News round-up: Eventually everyone will have a first-class degree

If grade inflation continues at the current rate, by 2030 all students at some universities will graduate with first-class degrees. Plus: regulation is costing universities more than £500k a year


First-class degrees for all students by 2030

The Times, 27/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

All students will graduate from some universities with a first-class degree in just over a decade because of grade inflation, according to research by The Times.

If the inflation continues at its present rate, every student in the UK would achieve a first in 38 years’ time, the projections indicate.


English regulator costing some universities ‘over £500K a year’

Times Higher Education, 27/12/2019, John Morgan

The costs of regulation by England’s Office for Students, paid by universities and, ultimately, students, have “increased substantially from original estimates” and are “likely to significantly exceed £500,000” a year for some institutions.

The claims on the costs of the new market-style regulator – whose registration process is estimated to have cost universities a combined £2 million in internal costs – are contained in an unpublished Universities UK report on the transition to the OfS regulatory regime.


Thousands of students left in lurch as universities fail to complete accommodation

Independent, 26/12/2019, Eleanor Busby

Thousands of students have been left in the lurch in the vital first weeks at university after their accommodation was not finished in time, forcing some undergraduates to live in hotels, figures reveal.

Universities have been accused of failing to do enough to ensure rooms were ready for freshers and international students arriving at new cities and towns across the country at the start of term.


UK universities struggling to stop dangerous initiation ceremonies and hazing rituals, figures reveal

Independent, 26/12/2019, Eleanor Busby

British universities are struggling to stop dangerous student initiation ceremonies and hazing rituals – which experts warn have become more severe – following the tragic death of a first-year student.

Dozens of investigations into alcohol-fuelled initiation events have taken place at UK institutions over the past three years despite widespread bans, freedom of information requests by The Independent reveal.


Diversity among governors ‘may suffer’ under increased regulation

Times Higher Education, 24/12/2019, Simon Baker

Attempts to improve diversity on the governing bodies of England’s universities could falter as institutions become more risk-averse because of increased scrutiny from regulators, it has been warned.

The concern comes as new figures show that although women now make up about 40 per cent of governing body members, the share from minority ethnic backgrounds is estimated to be less than 8 per cent, with many of those being student governors.


Digital start-up Coursematch’s free app aims to disrupt Ucas’s hold over university admissions

The Times, 23/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The virtual monopoly that Ucas has over the university admissions system is to be challenged by a digital start-up whose app will allow students to apply free for degree courses all-year round, with no personal statement required.

Coursematch wants to “disrupt” the regime that governs university applications, which it says is outdated, inflexible and expensive.


Fast-track visa status for more UK fellowships

Times Higher Education, 23/12/2019, Jack Grove

The government is to double the number of fellowships that offer “accelerated” UK visas in an effort to attract more elite researchers.

The UK currently has 62 fellowship schemes – including those run by the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, the British Academy and the Royal Society – where the visas of successful applicants are fast-tracked by immigration authorities.


Fresh UK pension scheme talks ‘could avert further strikes’

Times Higher Education, 23/12/2019, Anna McKie

Employers, the University College Union and the Universities Superannuation Scheme have agreed to get back around the table in the new year, a move that could end the long-running dispute over university pensions.

Last week, UCU announced that more universities were being balloted for strike action in 2020.


Birmingham University accused of ‘backdoor’ unconditional offers with new three Cs places

Daily Telegraph, 21/12/2019, Camilla Turner

Birmingham University has been accused of making “backdoor” unconditional offers as it introduces a new CCC “attainment offer”.

The Russell Group institution pioneered the most controversial kind of unconditional offer, where students are offered a place regardless of their A-level grades provided they select it as their first choice.


Ulster University vice-chancellor to leave post in February

BBC, 20/12/2019, Anon

Ulster University’s (UU) vice-chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon is to leave his post in February 2020.

Professor Nixon took up the top job at the university in July 2015.

He is leaving to become vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra.


Don’t mislead applicants, regulator warns universities

The Guardian, 19/12/2019, Richard Adams

England’s higher education regulator is urging universities to avoid using misleading adverts and financial inducements to attract students, saying it could encourage applicants to make choices that are not in their best interests.

The Office for Students said offering inducements such as last-minute bursaries to fill up undergraduate courses risked students being swayed by “a sales pitch with questionable incentives” rather than academic criteria.


Privileged background is most important factor in whether a child goes to university, study finds

Daily Telegraph, 19/12/2019, Camilla Turner

Having privileged parents is the most important factor for determining whether a student will go to university, a study has found.

Academics from York University analysed data from 5,000 children born in the UK between 1994 and 1996 to see which factors were most important for predicting academic success.


Tory election victory sets scene for UK research funding battle

Times Higher Education, 19/12/2019, John Morgan

Balancing the “tension” between Dominic Cummings’ science agenda and a more industrial strategy-oriented approach, as well as deciding which places ought to be the focus for increased research and innovation investment, are seen as key challenges for the UK’s new Conservative government.

The Tory manifesto outlined a goal to create “a vibrant science-based economy post-Brexit” after Boris Johnson pledged he would double research and development funding to £18 billion in the next Parliament, promising a major injection of funds for UK universities and research organisations.


UK universities make record number of unconditional offers

The Guardian, 17/12/2019, Sally Weale

UK universities made a record number of unconditional offers to 18-year-olds this year in what has been described by critics as a “frenetic scramble to put bums on seats”, despite pressure from government to cut out “unethical” practices.

According to the university admissions service Ucas, almost two in five applicants (37.7%) from England, Northern Ireland and Wales, received some kind of unconditional offer, up 3.3 percentage points on 2018 figures.


Poor students less likely to go to university than their wealthier peers than at any point in the last decade

Daily Telegraph, 17/12/2019, Camilla Turner

Poor students are now less likely to go to university than their wealthier peers than at any point in the last decade, new figures show.

Just over a quarter (26.3 per cent) of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) went on to university last year, compared to 44.9 per cent of those who were not, according to data published by the Department for Education.


University launches investigation after lecturer tweets that Tory voters are ‘vermin’

Daily Telegraph, 16/12/2019, Camilla Turner

Cardiff University has launched an investigation after one of its lecturers tweeted that Tory voters are “vermin”.

A second academic, from the same department, accused Conservative voters of being devoid of a “social conscience”.

Teachers are telling pupils that Cambridge is ‘not for the likes of you’, new St John’s College Master warns

Daily Telegraph, 14/12/2019, Camilla Turner

Pupils are being put off from applying to Cambridge by their teachers who tell them it’s “not for the likes of you”, the first female head of St John’s College has said.

Heather Hancock, who was the first in the first in her family to go to university, said if more students from backgrounds similar to hers are to apply to Cambridge, the university must target not just students with information but also their schools.