News round-up: Universities must make clear that intimidation of academics is unacceptable, Gavin Williamson warns

Strong words from the education secretary on free speech, and new figures show that two in five 18-year-olds now apply to university


Gavin Williamson gives universities final warning on free speech

The Times, 07/02/2020, Rosemary Bennett

The education secretary has given universities a final warning to guard free speech or face legislation.

In an article for The Times, Gavin Williamson says that universities must make clear that intimidation of academics by student or other protesters is unacceptable, issue strong sanctions and work with police to prosecute those who try to disrupt events.


Mass resignations at Wiley journal over academic independence

Times Higher Education, 07/02/2020, Jack Grove

The resignation of all members of a journal’s editorial and advisory boards in a row over academic independence raises fundamental questions about “who owns” academic publications, scholars have claimed.

The mass resignations at the European Law Journal – in which a total of 20 academics linked to the Wiley publication quit – follow more than a year of negotiations with the US publisher in the wake of its alleged effort to appoint new editors-in-chief in 2018 without consulting either its board of editors or its advisory board.


English universities mull lower fees for EU students post-Brexit

Times Higher Education, 06/02/2020, John Morgan

Some English universities are exploring whether they could continue to charge European Union students lower fees despite Brexit, as the government keeps under wraps a report on how changes to funding for these learners could impact sector finances.

Until now, it has been widely assumed that students from the EU would move on to international fee status once the UK’s departure from the bloc was complete. Reports last year indicated that the government could withdraw EU students’ home fee status and access to public student loans from 2021-22 onwards.


Chinese applications to British universities surge by more than third to reach record high

Independent, 07/02/2020, Eleanor Busby

The number of Chinese students applying for places at British universities has surged by more than a third this year to reach a record high, official figures show.

Significantly more applicants from China have applied to study on degrees starting in the autumn than from both Wales and Northern Ireland, according to the data from Ucas.


Two in five 18-year-olds in UK apply to study at university this year

The Guardian, 06/02/2020, Richard Adams

Two out of every five 18-year-olds in the UK are applying for a place to study at university this year, along with record numbers of students from China and India, according to figures from the university admissions service.

Ucas, which operates the application process for higher education, said the number of UK sixth formers applying for undergraduate places rose to 275,300, despite a 1.5% decline in the UK’s overall 18-year-old population, suggesting the appetite for university education remains undimmed by tuition fees, accommodation costs and rising student debts.


Employers should help pay tuition fees, says ex-education secretary Charles Clarke

The Times, 05/02/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Companies would pay higher national insurance contributions for each graduate they employ, in an overhaul of university tuition fees recommended by the politician who created them.

Charles Clarke, a former education secretary, said that he never intended that tuition fees would reach their current level of £9,250 a year and called for a cut to £7,500.


Cummings ‘winning battle’ for new Arpa to be outside UKRI

Times Higher Education, 05/02/2020, John Morgan

Dominic Cummings is said to be winning the debate on creating his planned new agency for “high-risk, high-payoff research” as an independent entity outside UK Research and Innovation, although more fundamental questions about it are yet to be decided.

UKRI had been keen to be the creator and overseer of the new agency, Times Higher Education understands.


Military personnel at freshers’ fair could hurt people’s mental health, warns Cambridge student union

Daily Telegraph, 04/02/2020, Camilla Turner

Cambridge University Students’ Union has said that having military personnel at freshers’ fair is “alarming” for attendees and could “detrimentally affect” their mental health.

Students voted to ban any societies from bringing firearms along to the fair after Stella Swain, the welfare and rights officer, argued that some people may find them “triggering”.


University of Peterborough full plans revealed by mayor

BBC, 04/02/2020

A new university designed to “create a pipeline of future employees” could be open for degree courses in two years.

Detailed plans for the University of Peterborough have been put out to public consultation for the first time.


‘Major disruption’ to student mobility from coronavirus feared

Times Higher Education, 04/02/2020, Jack Grove

The deadly coronavirus outbreak could have a major impact on international student mobility, sector leaders have warned, after thousands of learners were left stranded in China.

Australia, New Zealand, the US and Singapore were among countries that had banned entry to foreigners travelling from China as of the start of this week, while Japan and South Korea were denying entry to travellers from Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak


AI courses ‘vulnerable’ to post-Brexit downturn in EU recruitment

Times Higher Education, 03/02/2020, Simon Baker

Artificial intelligence courses in UK universities could be particularly exposed to any turbulence in applications from European Union students caused by Brexit, an analysis by Times Higher Education suggests.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency on course numbers by individual subject show that students from other EU countries made up almost a quarter of the 1,100 on AI undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in 2017-18.


Enrolment drops leave English universities with shrinking feeling

Times Higher Education, 01/02/2020, Simon Baker

Large falls in undergraduate recruitment in 2019 have added to several years of declining numbers at some UK universities, according to the latest data from the country’s admissions body.

Four English institutions where Ucas recruitment is now down by more than a fifth in five years saw further drops again last year, according to end-of-cycle data on the number of applicants to full-time undergraduate courses accepted by universities in 2019.


York University student is one of two in UK to test positive for coronavirus

The Guardian, 01/02/2020, Sam Gelder

One of the first two people to test positive for coronavirus in the UK is a student at the University of York.

The pair – two members of the same family – are being treated at a specialist unit in Newcastle. They had checked into the Staycity apartment-hotel in York on Wednesday and were taken to hospital that evening.


Shakespeare, Blake and Woolf are on the curriculum due to ‘racial bias’, university says 

Daily Telegraph, 31/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Ewan Somerville

Shakespeare, William Blake and Virginia Woolf are among the white authors described as “not necessarily” the best but are on the curriculum due to racial bias, according to a Russell Group university.

The literary figures feature in a video that was produced by Sheffield University in an attempt to educate its students about different forms of racism.


Oxford University students warned against fox hunting-themed fancy dress parties

Daily Telegraph, 31/01/2020, Camilla Turner

Oxford University students’ union has warned against fox hunting-themed fancy dress parties because they promote “stereotypes”.

Students have also been urged to steer clear of “highly gendered” themes such as “vicars and tarts” or “pimps and hoes” because they may lead to non-binary students feeling excluded.


Unconditional offers with strings attached will reduce by up to 75 per cent in a year, Ucas says

Daily Telegraph, 30/01/2020, Camilla Turner

Unconditional offers which come with strings attached will reduce by up to 75 per cent within a year, Ucas has said, following a major crackdown.

A record one in four school leavers were given a “conditional unconditional” offer last year, in which students are guaranteed a place if they make an institution their first choice.


Reforms put science at heart of UK’s post-Brexit policy agenda

Times Higher Education, 30/01/2020, John Morgan and Jack Grove

A package of UK government research announcements on the eve of Brexit has been seen as confirming that science is a bigger part of its policy platform “than any government for decades”, with visa liberalisation welcomed as “getting the Home Office’s hands off the levers of power”, and the removal of impact assessments from grant applications seen as a sign of the growing influence of Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s most senior adviser.

This week the government announced a new fast-track visa scheme “to attract the world’s top scientists, researchers and mathematicians”, an investment “of up to £300 million to fund experimental and imaginative mathematical sciences research” and “a major review of research bureaucracy and methods”.


Anti-abortion protests anger Cardiff students

The Guardian, 30/01/2020, Sally Weale

Students at Cardiff University have expressed anger after anti-abortion activists returned on the first day of the new term to protest outside the students’ union.

It was the fourth demonstration to be held at the university in recent weeks and again featured large-scale graphic images, which students say cause “undue distress and trauma”.


University staff prepare for fresh strikes in row over pay and pensions

The Guardian, 29/01/2020, Sally Weale

Lecturers, librarians, technicians and other academic staff at 74 UK universities could walk out on strike this term after a series of re-ballots, as their dispute over pensions, pay and conditions continues.

More than 40,000 staff at 60 universities went out on strike for eight days late last year in pursuit of their demands, with the threat of further industrial action in the new year.


Private schools criticise plans to get more poor students into university

The Guardian, 29/01/2020, Sally Weale

Leading private schools have challenged plans to widen access to the most selective universities in England, warning they could lead to discrimination against young people “on the basis of the class they were born into”.

The intervention by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents many of the country’s most expensive independent schools, reflects members’ concerns that new measures to improve access for the most disadvantaged students could lead to discrimination against students from elite private schools.