Today's news

March 31, 2004


New universities come to Clarke's rescue
The government was thrown a lifeline last night when Britain's new universities made an eleventh-hour plea to Labour backbenchers to vote in favour of top-up fees in the Commons today. Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Westminster University and chair of the Campaign for Mainstream Universities warned that their financial future would be jeopardised by an amendment to delete variable top-up fees from the bill tabled by Ian Gibson, the chief Labour rebel. Education secretary Charles Clarke has pledged to abandon the entire bill if the Gibson amendment is passed.
( Guardian )

Ministers plead with MPs to save tuition fees bill
Charles Clarke and Tony Blair issued eleventh-hour appeals to Labour MPs not to scupper university tuition fees in tonight's final and decisive Commons vote. As Mr Blair continued to hold private conversations with individual rebels, Mr Clarke said the amendment as drafted would open the door to "sky-high" fees across the university sector because it removes the clause requiring them to cap fees at £3,000. The rebels suffered a blow yesterday when Anne Campbell, MP for Cambridge, who abstained on second reading, said she could not back their amendment. She said she was annoyed at the clumsy way the main rebel amendment was drafted.
( Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph )

Ministers hopeful of securing tuition fees vote
Today's vote will be too close for comfort for the government . There has been some movement by Labour MPs in both directions. Frank Cook, who backed the government in January, is now preparing to rebel with three MPs who abstained two months ago. Other MPs who abstained are expected to back the government. Much of the bitterness that surrounded January's vote has dissipated as many Labour MPs begin to focus on the coming election campaign and the need for party unity. "The chemistry's better now. We're into a pre-election period and there's a sense the dog has had its bark," said a minister.
( Financial Times )

Unlikely champion stands her ground
Profile of Lady Blackstone, vice-chancellor of Greenwich University, who is determined to speak up for poorer institutions. Although, in the light of concessions, she says that she will back the bill tonight, she has serious worries. If variable fees put off poorer students, or if the funding system impoverishes the new universities, the issue will have to be reopened.
( Guardian )

Letters on the higher education bill
- Five different perspectives on the higher education bill and suggested 'graduate glut'. ( Times )
- Harry Barnes MP has tabled amendments to the bill, while Peter Knight and Geoffrey Copland write in support of variable fees. ( Guardian )
- Alan Grainger suggests that an alternative funding model successfully in operation in the National Health Service, might also work for higher education. ( Financial Times )

Oxford dons told to tear up exam notes
Academics at Oxford University have been ordered to destroy the notes they make when marking finals exam papers to keep them out of the hands of a growing number of students seeking to challenge their grades. The instruction, revealed in a leaked letter to history tutors, comes as the university introduces major changes to its grading system for finals this year. Student leaders said yesterday they were "furious" at the news that academics were being encouraged to repress the information about how they had awarded marks while even tutors branded the move "machiavellian".
( Guardian )

Examiners at Oxford told to mark higher
History examiners at Oxford University are being told to give higher marks this year to avoid the consequences of a new awards system that could halve the number of first class degrees. Humanities departments will be expected to follow a common method of awarding the top degree on the basis of the average marks achieved by candidates across all papers this year. The change has worried some tutors who fear it is an attempt to reduce the proportion of firsts after an increase across the university from 17.2 per cent in 1998 to 23.4 per cent last year.
( Daily Telegraph )

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