Out with the old, in with the new: Chris Skidmore replaces Sam Gyimah as universities minister

This week, a new universities minister takes the helm – and despite a gradual rise in students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university, the top public schools still dominate Oxbridge entry


Eton and Westminster among eight schools dominating Oxbridge

The Guardian, 07/12/2018, Sally Weale

Eight top schools in the UK get as many pupils into the universities of Oxford and Cambridge as three-quarters of all schools and colleges together, according to new research.

Over a three-year period the eight leading schools – which are mainly in the independent sector – sent 1,310 of their students to Oxbridge, while 2,900 schools, each with two or fewer acceptances, sent 1,220 pupils in total.


Cambridge dons revolt over ‘racist’ fellow’s role

The Times, 07/12/2018, Catherine Lally and Rosemary Bennett

More than 200 academics have signed a letter accusing a controversial scholar of “racist pseudoscience” after he was appointed to a fellowship at Cambridge University.Noah Carl is a social scientist who has spoken at a eugenics conference and has said that hostility to immigrant groups draws on “rational beliefs” about stereotypes that are “quite accurate”. He has been awarded the Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College and will carry on his research into social and political beliefs there.


Oxford and Cambridge should admit students who have not done A-levels, Education Secretary says

Daily Telegraph, 06/12/2018, Camilla Turner

Oxford and Cambridge should admit students who have not done A-levels, the Education Secretary has said.

The country’s two leading universities should consider school leavers who have taken T-levels in the relevant subjects, Damian Hinds added.


Starred firsts only a ‘temporary’ fix for grade inflation

Times Higher Education, 06/12/2018, Simon Baker

Introducing a new band of top marks in UK universities to address grade inflation is a “necessary” step but can only be a short-term fix for a system that is now “fundamentally flawed”, an academic said.

A report by Universities UK, the Quality Assurance Agency and GuildHE that calls for a consultation to look at ways to tackle apparent grade inflation in the sector, suggests that “starred firsts” could be one possible way to address growing difficulties with the country’s degree classification structure.


Chris Skidmore appointed UK government universities minister

Times Higher Education, 05/12/2018, John Morgan

Chris Skidmore has been appointed the UK government’s new universities and science minister, succeeding Sam Gyimah, who resigned in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Mr Skidmore, the MP for Kingswood in Gloucestershire, comes from the pro-free market wing of the Conservative Party and is a member of the Free Enterprise Group.


UCL launches inquiry into historical links with eugenics

The Guardian, 06/12/2018, Anna Fazackerley

University College London has launched an inquiry into its historical links with eugenics, following pressure from students and staff.

It emerged in January that conferences on eugenics and intelligence had been run secretly at the university for at least three years by James Thompson, an honorary senior lecturer at UCL. Speakers included white supremacists and a researcher who has previously advocated child rape.


Slow rise in university admissions from disadvantaged students

The Guardian, 06/12/2018, Richard Adams

The number of young people from disadvantaged areas going to university continues to rise at a stubbornly slow rate, while the gap between women and men enrolling as undergraduates has widened, according to the latest data on UK admissions.

Figures from the Ucas admissions service have shown that the entry rate of school-leavers from the areas of lowest educational attainment inched up from 19.3% in 2017 to 19.7%, a slightly faster rate than among students from better-off areas across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


US buyers to protect ethos of AC Grayling’s London college

BBC, 05/12/2018, Sean Coughlan

The New College of the Humanities, founded in London by the philosopher AC Grayling, is being bought by a US university, Northeastern.

In the college’s Bloomsbury building, the pennants of both universities are flying side by side, and their two leaders are planning their joint future.


Equality watchdog launches inquiry into racial harassment at universities

The Guardian 04/12/2018, Tobi Thomas

Britain’s equality watchdog has launched an inquiry into racial harassment at universities amid mounting evidence of students and staff from minority groups facing abuse.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said on Tuesday it was aware of claims from some student groups that universities were “brushing incidents under the carpet unless they go viral on social media.”


Education Secretary backs system to flag university students’ mental health problems to parents

Daily Telegraph, 04/12/2018, Camilla Turner

The Education Secretary has backed a system to flag university students’ mental health problems to parents.

Damian Hinds has urged vice-Chancellors to “get better at reaching out to family members” if a student is struggling, adding that this would be a “big step” towards improving pastoral care.


Government sells second tranche of student loan book

Financial Times, 04/12/2018, Gavin Jackson

The UK sold a second tranche of its student loan book on Tuesday, achieving roughly similar valuations to a much criticised first sale a year ago.
Secretary of state for Education Damian Hinds released a written statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon saying that the government had ‘today completed its sale of part of the older pre-2012 student loan book achieving a value of £1.9bn.’ The loans had a face value of £3.7bn. Last year the government sold a batch of student loans to specialist investors, including hedge funds and pension funds for £1.7bn. Those loans had a face value of £3.7bn but were marked down to £2.6bn on the government’s balance sheet to reflect the fact that they were unlikely to be repaid in full.
The National Audit Office questioned the valuation achieved in that sale and said it had cost the UK government £604m in lost revenues and the cross-party public accounts committee said last month that the government received ‘too little in return for what it gave up’.


Cardiff University is cutting jobs as it faces a £21m deficit caused by funding cuts and rising costs

Wales Online, 03/12/2018, Abbie Wightwick

Cardiff University is cutting jobs as it struggles to tackle a £21m operating deficit in the face of funding cuts and rising costs.

It has offered all 7,000 staff voluntary severance but is not ruling out compulsory redundancies.

A university spokesman said it was unusual for a university to run at a deficit but in 2017-18 Cardiff has faced funding cuts of £11m, no increase in tuition fees for six years, lower growth in research income and increased staff costs.


Government’s counterterrorism is limiting texts and topics students can access, experts say

Independent, 02/12/2018, Eleanor Busby

A counterterrorism strategy has created a “culture of fear” across UK universities where freedom of expression and open debate is being stifled, experts and campaigners warn.

The government’s Prevent duty, which requires institutions to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, is having a “chilling effect” on free speech on campus, critics say.



Sam Gyimah resigns over Theresa May’s Brexit deal

The Guardian, 30/11/2018/Kevin Rawlinson and Dan Sabbagh

The universities minister, Sam Gyimah, has resigned in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit plan and pledged to vote against the agreement in parliament. On Friday, he became the seventh minister to quit Theresa May’s government over the issue.


Unconditional offers used to ‘get people through door’

BBC, 29/11/2018, Hannah Richardson

Some universities are recruiting students with unconditional offers during the application process, says the university admissions service Ucas.

They are telling students that A-level grade requirements will be dropped completely if they put the university down as their first choice