Today's news

April 14, 2005

National university entrance test to be piloted
A new national university entrance test that could help spot bright youngsters from deprived homes will be tried out in 1,000 schools this September. The two-and-a-half hour test, to be taken by sixth-formers as they start their A-level year, is designed to identify the cleverest applicants. It could also be used to select students with difficult backgrounds who have the potential to do better than affluent students. Universities have pressed for the more widespread use of entrance tests in the wake of the growing numbers of youngsters presenting themselves for popular courses - with three grade-A passes at A level.
The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Times Higher Education Supplement (April 15)

‘Shock’ cost of postgrad programmes revealed
A recent report highlighting the costs of postgraduate research degree programmes has sent a little-reported shiver through the higher education community. The report, produced by Bristol-based JM Consulting for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, includes a warning that its findings "will probably be an unwelcome surprise to many in the sector". Anecdotally, it does seem that the headline figures have come as a shock to some institutions. According to the report, the cost each year of a full-time postgraduate research student is £29,106 for those studying high-cost laboratory subjects; £23,815 for those on part-lab programmes; and £17,461 for library-based subjects.
The Independent

Labour puts schools ahead of universities
The prime minister, Tony Blair, mounted a passionate defence of university tuition fees at today's launch of the Labour manifesto - but the party's promises concentrated on improving schools with scarcely a mention of higher education. The feeling that universities have dropped down the political agenda after the Government got its fingers burned over its Higher Education Bill was reinforced when it was the turn of the Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, to speak. "We will expand higher education," was her sole mention.
The Guardian

Language learning in the UK plummets as students stay at home
The British failure to learn a foreign language has seen a dramatic drop in the number of university students going abroad to study, an influential House of Lords committee has warned. The number of undergraduates from the UK spending part of their degree studying in another European country has plummeted from 12,000 in 1994 to 7,538 in 2003.
The Independent

Students graduate with £13,500 debt
University students who graduate this year will have accumulated an average debt of £13,501 - a 12 per cent increase on last year, according to research published today. If this trend continues, those starting a three-year degree course this autumn are likely to leave college with debts of nearly £20,000, without taking into account the impact of higher top-up fees of up to £3,000 a year to be introduced next year. The 11th Barclays Annual Graduate Survey also shows that a quarter of students with debt borrowed money from parents, relatives or friends. The bank says this high level of debt could adversely affect graduates' ultimate ability to get on to the property ladder or invest in pensions, and could deter others from going to university in the first place.
The Guardian

Drug fights breast cancer gene
A new drug that promises to transform the treatment of common inherited forms of breast cancer is to begin clinical trials this summer, offering hope to thousands of women afflicted with the disease. The therapy, developed by British scientists, attacks the “Achilles’ heel” of tumours caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which account for up to 5 per cent of 41,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year. Such genetic treatment can single out and destroy cancer cells without seriously damaging healthy tissue and should be more powerful than standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy, without so many unpleasant side-effects.
The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, The Independent

'Friendly bugs' could hold the key to asthma
The number of cases of asthma and allergies has soared in the western world because modern life has cut people off from countless forms of "friendly bacteria", scientists believe. These bacteria and harmless parasites such as small worms give the immune system practice in "switching off", according to the latest research. Without exposure to them, the immune system tends to over-react to everyday things such as pollen, dust mites, food and a host of other harmless substances, that can cause asthma, hay fever, eczema, diarrhoea, vomiting and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.
The Scotsman

Children 'don't know British birds'
Academics have warned that many common species of birds remain a mystery to British schoolchildren. Only half of all seven-year-olds surveyed in a new study could identify the blackbird, while none recognised the kestrel and their knowledge of the house sparrow, starlings and dunnocks was "extremely poor". Stewart Evans of Newcastle University's School of Marine Sciences and Technology found children scored much higher when shown images of "charismatic" birds such as puffins, robins or woodpeckers.
The Evening Standard, The Independent

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