Today's news

January 13, 2004

Rebels plot to beat top-up fees and Blair
A leaked memo, dated January 7, revealed today how former ministers are organising a sophisticated whipping operation to defeat Tony Blair in his "make or break" Commons vote on top-up fees.The document shows how close allies of Gordon Brown are running their campaign against the higher education bill amid fresh suggestions that the prime minister could be forced to quit on the issue. The memo from George Mudie to Barbara Roche was disclosed as Eric Illsley, a third former whip, accused Mr Blair of talking "crap" at the weekend when he said that defeat of the bill would be a "complete betrayal of the proper interests of the country." The prime ministrer will try to win over the doubters with a speech on university funding reform tomorrow, while Charles Clarke, the education secretary, will address backbench concerns at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
( Times )

Colleges to charge full top-up fees
Three-quarters of the universities that have already decided their fees policy, including both old and new institutions, plan to levy the maximum permitted under the new higher education bill for every course they offer, while most of the rest will charge the top rate for all but hard-to-fill programmes. Yet universities will still not have enough money to dig themselves out of the current funding crisis, according to the overwhelming majority of vice-chancellors surveyed as the government attempts to avert a backbench rebellion on its plans.
( Guardian )

Tories press for rethink on tuition fees
Michael Howard is being put under mounting pressure to develop a new Tory policy on university funding in exchange for backbench support for his opposition to top-up fees in the knife-edge Commons vote later this month. Many MPs from across the Conservative Party are deeply unhappy with the current policy, which simply opposes the introduction of higher tuition fees but does not address the issue of long-term funding. Critics say that, as it stands, the policy leaves universities completely in the grip of the government, with no independence at all over funding.
( Times )

Top French scientists threaten to quit
More than 5,300 leading French scientists have threatened to resign unless the government increases the country's research budget, unblocks frozen funds and reverses big cuts in jobs available to postgraduates. In their petition, which has been in circulation on the internet since late last week, the scientists say £100 million of funding was withdrawn in 2003 and £138 million was paid more than six months late. The CNRS, the national scientific research centre, is still owed 50 per cent of its funding for 2002. Simultaneously, the scientists say, whole swaths of junior research jobs have been scrapped.
( Guardian )

Masked gunman murders student
A student was shot dead on a Manchester street when he fought back against two armed and masked muggers. Nureni Sheikh, 19, who had travelled from London at the weekend to a family wedding at a mosque in the Moss Side district, was ambushed hours later outside a café. Residents said that two men wearing woollen balaclavas emerged from a back alley and attacked Mr Sheikh at about 5.30pm. When he tried to fight back one of the attackers shot him three times in the chest.
( Times )

Crunch time for university funding
The plans for top-up fees unveiled by Charles Clarke last week are poorly explained and hugely contentious, but they have brought British higher education to a defining moment in its history.
( Guardian )

University brand leader
An interview with Michael Driscoll, head of the Coalition of Modern Universities, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University and a man determined to give new universities an image overhaul.
( Guardian )

Higher education comments
- More and more undergraduates are being taught less and less, says Anthony King, professor of government at Essex University ( Daily Telegraph ).
- Variable top-up fees are a political masterstroke, according to Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England ( Guardian ).

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