News round-up: Labour could cap number of private school students going to university

As figures show that half of young people now go to university, Labour has announced plans to limit the number of students universities can accept from private schools


UUK president aims to show degree value ‘not all about money’

Times Higher Education, 03/10/2019, John Morgan

The new president of Universities UK has said that she aims to counter policy focus on graduate earnings by communicating to the public that the value of a degree is “not all about earning money”, and to secure funding protection at a time of political uncertainty.

Brunel University London vice-chancellor Julia Buckingham, who set out with the ambition to become a concert pianist and then worked in the pharmaceutical industry before academia drew her in, spoke to Times Higher Education after starting her two-year term as president last month.


Matthew Hedges: universities fail to protect staff working abroad

Times Higher Education, 03/10/2019, Ellie Bothwell

Universities may be failing to properly assess the risks of academics visiting repressive regimes because of their close relationships with these countries, according to a British researcher who was sentenced to life in prison on spying charges in the United Arab Emirates.

Matthew Hedges, a PhD student specialising in Middle Eastern politics at Durham University, told Times Higher Education that there was a “clinical lack of organisation” or support regarding the preparation of academics conducting research in dangerous places, adding that universities had not changed their approach since he was detained in the UAE in May last year.


Teach us how to look after our mental health, say university students

The Guardian, 03/10/2019, Rachel Hall

Students want universities to teach them how to look after their mental health and wellbeing as anxiety and stress levels surge on UK campuses, according to a survey.

Ninety-six per cent of the 1,500 students polled by emotional fitness app Fika think universities should offer “emotional education” on the curriculum to improve their resilience against mental health problems. This would replicate the Department for Education’s plans to roll out wellbeing modules in schools from September 2020.


University cap on private schools ‘will drive brightest pupils abroad’

The Times, 03/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Capping the number of private school pupils going to university would lead to a brain drain in which bright students would go abroad to study, a leading head teacher has warned.

It could leave universities, which mostly select on academic ability, struggling to fill courses, the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) of 300 leading private schools was told.


Thousands of university staff are earning £100,000 or more

The Times, 03/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

More than 4,000 university staff are being paid at least £100,000, a study of 120 institutions has found.

A report by the Taxpayers’ Alliance claimed that 4,423 staff were paid more than £100,000 in 2017-18, up from 3,947 the year before. Vice-chancellors’ pay has been heavily criticised, many earning at least £350,000 a year.


Universities must offer equal access to disadvantaged students

The Times, 03/10/2019, Rosemary Bennett

Oxford and Cambridge have entered into something of an arms race over who is doing more to open up access to disadvantaged youngsters.

Last year Cambridge launched a £500 million fundraising campaign, in part to pay for a new “transition year” programme for underprivileged youngsters with potential to study at the university and build the skills and knowledge needed to start a degree.


Student rape survivor – ‘It felt like I was being interrogated’

BBC, 03/10/2019, Branwen Jeffreys

Reports of rape, sexual assault and harassment at UK universities have trebled in three years, a BBC investigation suggests.

Universities told the BBC they recorded 1,436 allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence against students in 2018-19 – up from 476 in 2016-17.


Tory manifesto tipped to focus on ‘low value degrees’ in England

Times Higher Education, 02/10/2019, John Morgan

Conservative priorities on English university policy for a general election manifesto or beyond will include targeting “low value higher education”, it has been suggested, as Tory ministers look set to reject the Augar review’s plans to lower tuition fees.

The independent panel for the review, led by Philip Augar, had recommended lowering the tuition fee cap from £9,250 to £7,500, with replacement public funding targeted towards subjects with the greatest “social and economic value” or highest costs.


Cambridge college faces resignations over decision to switch pension plans for staff

Daily Telegraph, 02/10/2019, Camilla Turner

A Cambridge college is facing a wave of resignations over its decision to switch pension plans for staff.

Trinity, one of Cambridge’s largest and wealthiest colleges, is facing a backlash from lecturers after formally withdrawing from the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).


Oxford professor’s children refused visas to join her in UK

The Guardian, 01/10/2019, Anna Fazackerley

Amber Murrey, an American academic, was “ecstatic” about being appointed associate professor in geography at Oxford University last year. But the dream turned sour two weeks ago when the Home Office refused to grant visas for her two daughters, aged four and nine, to live with her in the UK.

Dr Murrey used an immigration lawyer to make sure the visa applications for her daughters, who have US passports, went smoothly, and was not anticipating a problem. Her husband has business commitments overseeing property renovations in Cameroon, where he is from, and the couple had included joint written consent for their daughters to live with her in Oxford.


Conservative conference: minister opposes foundation year reforms

Times Higher Education, 30/09/2019, John Morgan

The government response to England’s Augar review is likely to come before Christmas, according to the universities minister, who has come out against the recommendation to defund university foundation years.

Chris Skidmore made the comments at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference in Manchester on 30 September, also warning against the review’s plan to lower tuition fees, predicting that this could lead to the closure of universities.


Education secretary announces plans for vocational training

The Guardian, 30/09/2019, Richard Adams

Vocational and technical training could become more popular than going to university, according to education secretary Gavin Williamson as he prepares to announce £120m in extra funding for a new wave of specialist institutes.

Williamson will tell the Conservative party conference on Monday of plans to launch a further eight institutes of technology – a collaboration between further education (FE) colleges, universities and employers to offer higher level technical training – joining the 12 opening this year to rival higher education as an option for students.


NUS head pulls out of Tory conference over ‘disturbing Islamophobia’

The Guardian, 30/09/2019, Sally Weale

The leader of the National Union of Students has pulled out of engagements at the Conservative party conference in protest at what she said was “deeply disturbing, downright Islamophobia” at a fringe event on Sunday.

The NUS president, Zamzam Ibrahim, had been due to speak at two sessions at the conference, in Manchester, this week but withdrew, claiming she could not participate in a conference that “denies the bigotry faced by Muslims on a daily basis”.



Oxford University to launch parent charm offensive in attempt to woo disadvantaged students

Daily Telegraph, 27/09/2019, Camilla Turner

Oxford University is launching a parent charm offensive in an attempt to woo disadvantaged students.

The university is to publish a new “family guide” which will be translated into Bengali, Urdu and Hindi as part of a drive to encourage teenagers from low-income households to apply.


Kevin O’Gorman: Former university professor sentenced for sex attacks

BBC, 26/09/2019, Anon

A former university professor who sexually assaulted seven young male students has been ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid community work.

Kevin O’Gorman committed the offences when he was working at Strathclyde university in Glasgow and Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh between 2006 and 2014.


More than half of young people are going to university for the first time, figures reveal

Daily Telegraph, 26/09/2019, Camilla Turner

More than half of young people are going to university for the first time, official figures reveal.

Last year, 50.2 per cent of English 17 to 30-year-olds enrolled on undergraduate degrees at British institutions, according to the Department for Education (DfE).


Women and ethnic minorities advance slowly in UK universities

Times Higher Education, 25/09/2019, Anna McKie

UK universities have reported small increases in the proportion of professors who are female and from ethnic minorities, but still have a long way to go, according to new analysis.

The proportion of professors who are female increased from 24.6 per cent in 2016-17 to 25.5 per cent in 2017-18, while the proportion from ethnic minorities grew from 8.3 per cent to 8.8 per cent over the same period, Advance HE said


Labour’s publicly funded HE plan ‘could support’ sector expansion

Times Higher Education, 24/09/2019, John Morgan

Labour believes that its proposed system of direct public funding for English universities could support an expansion of student numbers, the party’s conference heard.

The comments from Gordon Marsden, Labour’s shadow higher education minister, came at a fringe event during the conference in Brighton, which also heard London Metropolitan University vice-chancellor Lynn Dobbs warn that marketisation was forcing institutions to “waste” a “huge” amount of money on marketing to attract students.


Ministers ‘should have waited’ for review before subject-level TEF move

Times Higher Education, 23/09/2019, Nick Mayo

English sector figures have voiced concerns about moves by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, to force a switch to the subject-level teaching excellence framework before the publication of an independent review of the exercise.

Some in the sector believe that Jo Johnson – creator of the TEF – pushed through approval for the subject-level exercise during his brief return to the post of universities and science minister.


Plan shelved to cut university tuition fees to £7,500

Sunday Times, 22/09/2019, Sian Griffiths

Plans to slash university tuition fees to £7,500, outlined in an independent review commissioned by Theresa May, have been shelved by ministers.

The decision comes despite warnings that some UK degrees are terrible value for money and leave graduates earning less than school-leavers.


Number of first-class degrees awarded in Britain soars by half

Sunday Times, 22/09/2019, Alastair McCall, Sue Leonard and Sian Griffiths

The number of top degrees handed out at some of Britain’s best universities has jumped by 50% over the past 20 years, rankings compiled for The Sunday Times’s Good University Guide, published today, reveal.

They show that 34 universities, including four belonging to the elite Russell Group, have substantially increased the number of first and upper second-class degrees since 1998. The highest increase was at the University of West London, where the proportion of top degrees rose from 36.9% in 1998 to 74.3% in 2018, up 101.6%.


Labour begins bid to abolish private schools with university quotas

The Times, 22/09/2019, Henry Zeffman and Rosemary Bennett

Universities face quotas on the number of privately educated students they can admit after Labour vowed to begin abolishing independent schools in government.

Labour’s annual conference has endorsed the radical plan to end “hierarchy, elitism and selection in education” by “integrating all private schools into the state sector”.


‘Common sense’ needed on English post-qualification admissions plans

Times Higher Education, 21/09/2019, Nick Mayo

A former Ucas boss has called for “common sense” to prevail as the political wind blows towards a post-qualification admissions system in England.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, wrote to the Office for Students last week to express his support for the higher education regulator’s review of university admissions, which includes consideration of the “pros and cons of potential models of post qualification application”. Mr Williamson said he was “glad the OfS is looking at whether it would be in students’ interests to apply for their university place after they have their A-level results”.


Charity regulator warns Ucas about marketing loans to students

The Guardian, 20/09/2019, Richard Adams

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has been rebuked by the Charity Commission over its role in the marketing of private loans to students and school-leavers, with the regulator warning that Ucas needs to rein in its commercial arm.

The commission’s intervention followed direct mail and email marketing sent to students last month by Ucas Media – Ucas’s commercial subsidiary – advertising Future Finance, a company offering private loans targeted at students.