News round-up: The threat to the future of Erasmus+ – and why academia is a damaging environment for mental health

The government’s Brexit withdrawal bill saw defeat for an amendment requiring the government to continue the UK’s participation in the Erasmus + exchange scheme


Fears for future of private university after recruitment ‘pause’

Times Higher Education, 10/01/2020, John Morgan

A private university in London whose students are eligible for public loan funding has “paused” recruitment after running into financial trouble, prompting fears it may collapse and raising questions about regulation of the English sector.

Problems at Richmond, the American International University in London, stem from a dispute between the institution and the owner of the properties it leases in Richmond and Kensington, Times Higher Education understands.


UK ‘committed’ to maintaining Erasmus+ exchange scheme

The Guardian, 09/01/2020, Richard Adams

The government has said it is committed to maintaining the UK’s membership of the Erasmus+ programme, which funds opportunities for young people to train and study across Europe, despite shooting down an attempt to make its membership a priority in EU withdrawal negotiations.

A Liberal Democrat-backed amendment to the withdrawal agreement bill, requiring the government to seek continued participation in Erasmus+, was defeated by Conservative MPs, raising fears that the UK could abruptly withdraw from the programme.


OfS threatens fines over handling of sexual misconduct cases

Times Higher Education, 09/01/2020, Simon Baker

Universities in England could face fines if they do not ensure that complaints about harassment and sexual misconduct are handled fairly.

A proposed new “statement of expectations” on how institutions should deal with such cases has been published by the country’s regulator, the Office for Students, for consultation with the sector.


UK academia ‘increasingly unsafe’ working environment

Times Higher Education, 09/01/2020, Anna McKie

Threats to the mental health of academics working in UK universities have grown so intense that levels of psychological safety fall calamitously short of national standards and urgent action is required, according to researchers.

Scholars took the results of three surveys of academics conducted over a six-year period, each with thousands of respondents, and applied them to a tool developed by the Health and Safety Executive designed to help sectors compare psychosocial hazards against national benchmarks.


Third of Cambridge University staff ‘have experienced bullying’

The Guardian, 07/01/2020, Richard Adams

Nearly a third of staff at the University of Cambridge say they have experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace, according to an internal survey obtained by the Guardian that revealed what one union called “a culture of bullying” in parts of the institution.

Responses from 3,000 academic and non-academic staff – a quarter of Cambridge’s total workforce – found that nearly one in three had either been the victims of bullying and other forms of victimisation or had seen it directed against colleagues in the previous 18 months.


Anti-abortion activists increasingly targeting UK university students

The Guardian, 05/01/2020, Sally Weale

Anti-abortion campaigners are increasingly targeting students at UK universities, where there has been a rise in the number of anti-abortion societies on campus and demonstrations by outside groups displaying graphic imagery.

The campaign has gathered momentum on the back of a continuing debate about freedom of speech in universities. Some student unions have been threatened with legal action if they attempt to prevent anti-abortion groups opening on campus.


Boris Johnson warned against cutting tuition fees by brother

Independent, 04/01/2020, Joanna Whitehead

Boris Johnson’s brother has warned him not to reduce university tuition fees or crack down on institutions as part of a “perceived culture war over Brexit”.

Jo Johnson, the former universities minister who is now a chairman of the group that owns the Times Educational Supplement, commented that any attempt to lower tuition fees would inflict “grave danger”.


Millions spent on ‘fake’ apprenticeships, says report

The Guardian, 03/01/2020, Richard Adams

Hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent on “fake apprenticeships” that are just relabelled degrees or training courses, according to a report by a thinktank which says employers are abusing the current system.

Since 2017 large companies have been forced to set aside the equivalent of 0.5% of their payroll to fund apprenticeships. But according to Tom Richmond, the author of a report for the EDSK thinktank, many are instead using the funds for existing professional development courses.


Unconditional offers blamed for increase in students dropping out of university

The Times, 03/01/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Two thirds of universities have recorded a rise in student dropouts over the past five years, a study has found.

The proportion of young people at some universities leaving after a year has increased by more than five percentage points, official data shows.


Bristol students told to study at SS Great Britain due to overcrowding

The Guardian, Richard Adams and Will Charley, 03/01/2020

Overcrowding in libraries and a severe shortage of desks have led to students at the University of Bristol being offered places to study at the SS Great Britain.

The university’s history department has told students looking for somewhere quiet to revise during the January exam period that they can reserve desks at the site in Bristol harbour where Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s steamship is housed in a dry dock, more than a mile from their campus across the Avon.


Oxford professor forced to quit before 70th birthday wins ageism battle

Independent, 31/12/2019, Eleanor Busby

A professor forced to quit before his 70th birthday has won a landmark age discrimination battle against Oxford University.

Professor Paul Ewart, a former head of atomic and laser physics at Oxford, has won an employment tribunal over a policy introduced in 2011 to stop staff at the institution working beyond 67.


See also: Physicist wins employment tribunal over Oxford retirement rule

Times Higher Education, 30/12/2019, Simon Baker


Ministers urged to back, not bash, English northern universities

Times Higher Education, 31/12/2019, John Morgan

The UK government’s ambition to create an entirely new “MIT of the North” has been described as “hackneyed”, as ignoring regional imbalances in research funding and as being based on simplistic misconceptions about “translating research into innovation”.

Comments by Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse minister, about a goal to create a new “world-leading institution in the north to rival Oxford and Cambridge” – with Leeds cited as a potential location, according to The Sunday Times – appear to chime with the science agenda of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior adviser.


Oxford University targets imams in bid to boost applications from ethnic minorities

Daily Telegraph, 31/12/2019, Camilla Turner

Oxford University is targeting imams in a bid to boost applications from Britain’s ethnic minority communities.

The university is designing a new scheme aimed at increasing the number of Pakistani and Bangladeshi undergraduates, according to its Pro-Vice-Chancellor for education.


‘Rude’ peer reviews inflict most damage on women and minorities

Times Higher Education, 28/12/2019, Anna McKie

Unprofessional and cruel peer review comments have a much greater adverse impact on scientists from traditionally under-represented groups than white men, according to a study.

A survey of 1,106 scientists from 46 countries and 14 disciplines found that 58 per cent reported receiving at least one “unprofessional” review, and of those who had, 70 per cent said they had received these kinds of comments on several occasions.