Today's news

January 8, 2004

Grants gamble to save bill
Ministers are set to gamble on a £500 increase in grants for students from poor homes, easing the passage of the higher education bill published today. Maintenance grants, to be introduced later this year, are likely to be increased to £1,500 when top-up fees arrive in 2006. At the same time, student loans will rise to meet the cost of living identified in the government's student income and expenditure survey. Outstanding debts from the fees proposed in the bill will be forgiven after 25 years. Repayments will be made only when graduates' salaries exceed £15,000. Demands to raise this threshold are expected to be rejected. Click here for the full story.
( THES )

Elite universities join fees revolt
Britain's most prestigious universities dealt a devastating blow to Tony Blair last night by effectively abandoning his reform of tuition fees because so many concessions have been made to rebel Labour backbenchers. The Russell Group of 19 leading universities believe that the higher education bill published today is so watered down that it will not solve their funding crisis. Instead, they will have to look abroad to solve their financial problems by increasing recruitment of foreign undergraduates, denying places to as many as 80,000 British students. Michael Sterling, the group's chairman, said that universities would be unable to balance their books if £800 of the additional £1,900 in fee income per student went to pay for bursaries.
( Times )

Tuition fee sums don't add up, claim Tories
The Conservatives launched a pre-emptive strike against today's higher education bill last night when they warned the government that its much-amended plans for student top-up fees could end up costing the taxpayer an additional £1,000 for every extra £690 paid by students. Sir Ron Dearing, the government adviser who paved the way for the introduction of tuition fees, also warned ministers today that the £3,000 a year cap may need to become permanent. Nick Barr, a co-author of the controversial policy, is also endorsing a cap.
( Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, Daily Mail )

Sixthformers confused about university charges
Most sixthformers want to go to university but are confused about the financial commitment involved, according to a new study by Manchester Metropolitan University and the Learning and Skills Development Agency.
( Financial Times )

Global warming will kill 1m species by 2050
Climate change over the next 50 years is expected to drive a quarter of land animals and plants into extinction, according to the first comprehensive study into the effect of higher temperatures on the natural world. It is estimated that more than 1 million species will be lost by 2050. The results are described as "terrifying" by Chris Thomas, professor of conservation biology at Leeds University, and lead author of the research from four continents published today in the magazine Nature .
( Guardian, Independent, Times, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times )

Despair as scientists fail to contact Beagle
Faint hopes that the missing Beagle 2 spacecraft had survived its landing on Mars were all but extinguished yesterday after the best opportunity yet to find it ended in failure. The failure of Mars Express ’s radio link forced scientists to accept that the lander is probably lost for good.
( Times, Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times )

Scientists time the Earth's first breath
Scientists are close to pinpointing the time when the Earth’s air started to become breathable. By 2.2 billion years ago oxygen levels had risen considerably, but scientists have now more precisely dated oxygen’s atmospheric debut at some time before 2.32 billion years ago. The evidence, reported in the journal Nature , is based on data from sulphur deposits in South Africa.
( Times )

Leukaemia vaccine shows promise
A British-led breakthrough could pave the way to developing a vaccine against leukaemia. Doctors from King's College Hospital, London, said that they had tested a vaccine that, combined with a vitamin-A derived drug, extended the lives of mice suffering a form of leukaemia by the human equivalent of 25 years, reported Nature Medicine .
( Times )

Move to herbal remedies threatens plants
Thousands of species of wild plants are being wiped out by the enthusiasm for herbal medicines, environmentalists say. Up to a fifth of the species upon which the industry relies are being harvested to extinction, a report in New Scientist says. Two-thirds of the 50,000 medicinal plants in use are still harvested from the wild and research suggests that between 4,000 and 10,000 are endangered.
( Times )

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