Collapse in Oxbridge applications bodes badly for fees plans

Conflicts over the government’s proposal to introduce tuition fees for higher education are mounting after UCAS disclosed that its application figures for the coming year have dropped by twelve percent. The announcement questions the validity of the government’s claim that grant cuts and new fees will not deter students from entering higher education.

Wednesday’s Oxbridge deadline for applications saw a drop in numbers from 44,200 to 39,369 after having risen steadily over the past five years. Such statistics could mean severe funding and recruitment difficulties for the smaller and newer universities come the December 15th general application deadline. UCAS has already said that there could be as many as 80,000 fewer applicants if trends continue.

Meanwhile, Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett is attempting to ratify the potential effects the slump could have. He was quoted on Wednesday saying that he would closely monitor the figures to identify reasons for the worrying drop of applications. “We need to know whether it is poor aspirations or fear of debt which deters people from lower socio-economic classes from applying to university”, Blunkett said.

NUS President Douglas Trainer saw the drop as proof for the deterrent effect tuition fees would have. “This should ring alarm bells throughout higher education, particularly in the newer universities. We will be writing immediately to MPs asking them to reconsider their support for a scheme which has clearly not been thought through.”

University Chancellors have also indicated they are worried that the government’s faulty leaflet on fees may have added to the confusion students are currently experiencing. Brian Roper, vice-chancellor at North London University, said he deeply regretted the worrying message the UCAS data has sent out to students. “A stream of totally baffling information from the government has clearly added to the volatility of the situation” , Roper told reporters.

The government has said that the introduction of fees could not have any effect on financially needy students, since one third of them would not be asked for any contributions towards tuition and living costs, while the remaining two-thirds would receive partial funding depending on parental income.

Should continued drops in application figures eventually prove the claims wrong, it might already be too late for newer and struggling universities who are already increasingly being forced to cut courses.

Nicki Bennett

News Index

Left Unions move for emergency NUS Conference to oust leadership

Students are rapidly beginning to lose trust in the NUS’s ability to protect them from the government’s proposal to introduce tuition fees and cut grants. Student unions across the country, lead by Leeds University, are joining forces in an attempt to call a vote of no confidence against leading figures in the NUS, including President Douglas Trainer himself.

Trainer, the most senior member of the Labour Students’ movement, has been accused of compromising NUS policy by agreeing to negotiation on the fees issue with the government.

Union Sabbaticals at Leeds called a meeting on Tuesday the 7th of October after the Labour Party Conference endorsed tuition fees. 18 representatives from other unions as well as members of the National Executive attended the meeting to condemn Trainer’s behaviour.

“We are disgusted and appalled at the lack of action from the NUS leadership with regards to tuition fees. They have sold out the students in the future”, Education Officer Bec McCall said at the Leeds Union.

Finance Officer Paul Sobel also told London Student “The NUS needs to be held accountable for their actions, and right now have gone as far as to say they only oppose the introduction of fees in principle, not in practice. We are looking to get the 25 signatures from unions that we need to organise an emergency NUS conference, even though we aren’t sure yet of the motions that will be discussed then.”

“We are expecting to get all signatures soon, so far eight places have voted for it. And we’re talking about big places – Newcastle, Swansea, Sheffield, and more. Over forty other unions have expressed support for the campaign and they will vote on in soon. In London, Goldsmiths’ University and the School of Oriental and African Studies will be casting their votes very soon.”

McCall called for national support on the issue and warned that the situation was urgent. “The campaign against tuition fees has already been damaged by the NUS leadership. We cannot afford for it to be further damaged.”

Nicki Bennett

News Index

Better students get bigger loans if government gets its way

The Government has made plans to reward greater loans to students who pass extra examinations in literacy, numeracy and computer skills. The NUS are opposing the scheme which they describe as ‘daft and bewildering’.

The idea has been set out in a consultation document, Qualifying for Success. The report emphasises the importance of the ‘key skills’ of literacy, numeracy and computing. The Government is torn between the potentially expensive option of making students take these skills as a compulsory element of post-16 education and the less radical idea of using incentive loans which would be repaid to the Exchequer after a certain time.

It has been reported that students would benefit from up to £1,000 more than their annual loan limit, which will be at least £4,000. “The financial incentives suggested would be marginal though-the idea of a £1,000 rewards is way off target”, a spokesperson told London Student.

The NUS have greeted the proposals with scorn and suggest that the money would be better used in aiding mature and lower-income students. They believe that the proposals have been put forward primarily to confuse the debate on education funding. An NUS spokesperson expressed confidence that these particular proposals would be roundly rejected but predicted that similar schemes are likely to come from the Government in the immediate future.

The Department of Education adds weight to the NUS’s analysis by insisting that the proposals are merely one of a range of options to be considered. Other forms of benefit may include credit towards university entry or possibly money paid to schools and colleges for good pass rates.

By allowing colleges with good pass rates more money leads to the similar principle that those universities with the highest academic ratings deserve more money and therefore should be able to charge higher fees. The NUS insist that they will oppose the scheme by negotiation rather than with radical protest action.

Nick Bardsley

News Index

Ghana students fighting for the same cause

Students in Ghana are poised to take action against the threat of tuition and accommodation fees due to be increased by colleges. University authorities and security forces are now collaborating in an attempt to avoid a repetition of the violent student demonstrations which erupted in Nigeria earlier this year.

This is a fresh blow to Ghana’s students who already suffer from a serious shortage of further education places and space in residential buildings . The new proposals will affect current students as well as those still to enter higher education. The National Union of Ghana Students is calling on student representative councils to oppose the payment of any additional fees. Student council president Henry Agyeman Prempeh denounced the proposals and predicted an imminent showdown between students and the university authorities, if these continued to forge ahead on the issue. Professor Anamuah-Mensah claimed that the college does not consult students on administrative matters. “It is high time all stakeholders understood that they have to assist the universities to provide qualitative education. The higher education system is in a deplorable state”, he said.

The rise in fees represents almost a 100% increase in the cost of some courses.

Chris Roe

News Index

Student takes own mother to court over cost of education

Last week saw the beginning of an unprecedented legal battle between a third year law student at Aberdeen University and his mother over the cost of his education. Patrick MacDonald, who receives a student grant of £1739 a year, told the courts that even with his summer job in a Scottish factory he cannot come up with enough money to pay for his education.

Under Scottish law, students up to the age of 25 are allowed to sue their parents for failing to contribute towards their education. Richard Baker, deputy president of the Scottish NUS agrees with the legal move. “If parents do not pay up then they can expect such cases to come their way.”

Patrick’s mother, Margaret MacDonald, has said she cannot give her son any money She explained that her annual income of £45 000 is spent on supporting her two youngest children and that her two eldest children are putting themselves through college on part-time jobs. Patrick is currently living with his father and has not spoken to his mother in four years. His father, who has recently declared bankruptcy, does not contribute to any of the children's’ education. Meanwhile, Mrs.MacDonald has re-mortgaged her home to pay off her ex-husband’s debts.

The legal case is the first of its kind in Scotland, but may not be the last. With possible tuition fees next year, students may have to resort to extreme measures to raise the money for their education.

Muhunthan Thillai

News Index

'Lack of support' for depressed students

The incidence of clinical depression amongst students is on the increase, according to a new guide published by Depression Alliance. The authors of the guide believe there to be a fundamental lack of advice about emotional problems for students, many of whom will be experiencing these things for the first time.

The guide has found that four percent of students receive treatment for depression of some sort during their time at university, whilst ten percent are reported to have contemplated suicide at some point. The report is targeted particularly at first-years who are most likely to suffer from periods of depression least likely to have the emotional and social resources to handle the difficulties, according to the group’s findings.

“My first-year was a total nightmare”, one male undergraduate agreed. “I was in halls, and everyone always seemed to be going out and having a good time, and because I didn’t feel a part of that group I spent a long time feeling like I was a total failure.” According to the ULU Advice Centre, being a London student brings with it its own set of problems: “Many students coming up to London feel that the city is too impersonal and too big. We encourage depressed students come and see us.”

Matthew Creitney

News Index

Students have to pay to use Senate House

Students at the University of London are beginning to feel the effects of their university’s decision to cut full access to Senate House Library. The college management heads at SOAS(School of Oriental and Asian Studies), the London School of Economics, Birkbeck College, King’s College and the Institute of Education have realised that they can no longer afford to pay for their students’ use of the UL Library.

Under this year’s ULU system, colleges were asked to pay £70 per student per annum. This move was a response to funding problems in UL, which have been building up for nearly ten years.

Funding arrangements were changed in 1989 from being centrally allocated to a system whereby colleges manage their own library budgets, from which they allocate money to UL. Reduced access has been threatened and temporarily introduced in recent years as successive college managements have failed to sort out the funding crisis. It is felt by some college administrations that just as students managed when UL access has been cut off before, they will cope now.

The five colleges have decided to buy only a limited amount of tickets for their staff and students for this academic year. Birkbeck College is levying a charge of £25 per student and has 1429 tickets, which it is giving out on a first come first serve basis. The Institute of Education has 471 tickets and has promised to spend more money on its own library to make up some of the shortfall. The London School of Economics has 700 tickets and Kings has bought tickets for all of its humanities students. SOAS is giving out its 683 tickets with priority to young academic staff. Undergraduates will come at the bottom of the heap.

Tension is now forming amongst students especially at School of Oriental and African Studies, where the administration is fearing direct action from students against the seventy per cent cut in access.

In a motion passed unanimously at an emergency union general meeting on September 30th, students agreed that they would try to reverse the decision by SOAS management not to pay the £70,000 it would cost to keep UL Library access at its current level. “We will be forced to take any action that the student body deems necessary to restore our old status”, students said.

Zahid Noor, co-president of SOAS SU, said “The cut is absolutely outrageous. Students’ interests are not being considered at all.”

Emma Robinson, University Librarian, told London Student “I care about students and think the cut is very upsetting. It will be a very serious loss for students’ research, especially for students from SOAS and the London School of Economics, which have good but mostly very specialised collections. They will lose out on a lot of material by not using Senate House.” If students continue to be denied access, Robinson predicts, they will vote with their feet.

According to a Funding Council review in September, the University of London Union Facilities rank alongside Oxford and Cambridge for its excellent research and teaching collections.

“It would be a shame if the resources are there, but students don’t have enough money to use them”, a second-year SOAS student said.

Catherine Griffin

News Index

Celebrity campaign after graduates reject prospect of teaching careers

A GLITTERING line-up of celebrities are fronting a £10 million campaign to halt the dramatic drop in the number of graduates entering the teaching profession.

Cinema advertisements across the country currently feature eighteen celebrities including Tony Blair, David Seamen, Joanna Lumley.

The Teacher Training Agency’s new initiative hopes to counteract the growing cultural prejudice against teachers who often feel undervalued and underpaid.

Celebrities have been asked to nominate their favourite teachers for the campaign which is fronted by the slogan “no-one forgets a good teacher”.

It is hoped that the scheme will help to lift both the quantity and the quality of applicants for teacher training in the near future. The TTA aim to transform the profession into one of the top three choices for graduates within five years.

This year there are shortfalls of up to 45% on teacher training courses for maths and the sciences. There has been a similar shortfall in the numbers applying to teach subject such as music, geography and English. With 60% of secondary school teachers due to retire in the next 20 years a staffing crisis seems imminent.

The TTA aims to tackle the growing image problem of the profession. They claim that teachers face increasingly large classes and a low status, that is reflected in their relatively low salaries.

Graduates entering the teaching profession receive a salary of £14,200 rising to around £22,000 whereas the average graduate starting salary is a higher £15-16,000.

Jane Orr

News Index

Feisty girls get what they really really want in life

ACCORDING TO a London academic women should start behaving badly in order to achieve a higher status in the British education system. Lisa Jardine, of Queen Mary and Westfield College, claims women are put off going to university due to poor job expectations in the face of student debt.

The English professor claims “Feistiness or just being funny are the ways for women to get on as students and in institutions that are 20 years out of date”.

Jardine claims she broke through the promotion bottle neck by acting like a man. However she disapproves of aggressive behaviour and says that industry is employing more women because they have better inter-personal skills and are better people managers.

Currently, even though girls outperform boys at GCSE and A-level they only get 45 per cent of firsts at University. Women made up only 30 per cent of top university jobs and just 10 per cent of Britain’s professors are women.

Catherine Griffith

News Index

Royal College music student gets showered with pianos

A student at the Royal College of Music has received 23 offers from people wishing to lend him their pianos after an appeal in his local paper, the Notting Hill & Bayswater Times. Julian Cheriyan, who has won awards including the top pianist of the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition 1996, is now spoilt for choices.

“I practise five to six hours on most days, and since my bedsit can’t accommodate a piano, I was desperate for another option. My agent, Rosemary Pickering at the Young Concert Artist Trust, suggested that we make an appeal to the public”, Julian told London Student.

He said that both of them were touched by so much generosity from the Times readers.

“I wasn’t even sure if anyone would respond to it at all. I’ve already gotten in touch with a lot of the people and I’ve practised on one piano so far. Everyone I’ve spoken to has very good intentions, many have offered to set up a time when they’ll be out and I can practise in private. But I don’t mind if it’s a two-way thing either, of course they can listen to me play if they want to. They should get something out of it too.”

Julian is currently preparing for various recitals, and is hoping for a concerto at the end of the year. He has already performed in the Birmingham Symphony Hall and even toured the Middle East with his classical music.

Nicki Bennett

News Index

Police warn women to keep an eye on their drink as threat of 'date-rape' drug enters Britain

A NEW DRUG which has been blamed for hundreds of date rapes in America is now entering Britain. Royhypnol, a sedative available on prescription, is being used by attackers to incapacitate their victims.

Although the threat is well publicised in the US, where the drug has been linked with crime for the past few years, people in this country are still fairly unaware of it. Attackers dissolve the pill in the victim’s drink who is unaware there is anything wrong until they feel the effects, sometimes after just one spiked drink.

The diamond shaped tablet is colourless, tasteless, and odourless when ground up and dissolved in a drink. The drug has ten times the sedative value of Valium and acts quickly leaving the victim nearly incapacitated. It has been described as “the perfect designer Date rape drug” in the US.

The pill, which has been circulating in bars and clubs in the States for as long as two years, first came to notice in Scotland a year ago. Despite the spread manufacturers claim the drug serves a “real medical need” and state that “our current understanding is that it is not a widespread problem”.

In America there have been hundreds of cases of women attacked whilst under the affects of Rohypnol. The victim is often unaware of what has happened and may only remember the details of the attack as long as two weeks afterwards when forensic evidence has disappeared. Chances of prosecution are made virtually non existent and few cases are successful.

With the effects of the drug leaving the victim incapacitated and sometimes staggering around on the arm of the attacker witnesses are unlikely to support a claim.

In Florida there have been seven prosecutions in cases involving Rohypnol with as many currently pending trial. Over fifty women in the past year and a half have reported attacks in Southern Florida alone but in more than half the cases there is simply not enough evidence.

In response to student worries over the drug a spokesperson for the NUS said “We are very concerned and we will monitor the situation, but we don’t want to scare people as there have been no recorded incidents of this type on campus. We advise students to watch what they drink and watch out for their drink.”

The British Police are aware of the problem and have been informed of the potential side effects that victims may suffer. They warn that women should not accept offers of drinks and should never leave their drink unattended.

Janine Cornwall

News Index

London Motor Show puts British Design talent in the spotlight

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VISITORS TO this year’s Motor Show at Earl’s Court will be among the first to view the results of over five years work by a graduate of the Royal College of Art.

Giles Taylor, the creator of the Citroen Xana, studied on the Vehicle Design MA at the RCA, graduating in 1992. However the car has only just come off the production line after many years spent designing and testing prototypes.

Chris Spencer, another graduate of the course found success last year when the Ford Ka was launched.

The RCA’s course is well-respected throughout the motor industry, with undergraduates often receiving sponsorship from the likes of General Motors, Audi and Volkswagen.

Many students who receive commercial sponsorship go on to become top designers in the industry after graduation.

The German firms of Audi and Volkswagen in particular make a point of seeking out the finest British-trained designers for their future projects, many of whom are RCA alumni.

RCA spokesman Dale Horan explained that the college’s Vehicle Design department has a notable track record in turning out brilliant auto designers. Peter Stevens, who graduated in 1969, was the brains behind the stunning McLaren F1 sports car.

Ford are extremely pleased with their new design which has been heavily promoted in the hope that sales will be similarly enthusiastic.

Tony Mullen

News Index

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