News round-up: Some universities are at risk of collapsing, and Justine Greening calls for the return of student grants

The big news this week is that there’s a real danger that falling student numbers may see some English universities forced to close down. Elsewhere there’s concern about pensions, student finance and bullying


Fears of university closures after removal of safety net  

The Guardian, 30/01/2018, Anna Fazackerley

Some English universities may be in danger of collapse, experts warn, as numbers of young students enrolling at several institutions have dropped alarmingly in the new competitive education market.

Figures released by Ucas, the universities admissions service, last week reveal that the number of 18-year-olds enrolling at London Metropolitan University, the University of Cumbria, Kingston University and the University of Wolverhampton have shrunk every year, with major losses over the past five years. However, with more universities in a potentially dangerous position than ever before, fear is growing that there is no government body with a clear responsibility to predict or prevent a university failure.

Professor Colin Riordan, the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, a member of the elite Russell Group, told Education Guardian: “To my knowledge we haven’t been in a position in living memory where it seems likely that established universities could find themselves in an unsustainable position and having no option but to close.”


Poorest children risk being ‘set up to fail’ by university diversity drive, Russell Group leader warns

Daily Telegraph, 30/01/2018, Camilla Turner

The poorest children risk being “set up to fail” by the university diversity drive, the chief executive of the Russell Group has warned.

Dr Tim Bradshaw said that if top universities lowered entry requirements for disadvantaged children “too far”, it could lead to an increase in students struggling to keep up with their peers, and ultimately dropping out of courses. He said that all members of the Russell Group, which represents the UK’s 24 leading universities, use contextual data about a prospective student’s socio-economic background, as part of a bid to boost diversity.

“We try very hard to find students from all backgrounds and match them in terms of their ability to the course so that they get the right support to actually finish the course,” Dr Bradshaw said. “The difficulty would be if you went too far, I think you would find you would struggle to maintain the level of engagement of students throughout.”


University staff to go ahead with strike over pensions

FT Adviser, 30/01/2018, Maria Espadinha

The Universities and College Union (UCU) has announced 14 days of strikes across 61 universities following a pensions dispute. The strikes will begin on Thursday 22 February, and will run over a four-week period that will begin with a five-day walkout either side of a weekend, the trade union said. The last day of planned strike is Friday 16 March.


2VCs on … what does 2018 look like for universities?

The Guardian, 31/01/2018, Anna Fazackerley

What are vice-chancellors expecting from 2018? As part of a discussion series with university vice-chancellors, Anton Muscatelli, vice-chancellor of Glasgow University, and Professor Debra Humphris, vice-chancellor of Brighton University, discuss the new Office for Students, Brexit, and changes to student finance.


Justine Greening calls for return of student grants

BBC News online, 29/01/2018, Sean Coughlan

Former education secretary Justine Greening says maintenance grants for poorer students in England should be reinstated, after being scrapped by the government last year. Ms Greening, removed in the cabinet reshuffle, also raised concerns about the level of interest on student debts. She said that any student finance system needed to be “progressive”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a major review of tuition fees and university funding.

But Ms Greening, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said she was against the idea of different levels of fees for different courses, because it could push poorer students into cheaper, less prestigious degrees. Her successor as education secretary, Damian Hinds, is expected to launch a review of student finance in England.


UNI FEE ‘DITHER’: Sacked Education Secretary Justine Greening accuses Government of dithering on tuition fees

The Sun, 30/01/2018, Lynn Davidson

Justine Greening attacked the government for “kicking things into the long grass”.


Students’ low scores ignored by universities

Daily Telegraph, 26/01/2018, Camilla Turner

Universities are ignoring students’ lowest module scores, a report has found, as it warns that the practice could lead to grade inflation. Dozens of institutions use the discounting mechanism to leave out the courses in which undergraduates got the poorest results when calculating a student’s final degree classification, according to a survey of universities.

A report was conducted by Universities UK, the vice-chancellor membership body, and Guild HE, a group for leaders of higher education institutions. It found that there is widespread variation in how universities calculate the degree classifications, including how much weight is given to modules in different years of study – known as the degree algorithm.


We need a bigger conversation about bullying in academia

The Guardian, 26/01/2018, Anonymous

The Academics Anonymous blog discusses bullying in higher education and the need to develop a policy for dealing with bullying more systematically.