Today's news

August 18, 2004

Time to restore shine to gold standard exams
Speaking just 48 hours before the publication of this year's results, David Miliband, the Schools Minister, admitted yesterday that while more than 21 per cent of students achieve A grades, new ways must be found to discriminate between them. Yesterday, Mr Miliband insisted that the grade inflation was not because of dumbing down, but because children are better taught. Mr Miliband dropped a hint that the Government would follow one of the main recommendations Mike Tomlinson's 14-19 reform group, which is expected to suggest dividing the A-grade into four parts so that universities can work out if their candidates have achieved a high or low A-grade pass.
Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times

Comment : Schools Minister David Miliband writes that we should ignore the myths, and maintains that this year's A levels have been as testing as ever.
Daily Telegraph

A top-grade farce
Fresh doubts were raised over exams standards last night as sixth-formers broke records by scoring grade As in almost a quarter of A levels. Maths experts Jonathan Ramsay and Jogn Corner claim that the "gold standard" has become so devalued that some questions on A-level papers are easier than old O levels. Leading careers advisor David Thomas said that examiners are marking more leniently.
Daily Mail

The A-level question
Tomorrow the pass rate for A levels is set to rise yet again. The schools minister insists they are not getting easier. Is he right?
Independent

Student life survey 2004
The Push Guide to Money 2005-06 has found that student debts differ across the country from just £128 a year at Birkbeck, a University of London College for part-time students, to £7,471 at Bath University. Average rents were £35 a week in Bradford and Hull but £118 at the School of Pharmacy in London. Students graduate owing an average of £11,830, up from £5,792 when Labour came to power, according to the survey of 1,200 students.
Independent

Higher education aims damaging business
The Government's aim of getting half of young people to attend university by 2010 could heighten the skills shortage and damage business competitiveness, according to the British Chambers of Commerce. The business group said that the focus on higher education was leading to the neglect of vocational schemes and called on the Government to scrap the 50 per cent target.
Financial Times

Colleges have no head for business
Universities fail to exploit their academics' work commercially and so miss out on millions of pounds, a report said yesterday. Too many do not understand how to spin out businesses that can profit from intellectual property. The study for the Economic and Social Research Council by Mike Wright of Nottingham University found a "clash of commercial and academic cultures". Professor Wright said: "Universities tend to focus on creating businesses rather than wealth. The proportion of university spin-out companies that succeed is tiny. Unless universities are prepared to back their spin-outs with appropriate resources, most will continue to fail". Times

Weary Cambridge dons seeking counsel
Lecturers at Cambridge University are turning to counselling in droves to help them cope with the stresses of academic life. Demand for counselling among lecturers and staff has jumped by 60 per cent in the past four years, university officials said. Cambridge has responded by making a part-time counsellor full-time and announcing plans to appoint a second full-time adviser to help stressed staff. Most lecturers signed up for about a dozen counselling sessions lasting 50 minutes each. The university also organised stress management courses for groups of 12 employees.
Times

Scientists intolerant of maverick colleagues
The scientific community in Britain is much less willing to tolerate "maverick" colleagues than its counterpart in Sweden, according to a study at Cardiff University. The conclusions were based on interviews with more than 30 biologists and biochemists working on genetic modification.
Financial Times

Rock-hurling waves batter Britain's coast
Atlantic storms are causing waves so large and powerful they are ripping giant boulders from the top of cliffs in exposed areas and hurling them as much as 50m inland. Dr James Hansom, from Glasgow University's coastal beach group, who is part of a team which includes St Andrews University and the Department of Naval Architecture at Strathclyde, has showed that the boulders can weigh up to 50 tonnes and be up to three metres long.
Guardian, Times, Daily Telegraph

Cloning breeds hope for India's big cats
A team of a dozen Indian scientists plan a $1m (£547,000) project to save the Asiatic lion, which once roamed India but is now only found in a small forest in western India. Just 300 of the lions, smaller than their African cousins, are left. The Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species, based in the south-eastern city of Hyderabad, also plans to revive India's cheetah population.
Guardian

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