News round-up: What now for universities? Brexit, changes to university funding and (maybe) an increase in R&D spend

The election result could have major implications for the higher education sector, including the possibility of recruitment challenges in the wake of Brexit


UK universities face up to Brexit after Tory election win

Times Higher Education, 13/12/2019, John Morgan

The certainty that Brexit will happen, a potential reshaping of the research funding system to accompany a big increase in funding and the targeting of “low-quality courses” are among the major implications for universities from the Conservatives’ resounding victory in the UK general election.

With the Tories on track for a majority of above 70 after picking up a string of Leave-voting seats from the Labour Party in the Midlands and North on the back of Boris Johnson’s commitment to “Get Brexit Done”, attention will fall on the party’s manifesto pledges.


Lack of support driving Chinese students to cheat

The Times, 13/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

A lack of support for the growing number of Chinese students at British universities is “tacitly pushing” them to “fake their way” through their degree, experts say.

With so many ways available to buy essays and coursework, “a minority will take the bait” and cheat, they say. Others will simply give up and treat their time in the UK, elsewhere in the EU and the US as an extended holiday.


Top universities ‘should allocate places by lottery’

The Times, 12/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Elite universities should offer places at random to students who make the grade so that underprivileged applicants are not disadvantaged, a think tank has said.

A report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) published today says that Britain’s top institutions including Oxbridge are making “glacial” progress in closing the gap between the numbers of places offered to rich and poor students.


Elite universities ‘will need 100 years’ to hit OfS access goals

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

It will take almost a century for elite universities to hit the new access targets set by England’s regulator, based on current rates of progress, according to a report.

An analysis published by the Higher Education Policy Institute finds that it will take 96 years for the most selective universities in England to raise the participation rate for students from the least advantaged areas to match the existing participation rate for students from the most advantaged areas.

See also:

10,000 wealthy students would have to be denied access to top universities each year to meet equality targets (Daily Telegraph, 12/12/2019, Camilla Turner)


Exeter picks Leeds deputy as next v-c

Times Higher Education, 12/12/2019, Chris Havergal

The University of Exeter has named Lisa Roberts as its next vice-chancellor.

Professor Roberts, currently deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Leeds, will take up the post next September after Sir Steve Smith retires.


Funding PhDs for four years ‘being considered’ by UK council

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

A UK research council is considering funding fewer PhD students but supporting them for four years, amid rising concerns over the stress placed on doctoral candidates by the current three-year model.

The Economic and Social Research Council, which funds about 500 PhD studentships a year, has launched a “major review of PhD training and support” that, according to its 2019 delivery plan, may “lead to fundamental changes in the length, structure, content and quality of the doctoral training experience”.


Teesside says staff must apply for permission to work off-campus

Times Higher Education, 11/12/2019, Anna McKie

An email sent to staff at Teesside University has ignited a debate about flexible working, as a union accused it of imposing “archaic” conditions that restrict academics from working from home or doing off-campus research.

Staff at the School of Health and Life Sciences recently received an email, seen by Times Higher Education, that stated that academics should not work from home for general reasons for more than one or two days per semester and that this should “not be a regular working pattern”


Spiralling rents consume increasing portion of student loans

The Guardian, 11/12/2019, Richard Adams

University students in England are seeing their maintenance loans increasingly consumed by the rising cost of private-sector accommodation, with purpose-built rooms in London now averaging £1,000 more than the maximum loan.

A survey of the student accommodation market carried out by the property consultants Cushman & Wakefield found that the average cost of en-suite private bedroom rentals in purpose-built blocks has reached 75% of the maximum maintenance loan outside of London and 110% of the maximum in London.


Next NHS staff shortages will include radiographers, as courses close

The Guardian, 10/12/2019, Anna Fazackerley

Radiography and nursing degree courses may be at risk of closure, academics are warning – at a time when the NHS is wrestling with a recruitment crisis.

The Council of Deans of Health has now drawn up an “at risk” list of university courses struggling to attract and retain enough students following the removal of the student bursary in 2017. The courses include: radiography, mental health nursing, learning disability nursing, podiatry and prosthetics. The list also includes orthotics, which is the provision of devices such as splints, braces and helmets, which help people recover from injury. Orthoptics, which focuses on treatments for eye conditions, is another subject listed.


Stonewall accused of censoring academics over gender issues

The Times, 10/12/2019, Greg Hurst and Rosemary Bennett

Academics accused a leading gay rights charity of suppressing academic freedom by encouraging a “censorious” approach to gender identity.

In a letter to The Times more than 20 professors, researchers and lecturers say that many British universities have adopted policies on transgender issues from a template drawn up by Stonewall that does not allow criticism from academics who take a different view.


PhD student’s life ‘left in tatters’ after Home Office error ‘forced her to abandon studies’

Independent, 09/12/2019, Eleanor Busby

A former PhD student’s life was left “in tatters” after she claims a Home Office error forced her to abandon her studies and her dream of becoming a law professor in the UK.

Myriam Cadinouche claims the Home Office wrongly accused her of staying in the UK illegally and retained her passport and documents when she was in the third year of her doctorate.


Trans rights activists halt gender debate at Essex University

The Times, 07/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

A seminar on criminal justice and gender issues was cancelled at the University of Essex after organisers said that trans activists had threatened to “obstruct” debate and discussion.

Jo Phoenix, professor of criminology at the Open University, was invited to speak on trans rights on Thursday as part of the Centre for Criminology’s autumn seminar series. It was entitled “Trans rights and justice: complicated contours in contemporary sex, gender and sexualities politics”.


Staff warn of ‘intimidatory’ tactics at Liverpool University after strike

The Guardian, 06/12/2019, Rachel Hall

The University of Liverpool has told staff who went on strike over pay and pensions this week that they must catch up on missed work or risk penalties, despite already having their pay deducted over the eight-day industrial action.

In an email sent by pro vice-chancellor Gavin Brown, members of the University and College Union were told that failure to reschedule teaching missed during the strike period would represent partial performance of their contracts, which “the university does not accept”. Brown added that the university may respond with “pay deductions”.


Stalker Jefferson Young returns to victim’s university

The Times, 06/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Hundreds of students have complained after a convicted stalker was allowed to quietly return to the campus where his victim was still studying.

Jefferson Young was given a restraining order in 2018 for stalking his former girlfriend and disclosing private material. He has now returned to Newcastle University to embark on postgraduate studies without her being informed.


Most UK students ‘don’t think free speech under threat’ on campus

Times Higher Education, 05/12/2019, John Morgan

“Only a minority” of UK students have heard about incidents where freedom of expression has been restricted in their own university, and there is “significant agreement” between students and the public “on the value of freedom of expression”, according to a survey.

The research, published by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, bills itself as having amassed “some of the most comprehensive survey data for the UK on student attitudes towards freedom of expression”.


Poor students are not going to universities that their grades deserve, study finds

Daily Telegraph, 05/12/2019, Camilla TurnerStudents from poor households are not going to universities that their grades deserve, a study has found, as secondary schools are blamed.

Up to a quarter of teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds are taking up places at lower ranking universities despite having good enough A-level results to go somewhere more prestigious, according to researchers at University College London.


University pulls trans forum amid safety fears

The Times, 04/12/2019, Rosemary Bennett

A research conference on how transgender issues are handled in schools has been cancelled amid fears that speakers and guests would be at risk from trans activists.

The event, due to take place at Edinburgh University next week, was to discuss plans for new guidance on supporting trans pupils in Scottish schools.


University criticised for suggesting staff hide their sexuality when travelling to Dubai campus

Independent, 03/12/2019, Eleanor Busby

The University of Birmingham has come under fire for guidance on its website suggesting that staff should hide their sexuality when travelling to the institution’s campus in Dubai.

Academics, students and members of the LGBT+ community have condemned the safeguarding advice for university employees attending the Dubai branch as “appalling” and “shameful”.