News round-up: University staff are experiencing an epidemic of poor mental health

Staff referrals to counselling services rose by 300% in six years to 2015. Elsewhere in our round-up, the Russell Group launches a new website to advise on A-level choices, and a tribunal has decided that Oxbridge can force older professors to retire


External examiners ‘need more support on standards’

Times Higher Education, 24/05/2019, Simon Baker

The UK needs to overhaul its assessment system so that external examiners are properly equipped to understand what it takes for students to earn certain marks in a discipline, a conference has heard.

The conference came after UK universities published a joint “statement of intent” on tackling grade inflation in the wake of mounting criticism over the huge rise in the number of students getting firsts and 2:1s.


Higher education staff suffer ‘epidemic’ of poor mental health

The Guardian, 23/05/2019, Sally Weale

The number of university workers accessing counselling and occupational health services has shot up, according to research which describes “an epidemic” of poor mental health among higher education staff.

Freedom of information requests revealed that at one university, staff referrals to counselling services went up more than 300% over a six-year period up to 2015 while, at another, referrals to occupational health soared by more than 400%.


Russell Group scraps preferred A-levels list after arts subjects hit

The Guardian, 23/05/2019, Sally Weale

Arts education organisations have welcomed a decision by the Russell Group of research-led universities to scrap its controversial list of preferred A-levels, after long-running criticism that it has contributed to a devaluation of arts subjects.

The group’s list of so-called “facilitating subjects”, including maths, English, sciences, languages, history and geography, was originally drawn up to help pupils choose A-levels that would open doors to more degrees at the most selective universities.


Teenagers given updated advice on A-level choices

BBC, 23/05/2019, Branwen Jeffreys

The top research universities in the UK are changing their advice for young people choosing A-levels subjects.

An interactive website from the Russell Group has just been launched to replace a controversial list of traditional academic subjects said to help entry.


Bright teenagers risk having university plans ‘scuppered’ by bad A-levels advice, Russell Group warns

Daily Telegraph, 23/05/2019, Camilla Turner

State schools are preventing pupils from getting into top universities by allowing them to do easy A-level subjects, the Russell Group has suggested.

Bright teenagers risk having their plans for higher education “scuppered” by teachers advising them to pick subjects based on how high a grade they can achieve rather than how useful it is.


Universities ‘contribute little to generic skill development’

Times Higher Education, 23/05/2019, John Ross

As universities around the world face pressure to meet employers’ demands for more literate and numerate problem-solvers, a new study has found little evidence that higher education cultivates these attributes.

Research by Australian econometrics expert Ross Williams suggests that generic skills are mostly nurtured at school, and universities do little to enhance them.


Oxbridge can force old professors to retire in order to boost diversity, tribunal ruling suggests

Daily Telegraph, 22/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Oxford and Cambridge universities can force old professors to retire in order to boost diversity, a tribunal ruling suggests.

Prof John Pitcher, a leading Shakespeare scholar and fellow at St John’s College at Oxford, claimed that he had been unfairly pushed out at age 67 to make way for younger and more ethnically diverse academics.


University chiefs defy Damian Hinds, the education secretary, over ‘unethical’ offers

The Times, 22/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Two universities have refused to stop making the most controversial type of unconditional offer to prospective students despite being “named and shamed” by the government.

Birmingham and Oxford Brookes have notified Damian Hinds, the education secretary, that they intend to carry on making so-called conditional unconditional offers to applicants despite his request for them to stop. Four others — Middlesex, Surrey, Birmingham City and Kingston — are yet to respond and Lancaster University has requested discussions.


Oxford aims to attract deprived students with new foundation year

The Guardian, 21/05/2019, Richard Adams

The University of Oxford is to launch programmes to address its historically low numbers of students from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds, including a foundation year for talented school-leavers who lack the required grades.

Louise Richardson, the university’s vice-chancellor, said the programmes were “a hugely exciting initiative” to improve access to the university, and combined with existing schemes would mean one in four British undergraduates at Oxford coming from deprived or disadvantaged backgrounds.


Grade inflation: English universities asked to report next year

Times Higher Education, 20/05/2019, Simon Baker

Each university in England will have to publish the results of an internal review into how they assess students next year as part of attempts to tackle the issue of grade inflation.

The measure comes after UK institutions agreed the wording of a “statement of intent” on how they would work to maintain the value of degrees in light of the huge rise in firsts and 2:1s awarded over the last decade.


Universities’ journal costs still outstripping inflation

Times Higher Education, 17/05/2019, David Matthews

Payments by European universities to big publishers are still increasing faster than inflation despite attempts to strike better deals, according to the latest figures.

Deals with the biggest five publishers – the American Chemical Society (ACS), Elsevier, Wiley, Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis – are rising in cost by 3.6 per cent a year, finds a report by the European University Association


Scrap universities to end left-wing bias, says Roger Scruton

The Times, 16/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Sir Roger Scruton, the philosopher and writer, has said that getting rid of universities would be a way of ending the discrimination faced by conservatives on many campuses.

He said that universities were state-sponsored institutions and that the hostility faced by conservatives indicated that “we have completely lost control”.


Students win £1,000 payouts after university lecturer strike

The Times, 15/05/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Universities have been ordered to pay compensation to students whose education was damaged during last year’s lecturers’ strike.

About 80 students have taken cases to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) and more are arriving each week.


UK universities told to compensate students over campus strikes

The Guardian, 14/05/2019, Richard Adams

A group of British universities have been told to pay compensation for failing to make up for teaching hours lost during last year’s wave of campus strike action by lecturers and other staff.

The payouts, each worth hundreds of pounds, were ordered by the higher education ombudsman for England and Wales in a string of cases where students complained they had missed out on lectures and seminars or suffered distress from the university’s response.


Warwick University to lower entry grades for disadvantaged pupils

The Guardian, 14/05/2019, Richard Adams

Warwick University is to launch an ambitious effort to recruit disadvantaged students from within its region, with a package of measures including financial support, reduced admissions barriers and aid to local schools.

The university says it is prepared to spend £10m a year on the programme, named Warwick Scholars, to improve the admissions prospects of talented students from deprived areas or underrepresented groups living within a 30-mile radius of its campus.


Britain should ‘celebrate’ more state school children going to Oxbridge, Education Secretary says

Daily Telegraph, 12/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Britain should “celebrate” more state school children going to top universities, the Education Secretary has said following remarks by the Stowe headmaster.

Damian Hinds said that state educated children should have a “fair crack at the whip”, as he dismissed the criticism that  private school pupils are being pushed out of Oxford and Cambridge by “social engineering”.


Universities should introduce ‘privilege flags’ so admissions tutors know if students are from affluent backgrounds

Daily Telegraph, 11/05/2019, Camilla Turner

Universities should introduce “privilege flags” so admissions tutors know when students are from affluent backgrounds, it has been suggested.

Dr Rachel Carr OBE, chief executive of IntoUniversity, a charity that raises aspiration among underprivileged children, said this would allow institutions to see who has had a “better start” in life.