Today's news

January 23, 2004

Blair whips lose confidence over top-up fees vote
A downbeat warning that the government is heading for defeat in next Tuesday's vote on university top-up fees was delivered privately to the Cabinet yesterday by Hilary Armstrong, the chief whip. Ms Armstrong confirmed the fears of many ministers by reporting that the whips' office had not yet been able to get the numbers to secure victory. Mr Blair is on course to be defeated by at least 20 to 30 votes, government sources have said.
( Times, Guardian )

Fees reform 'good deal' for middle classes, Blair says
The proposed reform of university fees offers the middle classes a good deal, the prime minister insisted yesterday. Challenged by a Gateshead comprehensive school pupil to justify the impact of his top-up fees plan on middle-class families, Tony Blair insisted it was "not too much to ask" that when graduates were earning £18,000 a year they should pay back £5 a week.
( Financial Times )

Universities warn of closures if fee proposals fail
A survey of England's 89 universities brought warnings from vice-chancellors that up to a dozen will have to merge or close because of an ensuing cash crisis if the bill is defeated on Tuesday.
( Independent )

Introduction of top-ups in Scotland ruled out
Jack McConnell, Scotland's first minister, promised yesterday not to introduce top-up tuition fees for university students for as long as he remains in office. His pledge, ahead of next week's Commons vote on the introduction of top-up fees in England, reflects the deep unpopularity of tuition fees among people in Scotland.
( Financial Times )

Round-up of fees debate commentary
- Peter Riddell: "Labour MPs have to ask themselves a simple question at the weekend: do they want to destabilise Mr Blair?" ( Times )
- James Blitz: Victory could be as bitter as defeat. ( Financial Times )
- Martin Wolf: A principled plan for universities. ( Financial Times )
- Clarke's US-style university market (four letters). ( Independent )
- Colin Pickthall MP: Why I will vote for fees. ( Guardian )
- Andrew Alexander: We need a degree of common sense. ( Daily Mail )
Mitchell Symons: Blair's so wrong on this one. ( Daily Express )
- Jack Cunningham MP: The 'anti-whips' campaign to bring down Tony Blair. ( Daily Mirror )

Clueless at Cambridge
Up to two-thirds of students on some degree courses at Cambridge University are unsuited to academic studies, a don claimed yesterday. John Marenbon, a fellow of Trinity College, questioned in the thinktank pamphlet Politeia whether many undergraduates have the 'right type of intellect' to benefit fully from studying at the elite institution.
( Daily Mail )

US Mars robot loses contact with Earth
Nasa has lost contact with its Spirit Mars rover after it suffered a major breakdown. The six-wheeled robot has not returned any intelligible data to Earth since early on Wednesday morning, indicating a serious fault. Colin Pillinger, Beagle 2 's chief scientist, said he was very concerned by the breakdown and has sent a message of support to his opposite numbers at Nasa.
( Times, Financial Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent )

IVF babies more at risk, say scientists
Babies born after IVF or other fertility techniques run a greater risk of being premature, small at birth or of being delivered by Caesarean section, researchers at the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands report in the British Medical Journal .
( Times )

Thinktank warns about genetically modified insects
Tougher regulation is needed before genetically modified insects such as malaria-free mosquitoes are released into the wild, a US thinktank warned yesterday. Although GM insects could have huge benefits for human health and agriculture, they could also prove damaging for the environment, the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology said.
( Financial Times )

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