph )

New law to block student loans loophole
The government is to perform a policy U-turn in a bid to prevent graduates from declaring themselves bankrupt and writing-off top-up fees and student loans. Nearly 1,000 former students have opted for insolvency in the past two years to avoid paying back their government loans and other debts.
( Times )

Writing on the wall for Oxford Union incumbent
The Oxford Union's incoming president, Ruzwana Bashir, has just been sacked for breaking rules during her election campaign. Bashir was allegedly caught defacing her opponent's manifesto while it was hanging outside the union. She was being watched by the deputy returning officer and a tribunal has declared her victory null and void. She intends to appeal against the decision. In the meantime, the tribunal has ruled that the job will go to Georgina Costa.
( Daily Telegraph )

Medical journal calls for total UK smoking ban
A leading medical journal today called for an outright ban on smoking and cigarettes. An editorial in the Lancet argued that 80 per cent of people in the UK were non-smokers, saying they had "the right to freedom from exposure to proven carcinogens". The Lancet suggested that an aggressive taxation policy was not enough to put people off smoking, arguing that price was not the main factor in whether or not they should give up the habit.
( Guardian )

We should give a monkey's
Ray Greek, medical director of Europeans For Medical Advancement, says that the government is backing research on non-human primates for economic reasons, to the detriment of public health.
( Guardian )

Hawking rejected BBC drama script as 'soap opera'
Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned cosmologist, rejected the script of a BBC drama about his university years because it portrayed his life as "a soap opera", he revealed yesterday. The BBC agreed to do a rewrite and Hawking said the revised version was "close in spirit" to the real story. Yesterday the corporation denied that the rewrite amounted to "hagiography".
( Independent )

BBC under fire over attack on Dunkirk
Veterans and historians have criticised a £2.5 million BBC re-creation of the Dunkirk evacuation that sets out to debunk the "myth" of the heroic "little ships" and promises to tell the "true story" of the attempt to rescue 338,000 troops from the British Expeditionary Force trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk in 1940. The flotilla of little ships that came to the rescue on the Dunkirk beaches was misled about the danger it faced and bribed to take part by British generals, the programme claims. It was destroyers, not the little ships, that really provided salvation for the British troops.
( Times, Daily Mail )

College gambles on croupiers
Blackpool and Fylde College launched what must be the first further education course for croupiers yesterday. Blackpool hopes that five casino hotels, one with a Lancastrian take on an Egyptian theme, will soon rise on the golden mile. The first could be open in three years, and the head of the college's school of tourism wants to make sure some of the predicted 14,000 local jobs will go to local people. Once formal approval is secured, up to 15 students at a time will spend 12 weeks studying for a Btec advanced diploma in casino operations.
( Guardian )

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