News round-up: One institution tackles grade inflation – and a headteacher says that ‘any fool’ can get into university

Nottingham Trent University is cutting the number of firsts, while one of their academics has faced a backlash for encouraging students to register to vote


Universities ‘central’ to solutions on UK regional inequality

Times Higher Education, 15/11/2019, John Morgan

Universities could play a central role in addressing the UK’s dire levels of regional inequality, potentially through the creation of an “MIT of the North” or creating “HE-FE systems” in deprived towns, according to the former head of the nation’s civil service.

Lord Kerslake, chair of the UK2070 Commission on regional inequality, told Times Higher Education that “universities have been central to [the commission’s work], both in the analysis and being part of the solution as well”.


Students ban beef in bars and shops to save the planet

The Times, 15/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

First it was sombreros, then it was throwing mortarboards in the air at graduation ceremonies. Now the students at the University of East Anglia have voted to ban beef on campus.

Undergraduate staples such as spaghetti bolognese and hamburgers will no longer be on sale at any student union bars or shops. Restaurants run by the university itself will not be included, however, the student union has voted to lobby them to follow their lead.


Nottingham Trent University will cut number of firsts to tackle grade inflation

The Times, 14/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

A popular and fast-growing university has reduced the number of firsts it awards to protect their value as concerns grow about grade inflation.

Nottingham Trent University gave out almost 500 fewer first-class degrees last year than the year before in a move described as groundbreaking. Only 17.6 per cent of students received a first compared with 24.7 per cent in 2017.


Warwick University Hong Kong exchange students called back to UK

BBC, 14/11/2019, Anon

Exchange students currently studying in Hong Kong have been called back to the UK by their university over fears for their safety.

Students from the University of Warwick have been “strongly urged” to return as “it is no longer appropriate” for them to remain, its student newspaper said.


Reassess value of student ‘mass migration’ within UK, says report

Times Higher Education, 14/11/2019, Jack Grove

The UK’s “unusual and relatively new” system of residential universities should be re-examined to see whether it still serves a useful purpose, a study recommends.

In Britain, some 1.5 million students leave home each autumn to study, with 48 per cent of these students living in purpose-built halls and 52 per cent in private rented accommodation.


Senior technicians at UK universities overwhelmingly male

Times Higher Education, 14/11/2019, Ellie Bothwell

Just 11 per cent of physics and engineering technicians working in UK higher education are women, according to a report that is the first to explore equality, diversity and inclusion challenges facing technical staff.

While other disciplines have a much higher share of female technical staff, the vast majority of technicians in managerial positions across the sciences are male, according to the study, which is based on data on 14,375 technician roles in UK universities in the 2017-18 academic year.


Tory spending plans include £800 million budget for ‘UK Darpa’

Times Higher Education, 14/11/2019, Chris Havergal

Conservative plans to double UK public spending on research and development in the next five years would include an £800 million budget for the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency, the science minister has said.

Tory leader Boris Johnson announced the plan to increase R&D spending to £18 billion over the course of the next parliament in a speech on 13 December [sic], in his first major policy address of the general election campaign.


One in three PhD students seeks mental health help, says survey

Times Higher Education, 13/11/2019, Simon Baker

More than a third of PhD students worldwide seek help for anxiety or depression caused by their studies, a worldwide survey of those studying for a doctorate suggests.

Responses from the survey of more than 6,000 students also showed that about a fifth said they had experienced bullying with supervisors the most likely to be identified as perpetrators.


University strikes: Students demand tuition fee refunds for planned walkouts

Independent, 13/11/2019, Eleanor Busby

Students are demanding tuition fee refunds for university strikes set to take place later this month.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will hold eight days of strike action at 60 universities across the UK amid disputes over staff pensions, pay and working conditions.


Universities must change reading lists to represent student population, study says

Daily Telegraph, 13/11/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities must change their reading lists to represent the student population, a study has said.

Researchers at the University College London said institutions must “decolonise” academic sources and authors to make them less “white, male and Eurocentric”.


Student forced to turn to food bank by loan delay

BBC, 12/11/2019, Harry Farley

“I can’t go out, I can’t socialise, I can’t join a club or have hobbies.”

Dan, a student at Bristol University, has had to turn to a food bank after a student loan administration error left him without money.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme his parents’ income falls just above the cut-off for extra support and he feels “let down”.


Oxford college provost faces backlash after attempting to abolish formal hall traditions

Daily Telegraph, 12/11/2019, Camilla Turner

The head of an Oxford college is facing a backlash after attempting to abolish the traditions of Grace before meals and standing for dons.

Prof Kate Tunstall, the interim provost of Worcester College, has come under fire from students over a series of decisions about the customs practised at formal hall.


UK academics face furious backlash for encouraging students to vote

The Guardian, 12/11/2019, Anna Fazackerley

When Carrie Paechter, a professor at Nottingham Trent University, tweeted two weeks ago that students could register to vote at both their home and term-time addresses, she didn’t anticipate the tirade of anger it would unleash. She was reported to the police and the Electoral Commission, and someone wrote to her vice-chancellor calling for her to be disciplined.

Prof Paechter, who is director of Nottingham Centre for Children, Young People and Families, posted what she thought was an innocuous tweet on a Thursday evening. By Sunday she had blocked 568 people on Twitter who were furiously accusing her of encouraging students to break the law and vote twice. She insists she had no such intention, and simply wanted to ensure students didn’t miss out on voting in the general election, because they didn’t know their rights.


‘Any fool’ can get into university, leading head says as he accuses elite institutions of peddling ‘illusion’ of high standards

Daily Telegraph, 09/11/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities are presiding over an “emperor’s new clothes” conspiracy, a leading headmaster has said as he warns that “any fool” can get a place these days.

Institutions are admitting students who they would not have dreamed of taking a decade ago, according to Tim Firth who is head of the £33,500-a-year Wrekin College, a boarding school in Wellington, Shropshire.


University lecturers giving students time to register to vote

The Guardian, 07/11/2019, Sally Weale

University lecturers are giving students five minutes at the start of their lectures to register to vote as a nationwide campaign gets under way to ensure that students’ voices are heard in the forthcoming general election.

The move was condemned by some on social media as “brainwashing”, but according to the universities’ regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), institutions now have a duty to facilitate the electoral registration of students.


Fight for Oxbridge place tougher than ever after applications surge

The Times, 07/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Competition for places at Oxford and Cambridge will be more intense than ever this year as both universities had a record number of applications.

There were 20,155 applications to Cambridge, the first time the number has exceeded 20,000 — up 5.6 per cent on last year. Oxford has had 23,350 applications, up from 23,013 last year. The record totals come despite a dip in the number of people aged 17 and 18.


Tory manifesto could freeze English fees and target ‘low value HE’

Times Higher Education, 07/11/2019, Jack Grove

A five-year freeze of undergraduate tuition fees in England and a promise to tackle “low value” degree courses by restricting access to student loans are among the options under consideration for the Conservatives’ general election manifesto, Times Higher Education understands.

Plans to lower annual tuition fees from £9,250 to £7,500 – in line with the Augar review’s recommendations – seem unlikely to become Tory election pledges despite renewed interest in the panel’s proposals. Last week, several Augar panel members visited Downing Street to discuss the fee reduction plan, which Universities UK claims could cost institutions up to £2.4 billion a year in lost income.


Bill Rammell to step down as University of Bedfordshire v-c

Times Higher Education, 06/11/2019, Jack Grove

Bill Rammell, England’s former universities minister, is to step down as vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire next month.

Mr Rammell, who was higher education minister from 2005 to 2008 under Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, announced on 6 November that he would leave the Luton-based institution at the end of 2019.


Cambridge don who was readmitted to his College after sexual harassment claims has now resigned

Daily Telegraph, 06/11/2019, Camilla Turner

A Cambridge don who was readmitted to his old College after sexual harassment claims has now resigned following a backlash.

Dr Peter Hutchinson was barred from Trinity Hall and from contacting students in 2017 after a string of allegations were made against him.


China tries to gag UK universities

The Times, 06/11/2019, Rosemary Bennett

The Chinese government has attempted to curb criticism on British campuses of its regime by pressuring universities into limiting academic freedom, MPs have said.

“Alarming” evidence of Chinese interference has been found by the Commons foreign affairs committee, which says that it appears to be coming from the embassy in London.


University strike could affect more than a million students, says union

The Guardian, 05/11/2019, Sally Weale

Staff at 60 universities across the UK are to walk out on strike later this month over pensions, pay and conditions in a wave of action which could disrupt the studies of more than a million students, according to union leaders.

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced eight days of strikes, starting on 25 November and running until 4 December. After that, industrial action will continue with members working to contract, so they are unable to cover for absent colleagues or reschedule lectures lost to strike action.


Black students with mental health issues being ‘failed’ by university system, regulator warns

Independent, 05/11/2019, Eleanor Busby

Black students with mental health conditions are being “failed” by the university system, the regulator warns, as figures show they are much more likely to drop out and attain lower class degrees.

The Office for Students (OfS) has said the large gaps in attainment and continuation rates between black university students with a mental health problem and their white peers are a “concern”.


Exeter University reports student Facebook page to police over links to ‘Nazi propaganda’

Independent, 05/11/2019, Eleanor Busby

The University of Exeter has reported a student confession page to the police following accusations that racist content and “Nazi propaganda” were published online.

Students criticised the posts on the “ExeHonestly” Facebook page after claiming they had white supremacist origins.


MPs call for action on ‘threats’ to UK academia from autocracies

Times Higher Education, 05/11/2019, John Morgan

A committee of MPs has criticised the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for its “non-existent” guidance to UK universities on potential threats to academia from autocracies, after hearing reports of scholars in the UK being bugged in discussions about Russia, and those studying Central Asia receiving threats against their families.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee published a report examining the UK’s foreign policy regarding autocracies on 5 November, singling out the potential infringement of academic freedom for UK universities as a key issue.


Cambridge University seeks professor to stand up to Beijing

Sunday Times, 03/11/2019, Sian Griffiths

Cambridge University has advertised for a professor to fill a controversial chair in Chinese studies, and made clear the successful candidate is allowed to be critical of Beijing.

The move follows concern that research and funding links with China might compromise academic freedom and lead to the censoring of debate on issues such as Hong Kong, Tibet and Taiwan.