UK news in brief

September 20, 2002

Bradford appeal fails to quash poor QAA score
Bradford College has had its appeal against the worst-ever score for a subject review turned down by quality watchdogs.

The Quality Assurance Agency is going ahead with publishing its assessment report on Bradford's higher education courses in teacher education, although the college claims the assessment visit was conducted improperly.

The report, expected in two weeks, will confirm that the courses have been given two grade 1s - the first time more than one such grade has been given in a single visit since subject reviews began. Overall, the department scored 13 out of a possible 24. Officials at Bradford asked QAA assessors to leave before they could give their verdict during their visit in December last year.

The QAA said it could say nothing about its decision to back the reviewers'
judgements until the report was published.

Puffins return after Scottish rat slaughter
Puffins have returned to breed on Ailsa Craig for the first time in 50 years, following a Glasgow University project to rid the island of rats.

Ailsa Craig was once a major puffin stronghold on the west coast of Scotland, but after an invasion of brown rats in the late 19th century, numbers fell from many tens of thousands to only a few hundred by the 1930s.

A decade ago, Glasgow - in collaboration with the island's owner, the marquess of Ailsa, Scottish Natural Heritage and pest control company Rentokil - airlifted several tonnes of rat poison to the island and followed up with rat baiting.

Glasgow University researcher Bernard Zonfrillo, who has been studying the seabirds on Ailsa Craig for 20 years, said: "It is just wonderful to see the puffins back breeding on the island."

Flood defences at risk as planet warms up
Today's flood defences may be inadequate because of the changing climate, according to a leading UK expert.

Ian Cluckie, professor of hydrology and water management at the University of Bristol, told last week's British Association science festival that worsening weather had undermined the basis on which flood defences were designed. Usually the design is meant to ensure that they can stand up to the biggest flood expected in 100 or 1,000 years.

But Professor Cluckie said: "The idea of something like the 100-year flood becomes iffy if the climate is changing. Then you can find that what you thought of as a once-in-1,000-year event happens once in 100 years."

Glasgow trio agree to hold merger talks
The governors of three neighbouring further education colleges in Glasgow have agreed to merger talks that they believe could result in a single institution by January 2004.

Glasgow College of Building and Printing, Central College of Commerce and Glasgow College of Food Technology have set up a steering committee chaired by Bart McGettrick, dean of Glasgow University's faculty of education and former principal of St Andrew's College of Education.

Computing students lack programming skill
Most students arriving at university to study computer science at undergraduate level this month will have no idea of programming or the skills involved, says a leading practitioner.

Tony Jenkins, senior teaching fellow at Leeds University's School of Computing, believes the national curriculum in schools is reinforcing the view that computing is simply about word processing or spreadsheets.

"For most careers, the information technology that students learn in schools is sufficient, but not for computer science. There is no computing A level that leads directly into computing as taught at university level," he said.

Addressing the third annual conference of information and computer sciences subject centres in Loughborough, Mr Jenkins said: "This is a sad and depressing state of affairs. Computers are quite useless without programs and programmers to develop them. But few students find learning to program easy."

Rich lawyers balk at helping poor students
Proposals to charge top-earning barristers fees to help students with the cost of studying for the Bar have met with opposition from some chambers.

A review of financial support for entrants to the Bar, to be discussed by the Bar Council next month, says that law graduates on the Bar conversion course, the first state of the professional qualification to become a barrister, could finish with a debt of £25,000. Non-law graduates undertaking conversion courses before the Bar vocational course could notch up debts of £36,000.

Academic resigns from Ulster rights body
A University of Ulster academic has resigned from the province's Human Rights Commission set up under the Good Friday Agreement.

Christine Bell, professor of public international law, quit along with trade union leader Inez McCormack after complaining that the body had proved less effective than they had hoped.

Chief commissioner Brice Dickson said that while he was aware of disagreements, he did not think they had been resigning issues. Professor Bell said the commission had moved too late in attempting to take action to protect human rights issues, and Ms McCormack, regional secretary of Unison, said the independence of the commission had been compromised.


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