The Student archive: 2014-15

Sturgeon targets “blight of inequality” with jobs plan

Nicola Sturgeon has introduced measures to bring down the “blight of inequality” in Scotland.

Sturgeon, who will be standing as leader of the SNP in May’s general election, introduced a program of legislation which is starkly different to that of her predecessor, Alex Salmond.

Salmond had before pledged a decrease in corporation tax three per cent lower than the rate in the UK. However, Sturgeon told The Scotsman that the SNP now “targeted changes in tax allowances” and rejected the “blanket approach” of decreasing corporation tax.

As well as withdrawing the statement on corporation tax, Sturgeon promised the creation of a Scottish Business Development Bank, which would give out loans to medium sized companies throughout Scotland.

She said that an increase in Scotland’s total output could lead to 11,000 new jobs being available after ten years.

Speaking to The Student, Professor Nicola McEwen, Associate Director of the ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change at the University of Edinburgh said that Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP were defining themselves as “unambiguously social democratic”, with an overall “change of emphasis” from previous governments.

“Alex Salmond’s administration favoured universal public service provision and low taxation – a difficult and seemingly contradictory agenda. Since taking office, the new First Minister has been keen to place added stress on tackling inequality and economic disadvantage as an integral part of a strategy for economic growth and productivity.”

Sturgeon said last month that inequality had made the UK £100 billion worse off from 1990 to 2010.
She said that Scotland had a “strong international reputation, great natural resources, and the most highly educated workforce in Europe”.

The pledges by Sturgeon faced huge criticism by opposing political parties. The finance spokeswoman for Labour, Jackie Baillie, said that Sturgeon was right to focus on tackling inequality, but that her plans lack “redistributive policy commitments, like Labour’s proposal for the reintroduction of the 50p top rate of tax”.

In the build-up to the general election, Sturgeon has been touted as a potential “kingmaker.”

In an interview with The Guardian, she said that a coalition with the Labour Party was unlikely, since they had just agreed to a further £30 billion in cuts.

The SNP has presented a program of anti-austerity, which the interviewer said related the party to Syriza, the far-left Greek party who recently came to power.

She said these were damaging to infrastructure and skills, both of which the SNP wanted to invest in.

She also rejected any idea of a compromise on the Trident nuclear weapons system, stating that the SNP would not vote for their renewal under any circumstances.

Labour accuse universities of “locking out” poorer students

Murphy, who is also MP for East Renfrewshire, said that higher education institutions across Scotland were responsible for “locking out” the majority of potential local students.

Speaking at a meeting of his shadow cabinet in Edinburgh, he said that Scottish children from working class backgrounds get “left behind year after year”.

At the meeting, Mr Murphy, who was elected in December as the new Scottish Labour leader, pledged a cash fund of £19 million to fund three Edinburgh schools with the lowest levels of university admission if they succeed in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections.

Speaking to The Student, Ian Murray, Labour MSP for Edinburgh South, applauded the promises made by Murphy.

He said: “The policy announcement by Jim Murphy is very welcome. I went to Edinburgh University at 16, from one of the poorest schools in Scotland – Wester Hailes Education Centre – after completing the University summer school.”

Murray also said that for him, “Education was the key to social mobility and aspiration.”

Jim Murphy said the funds for the schools would come from a 50p rate of income tax on salaries of more than £150,000, proposed by the Labour Party.

The criticism comes after research under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act revealed the number of Scottish students attending Scottish universities has dropped.

The University of Edinburgh witnessed a drop in the number of Scottish students from 44.5 per cent of the overall student body in 2011/12 to 40.5 per cent in 2014/15.

The study also revealed that only 130 undergraduate students accepted by the university at the beginning of the academic year were from the poorest 20 per cent in Scotland.

This is in comparison to the 722 students from the least deprived 20 per cent of the population.

The introduction of the policy was also welcomed by Marco Biagi, MSP for Edinburgh Central.

Biagi told The Student that “it should be ability and willingness to learn that determine whether someone gets to study at university, not their background.”

Biagi also stated that the SNP had kept university tuition for Scottish students free, for this very reason.

But Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal of the University of the West of Scotland, sparked controversy among members of the student body, when he suggested last week that university fees were fundamental to the running of institutions.

He said that his institution had a multi-million pound shortfall in comparison to universities south of the border.

Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, is one of a number of politicians who have criticised Murphy since he became leader.

Robertson told The Scotsman that “after working with the Tories in the No campaign, Labour have lost the trust of people in Scotland”.

 Stirling Uni footballers facing punishment after ‘blacking up’ controversy

Students at Stirling University have been accused of racism on a social evening celebrating the Africa Cup of Nations.

Students from the University’s football team, which plays in the Scottish Lowland League, were seen ´blacking up´ on the streets of Stirling and issuing threats to any passers by who condemned their behaviour.

The university has issued a ban to four football teams, saying in a statement: “The University treats issues relating to racism with the utmost seriousness and will respond robustly to any behaviours that do not meet with our values and expectations.”

“We are disappointed that the actions of a few are tarnishing the reputation of the University of Stirling, and we wish to reassure students that a full investigation is under way and disciplinary action will be taken against any student found to have engaged in racist behaviour.”

Comments made by passers-by to the Daily Mail criticised the negative coverage surrounding the footballers, with student Daniel Shields saying that “to insinuate that the football club, one of the most inclusive sports clubs at the university is racist in any way is a farce and a lie”. “I assume every time anyone dresses up as a non-white individual at Halloween, socials etc there will be similar articles. Will that include the Hulk, Smurfs and characters for the Simpsons too?”

A video taken by a passer by shows the students drinking and threatening people who were challenging their actions.

Speaking to The Student in response to the event, Eve Livingston, Vice President for Societies and Activities at the Edinburgh University Students´ Association (EUSA), said: “Costumes which ridicule or appropriate other cultures or ethnicities are a form of racism, and one which we take seriously.

She also stressed that the University of Edinburgh responded to events such as these. “For that reason we ran a dedicated campaign last Halloween which was very positively received by students, and we continue to work with our BME liberation group on issues of racism and cultural appropriation affecting our members”.

A spokesperson from the charity Show Racism the Red Card, which attempts to deal with racism problems in football, said: “The practice of blacking up was usually part of a show by white entertainers for white audiences which relied on mocking black people’s skin colour and culture.

“The practice is racist and should definitely be avoided in our more enlightened times.”

Last year members of the Edinburgh University Law Society were pictured ´blacking up´ for a social as Somali pirates. The four students were attending a social entitled ‘All Around the World’ and were criticised by members of other societies as they were let into the Hive Club on Niddry Street.

The four students were attending a social entitled ‘All Around the World’ and were condoned by members of other societies as they were let into the Hive Club.

German Student receives award 70 years late

The Edinburgh College of Art last week presented a German born architect with the City of Edinburgh Medal for Civic Design, 70 years after it was first awarded to him. 94 year old Antony Wolffe was first denied his prize in 1944, as it was deemed “politically insensitive” to award him the prize at the time. Recipient of an MBE in 1994, Wolffe was forced out of Germany in 1937 following Nazi party oppression. He was then offered a scholarship at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) in 1938. The ECA, in tandem with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), presented Wolffe with the prize at the opening of an exhibition celebrating his work. Three trainee Curatorial Officers from the RCAHMS gathered works by Mr Wolffe into an exhibition. Philip Brooks, one of the trainees involved, told The Student how the medal was discovered. He said: “We got an email from the ECA saying they had found his medal. “I think it’s very important that Antony was able to receive his medal even if it was long overdue”. Brooks put together the exhibition, entitled ‘Antony C Wolffe: Student Drawings 1938-44’ with the help of fellow officers Tom Gibbons and Gilly Conabeer. He explained their reasoning for focusing the exhibition on Mr Wolffe on the ECA website: “We chose to focus on Antony’s [drawings] because of their vibrancy and the range of different styles on show”. John Brennan, head of the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the ECA, told The Studentthat it was important that they could “honour an exceptional student who became an exceptional practitioner”. He continued to say how the ECA discovered the medal: “Antony Wolffe’s son got in touch with us. “He told us the story of the award and how the medal wasn’t awarded because of wartime sensitivities”. Brennan complimented the “excellent detective work” done by his colleagues, which allowed them to locate and recast a new medal. Following the presentation of his medal last week, Wolffe told The Scotsman that he “thought it would never happen” and that it was “wonderful and extraordinary” to receive his award. His time in Britain during the Second World War was overshadowed by internment on the Isle of Man and in Canada. The British government set up internment camps for Austrians and Germans living in the UK during the Second World War. The majority of those interned were sent to the Isle of Man. The selection of Wolffe’s drawings was exhibited at Minto House in Edinburgh.

University Vice-Chancellor pay rises spark protests

Revelations about the pay of university Vice-Chancellors in the UK have sparked student protests across the country, with attendees calling for a smaller gulf between the lowest and the highest-paid members of university staff. Students at the University of Edinburgh have demanded that the Vice-Chancellor be paid no more than five times the salary of the university’s lowest-paid staff. These demands came after a report by The Herald revealed that Vice-Chancellors across the country had received salary increases at the turn of the year. Professor Stephen Chapman, Principal at Heriot-Watt University, received a pay rise of eight per cent, the highest pay rise received by a principal in Scotland. Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, earns almost 19 times more than the lowest-paid employee of the University. University of Edinburgh Socialist Society held a demonstration outside the Principal’s office at Old College last week. In an interview with The Student, Briana Pegado, President of Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), said that the Principal had “refused pay increases for quite some time now”. She added that this was not always the case, and that “there should be more policies and structures in place to prevent these unregulated pay structures within public funding organisations.” Universities Scotland, the representative of university principals, released a statement saying many of the university principals had refused pay rises for the calendar year. Meanwhile, students have also highlighted gender and racial pay gaps as a particular area for attention. Speaking with Times Higher Education, Helena Dunnett-Orridge, a member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), said the fight was “also a fight for the rights of women and migrant workers who are almost always disproportionately affected”. Speaking to The Student, Mary Senior, the Scotland Official at the Universities and College Union (UCU), said that the “inflation busting pay rates” were damaging to higher education in Scotland. She welcomed the efforts by Holyrood to reform the university sector, after the Scottish Government proposed legislation which would introduce elections for university chairmen and chairwomen. The Scottish National Party said last week that they would support constraining principal pay. The recently installed Education Secretary in Scotland, Angela Constance, highlighted equal pay as a chief concern of hers in her first interview as Education Secretary last week. Constance told the Times Higher Education that an increase in principals’ pay had to be coupled with an increase for all lower-ranking employees. She further highlighted the low number of students from poorer backgrounds at universities as a key area for adjustment. Constance said: “Young people from the background I was from, from a West Lothian mining village, who want to go to St Andrews to study Classics, should have an equal right to do so.” A report in November found that students from the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland make up just 13.3 per cent of university students in Scotland.

May to tackle campus extremism

UK government plans to counter the growth of extremism on university campuses have been met with fierce criticism. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, discussed at the House of Lords last Tuesday, grants the Home Secretary new powers to expel “extremists” from university locations. Speaking in London following the draft of the Bill, Home Secretary Theresa May said students should be reported to the police if there are “concerns of [them] being drawn into extremism or terrorism”. She also suggested that universities should not give a platform to “extremist” students. Members of the Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) said the plans could breach academic freedom of speech, with Hywel Francis, JCHR chairman, saying the plans had “not been well thought-through”. Eve Livingston, Vice President Societies and Activities (VPSA) at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), expressed concerns to The Student that “a focus on anti-extremism […] often manifests as nothing more than racial profiling”. She warned that it could affect “students who are already some of our most marginalised and vulnerable”. At a session of the House of Lords, Lord Lloyd of Benwick said that the suggested powers “would do absolutely nothing in practice to make us any safer”. In an interview with The Student, Baroness Hamwee, member of the JCHR and peer in the House of Lords said she found defining the blanket terms “extremism” and “extremism leading to terrorism” problematic. She also said that she would not put “Prevent[ion] on a statutory footing, but to leave the matter on a voluntary basis” at universities. Concerns were raised by the JCHR that the Bill would infringe on freedom of speech. Dr. Francis said in an interview with The Independent that it could result in “academic freedom and freedom of speech, […] both key to the functioning of a democratic society, being restricted”. Members of the JCHR also said that the powers called for in the Bill could be used in other fields of police operations, a concern with historical precedent. For instance, in 2005, a student at the University of Cambridge secretly filmed a police officer asking him to spy on political societies at the university. These included the “Unite Against Fascism” group, as well as groups such as the English Defense League. The government plans also suggest the creation of a new, 300-man anti-terrorism force. The plans were announced in response to the terror attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. After the attacks, Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama promised to “confront” terrorism “wherever it appears”. Speaking to Stroud News and Journal, Andrew Parker, director of intelligence agency MI5, said more “mass casualty attacks” were being planned against the West.

Study questions employability prospects for postgraduates

  •   NOVEMBER 25, 2014

A postgraduate degree may not increase overall employability, a study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU) has shown. Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at HESCU has suggested that funding cuts could make certain students profit less from a master’s qualification. Ball told The Independent that whilst “there are sectors where, in order to meet an appropriate professional level, you need a master’s’’, there were other sectors in which a postgraduate would not necessarily lead to higher pay or higher employability prospects.He cited engineering and social work as sectors which may require a master’s degree more than most. Whilst undergraduate degrees are supported by the Student Loan system, in which fees are only paid back after a pay threshold is reached, the career and professional development loan (CPDL), offered to postgraduate students must be paid back immediately. The CPDL is also accompanied by an interest level of 10 per cent, whilst undergraduate loans only receive interest when the loanee has a salary of £41,000 or more per annum. Speaking to The Student, Clare Mackay, Head of Postgraduate Recruitment at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We cannot stress enough the importance of postgraduate study in terms of personal development’’. “The wider attributes that postgraduate study encourages students to develop are central to the added value they subsequently bring to an employment context’’. Dr Stephan Malinowski, Lecturer in Modern European History at the University of Edinburgh, highlighted the importance of a postgraduate degree to his position. Speaking to The Student, he said: “I would neither be at a university nor teaching anywhere if I did not have a degree and a PhD but this goes without saying”. A report by the Council of Industry and Higher Education in 2010 concluded that seven out of ten employers saw a master’s degree as essential to their jobs on offer. In addition, recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showed that 86.6 per cent of postgraduates found employment after graduation, compared to 64 per cent of first degree graduates. Mike Russell, the former Scottish Education Secretary, warned that the number of Scottish postgraduate students studying in Scotland fell by 22 per cent in the last decade, and could lead to Scotland failing to compete internationally. This followed the decision of a group of high profile vice-chancellors to reject proposals for the adoption of a state loan system for postgraduates last month. The Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) proposed a system which would allow postgraduates to borrow £10,000. The loan would be paid back at a rate of 9 per cent of a wage between £15,000 and £21,000. However, the proposals were rejected, with Tony Strike, the Director of Strategy, Planning and Change at the University of Sheffield, arguing that debt would discourage students from doing a postgraduate degree. Steve Norman, Assistant Director of the Careers Service at the University of Edinburgh, told The Student that students should not “sleepwalk into postgraduate study but to (…) do some research on likely outcomes’’. The undergraduate state loan system has received criticism of late.Earlier this month, a report by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) condemned the institution as “the worst of both worlds.”

Higher student numbers could increase overall dropouts

  •   NOVEMBER 18, 2014

Government plans to lift the cap on student numbers could lead to an overall increase in university dropouts, a senior vice-chancellor has warned. Professor Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of Birmingham University, told The Independent that this would open university education to students “that are not well suited to higher education”, and that university would not add ‘’materially to their career prospects’’. Greg Clark, the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, countered Eastwood, welcoming the news as an “historic moment’’ for university education. The government announced that the cap on student numbers would be completely lifted in 2015, having engineered an increase of 30,000 jobs for this academic year. Statistics gathered by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2012 reported a higher dropout rate in Scottish than English universities. An average of 9.4 per cent of students at Scottish universities dropped out in the year 2010/11, compared with a UK average of 8.6 per cent. In an interview with The Student, Solène Cargill, a second year undergraduate student studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Edinburgh, suggested this may be due to the lack of fees for Scottish students. She said: ‘’Obviously in Scotland, Scottish students have their tuition fees paid for them through SAAS, and aren’t losing as much money as, say, an English student. “If I knew I was paying, I reckon I’d stick it out a lot more.” Edinburgh Napier University had the highest dropout recorded in the capital, with 10.8 per cent of students dropping out before the end of the first year. The University of Edinburgh recorded a dropout rate of 4.5 per cent. The number of university places dropped for the first time in five years in 2013, after the increasing of university fees to £9000 for non-Scottish UK students. The Guardian reported last month on the connection between the cutting of student grants and the rise in student borrowing. The Scottish Government cut the student grants by 40 per cent last year, and the Student Loans Company reported that this cut was followed by an increase in borrowing of 69 per cent. The study showed a drop in the average grants offered to students, with the current rate at £1210, a drop of £650 from last year. However, criticism over the availability of accommodation to students was made heard by Living Scotland, a group formed against the recent rise in student flats. The group, formed by Edinburgh residents in Marchmont, Tollcross and Southside, said that in some areas, 60 per cent of flats were inhabited by students. Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, Hilary McDowell, a member of Living Scotland, said: “This is not about ‘We hate students’, it’s about how you create a stable community.” “You cannot get to know your neighbours if they only live here for ten months.”

New study finds link between lack of height and dementia

  •   NOVEMBER 11, 2014

Lower than average height could be a warning sign for dementia in later life, according to the results of a new study. The study, conducted by the University of Edinburgh, the University of Sydney and University College London, concluded that the link was stronger in men than in women. It combined the results of 18 surveys, encompassing 180,000 people across the UK. At the G8 dementia summit last year, politicians pledged to “strengthen efforts to stimulate and harness innovation and to catalyse investment at the global level”. Leading politicians suggested a dementia cure would be possible by 2025, with the UK government promising an increase in research capital to £132m by 2025. The scientists, led by Dr. Tom Russ, from the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre, suggested that dementia could develop early on in life. The report highlighted vaccination programmes and breakfast clubs as ways to avoid early dementia developments. In an interview with The Student, Dr. Russ said dementia was a “disease of the whole life course and it is plausible that early life factors might also be relevant”. He continued, “But there are no studies of significant length to directly show an association between parameters in early life and later dementia. This is where height comes in […] the corollary of our findings is that prevention initiatives must begin early enough in life to be effective – and it looks like we have to begin at the very beginning of life”. Dr. Russ recommended an early stress on nutrition and stress as methods to avoid dementia. Factors such as smoking and longstanding illness are also important to consider. New voluntary screening for dementia was introduced into the UK last week. Factors like alcohol consumption and exercise habits will help doctors determine the “brain age” of a patient, and thus their susceptibility to dementia. This follows a move by the UK government last month in which GPs will be paid £55 for every diagnosis of dementia. This was introduced to increase the UK diagnosis rate, with just half of dementia patients being diagnosed. Dementia affects 36 million people worldwide, and currently impacts around 850,000 people in Britain, costing the UK around £26 million per year. These figures are expected to rise over the coming years. Speaking to The Telegraph, Gavin Terry, policy manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, said, “Dementia is one of the biggest health and social care challenges the UK faces.” “For too long dementia has been wrongly seen by many clinicians as a natural part of ageing and, as such, have failed to record it as a cause of death. Increasing awareness of the condition has started to combat this”. An online test, published by Dr. Vincent Fortanesce, from the University of Southern Carolina, last week is the latest attempt by professionals to make dementia screening more accessible. The report was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Students increasingly dependent on payday loans

  •   OCTOBER 28, 2014

Dependence on payday loan companies is becoming more and more common among students, the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has warned. Research conducted by the foundation found that payday loan companies provide up 62 per cent of all commercial financial support taken out by students. The study also found that just eight per cent of students were in debt due to overdrafts and credit card use. The Campaign for Fairer Gambling also compiled evidence on the subject, revealing that Glasgow has the highest concentration of payday loan companies in the UK. The campaign statistics show that Glasgow has 51 payday loan company branches, with Birmingham, the next highest, playing host to 45, despite having almost double the population of Glasgow. Speaking to The Student, Fraser Sutherland, from Citizens Advice Scotland, said: “The impact of such loans, when not supplied in an affordable way, can be devastating including to students.” He added: “One law student we helped had taken out four different payday loans to help meet other debts he had to pay off but was now seriously struggling to pay back as the debt had risen to over £6,000.” According to The Guardian, loans from, one of the most influential payday loan companies in Britain, charge interest of up to 5,853 per cent per annum. The company was recently forced to cancel customer debts worth over £230 million, as reports showed they did not confirm the clients could pay the loans back. Steve Norman, assistant director at the University of Edinburgh Careers Service, told The Student: “If a payday loan seems necessary we’d recommend talking to people who offer practical, impartial help and advice with financial management, e.g. the Advice Place or CAB, as there may be alternative options.” At the Welfare Committee meeting last week, Eve Livingston, Vice President Societies and Activities at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), discussed plans linking the university with a branch of Capital Credit Union (CCU). Last year, the government announced plans to increase the availability of credit unions. The Credit Union Expansion Project received with a view to increase membership to two million by 2017. Membership at the Bank of England credit union saw a rise of nearly 17 per cent in the year ending September 2013. Countries like the United States have succeeded in encouraging credit union use, with just under half of all Americans participating in a credit union scheme. In a bid to limit the influence of payday loan companies, the coalition government introduced plans earlier this year which would require payday loan companies to obtain permission to operate. According to CAB figures, the use of logbook loans will increase by 61 per cent in the next year. Representatives of payday loan companies could not be reached for comment.

EUSA Welfare Council discusses credit unions and KB

  •   OCTOBER 21, 2014

The Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Welfare Council met last week to discuss key issues brought up by students. Some of the main issues discussed were the isolation of King’s Buildings from George Square, and the problem of sexual harassment in Edinburgh.Plans to affiliate EUSA with a branch of Capital Credit Union were also discussed. The branch, which is being set up in Edinburgh Methodist Church, would provide advice and guidance to students looking to join up with the credit union. This would aim to protect students against payday loan companies, including, who earlier this month were forced to write off customer debts of over £220 million. Thousands of victims across the UK were signed up to loans without adequate evidence that they could pay them back. William Bain, a Labour MP, told The Financial Times: “The days of payday lenders making unjustifiable profits out of the cost of living crisis faced by the most vulnerable in our society are numbered.” The meeting was the first since the release of the National Student Survey rankings in August, which ranked the University as one of the lowest performing in Scotland for student satisfaction. Eve Livingston, Vice President for Societies and Activities (VPSA) of Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), highlighted sexual harassment as a key area of focus. The committee discussed the use of the ‘Hollaback Map’ in on the EUSA website, a mobile app which allows people to pinpoint areas where they were harassed. Livingston also discussed her ideas on a pay later taxi scheme, which would allow students to get a taxi in the evenings and pay for it the next day. Speaking to The Student, Livingston said: “It’s understandable that people feel uncomfortable. “We know this is an issue because we did research into it last year. It’s something we are committed to facing.” A survey by EUSA earlier this year revealed that nearly a third of students have experienced sexual harassment during their time at Edinburgh, with just six per cent reporting the incident to the police. The committee also discussed various ways in which King’s Buildings could be less isolated from George Square. Concerns were raised over the issue of mental health and lack of student support there. Magdalen Berns, a fourth year student of Physics, told The Student: “King’s Buildings is geographically isolated. “They’ve got a traditionally heavier workload and if they start falling behind they get marginalised from each other.” She continued: “It’s about giving them access to resources which can support them.”

UK universities warned to raise current tuition fee levels

  •   OCTOBER 14, 2014

UK universities are at risk of falling in prestige if tuition fees are not raised, a senior academic has warned. Professor A C Grayling, founder and master of the New College of the Humanities, said that top institutions were subsidising student degrees “to the tune of around £70 million a year”. Students at Grayling’s institution pay fees of up to £18,000 a year, and he suggested that this was what was needed to maintain high levels of university performance. Speaking to The Telegraph, Grayling said: “If Eton, Harrow and Winchester charge £30,000 a year, why is Cambridge charging half what it costs them to teach an undergraduate, when they could be doing the same?” He then suggested Britain alters “the culture of giving in this country”, by changing to the American system of endowments. Grayling’s comments were in response to the Labour Party’s proposals who pledged their support for lowering tuition fees in the last month. The leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, has promised a reduction in tuition fees if his party is elected into government next year. However, opposition from the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, may hinder the Opposition leader in adding this to his manifesto. Balls expressed concerns that the estimated loss of £2 billion would make the scheme unsustainable. Novelist Philip Pullman has echoed Miliband’s concerns, describing fees as “criminal” and part of a “dreadful system”. Research by Universities UK has revealed that the number of non-EU students studying in the UK fell by over two thousand in the last two years. Oscar Mumford, a second year student at The University of Edinburgh, told The Student: “providing higher education is of fundamental importance to any society. Of course an education costs money but I think you shouldn’t be putting the burden of fees on students, as it benefits society in the long run.” Grayling’s comments follow German authorities announcing that their universities were now all non-paying institutions. Last week, Lower Saxony became the last German state to abolish fees, after popular protest at the introduction of fees in 2006 led to individual states abandoning the fee system. Dorothee Stapelfeldt, Hamburg’s senator for science, told The Independent that tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study.” A recent study for the website highlighted that Germany has risen to the fourth most popular country for study after the UK, the USA and Australia.

Pensions row could cause further strikes

  •   OCTOBER 7, 2014

A disagreement over pensions could lead to strikes by UK academics, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has warned. The UCU, the largest trade union for academics in the UK, announced last week that it was balloting members over an exams boycott. This boycott would be carried out over alterations to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a pension scheme which covers staff at a number of UK universities, including members of the Russell Group. The strike could result in students’ coursework and exams not being marked. Staff at 67 universities, including the University of Edinburgh, will vote over whether the marking boycott should go ahead and a veto on marking exams is also being considered. Speaking to The Student, Mary Senior, Scotland Official for the UCU, said: “It is clear that what is being proposed will lead to members losing tens of thousands of pounds.” Senior added: “Rightly staff see their pensions as deferred pay and it’s essential to find a solution that protects the pensions of staff and ensures the pension scheme remains attractive to new members.” The UCU released results of a study last week which claimed that a 40 year old academic earning £75,000 per annum would lose up to £230,000 in total under the new proposals. The study also claimed that universities were looking to end the current final salary pension scheme, a change that would introduce a £40,000 earnings cap on benefit entitlements. According to figures by the UCU, academics who had been rewarded with a pay rise recently would be worst hit by the proposed changes. The UCU announced earlier this year that university Vice-Chancellors across the UK had experienced a pay rise of around £20,000 on average, whilst staff wages have dropped by an average of 13 per cent over the last five years. A spokesperson for The University of Edinburgh told The Student: “If action is taken, the University will do all it reasonably can to ensure that academic and support activities continue to operate as usual”. The Employers Pension Forum, an organisation set up by higher education institutions to discuss pension issues in the sector, has responded by saying that reforms are required. A spokesperson for the Employers Pension Fund said: “Reform is necessary to address the sizeable and continuing deficit in USS. “The employer’s objective is for the scheme to remain affordable attractive and sustainable for both employees and employers, while addressing the deficit and reducing the risk of future contribution increases.” Strikes were planned for earlier this year, once again due to proposed changes to academics’ pensions alongside the rejection of pay rises of one per cent by academics across the UK who claimed that their pay had decreased by up to 13 per cent since 2009. However, they were called off after last-minute talks between academics’ unions and employers.

40 per cent of former Erasmus students live and work abroad

  •   SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

More than a third of students who take part in the Erasmus program move abroad later in life, according to a recent study. The study, conducted by the European Commission, assessed 88,000 participants from the European-wide scheme. Erasmus, set up in 1987 and named after Desiderius Erasmus, the Dutch traveller, has taken approximately three million students abroad. Erasmus announced a revamp of its services earlier this year, with an aim to take four million people abroad in the coming seven years. In an interview with The Student, Lisa Johnston, undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh and former Erasmus exchange student, said: “My year abroad was the best experience of my university degree. Previously, I’d not considered moving abroad after my degree, but now it’s a real possibility.” The study also found that unemployment was much lower among students who had taken part in the program. It showed that unemployment was 23 per cent higher among non-participants than with students who had taken part. Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Health, Multilingualism and Youth, told The Independent: “the message is clear: if you study or train abroad, you are more likely to increase your job prospects”. 90 per cent of employers across Europe seek attributes in their employees which are enhanced during a year abroad, with the study suggesting that students returning from abroad are 42 per cent more likely than their non-Erasmus peers to possess these qualities. It suggested that jobs abroad were easier to get following an Erasmus year abroad. In an interview with The Independent, Joanne Griffiths, an undergraduate student who spent a year in Rouen for her studies, said: “It does make you realise that you can live abroad and it’s not that hard.” A study conducted for European Languages Day last week concluded that 54 per cent of all mainland Europeans speak a second language, with a quarter able to converse in three. This contrasts with citizens of the UK, 39 per cent of whom speak two languages. Last year, the British Academy published a report suggesting that there were “strategic deficits in language learning” across the UK, with “strong evidence of a growing deficit […] at a time when globally the demand for languages is expanding”. The Guardian reported that British citizens’ dearth of language skills costs the UK up to £48 billion per year, or about 3.5 per cent of GDP. Earlier this month, the British Army announced that promotion above the rank of Captain required proficiency in a second language, with an army spokeswoman stating in The Daily Telegraph: “Bi-lateral relationships are essential for the army’s future focus on defense engagements”. A senior army officer also told The Daily Telegraph that any officer aiming for a promotion would have to show “basic survival level speaking and listening skills in a foreign language”. Nigel Vincent, vice president for research and higher education policy at the British Academy, said that, “By sitting on our linguistic laurels we disadvantage the UK.” Erasmus have suggested that the recent increase in funding will benefit students across Europe in their bid to enter the job market.

University of Edinburgh retains 17th place in world ranking

  •   SEPTEMBER 23, 2014

The University of Edinburgh has been ranked 17th in the QS World University Rankings for the second year in a row. Commenting on the results, Peter McColl, Rector of The University of Edinburgh, told The Student: “It’s good to see the hard work of the University staff recognised in these rankings. “The international reputation of the university is a source of great pride for us all and it helps to underpin the ongoing work to improve the student experience.” But Mike Sowter, managing director at QS, warned that better known universities are more likely to do well throughout the survey, saying: “We don’t take an exhaustive view of what universities are doing.” Various factors determine a university’s ranking, including academic reputation, staff-to-student ratios and research citations throughout the university. UK universities this year received their highest rankings since records began, according to QS. Four out of six of the highest ranked world universities were British, with the University of Cambridge taking joint second place with Imperial College London. The University of Oxford and University College London (UCL) took joint fifth. London also became the first city to ever have three institutions in the top twenty. Imperial College, making it into the top two for the first time, highlighted research as a fundamental reason for their success. The university launched the ‘iKnife’ last year, a surgical device which can locate cancer tumors. They also highlighted scientific contributions to the university by Professor Sir John Pendry, winner of the Kevil Prize in nanoscience. Professor Pendry was awarded the prize for his study on light’s behavior on a billionth-of-a-meter scale. In an interview with The Guardian, Professor Alice Gast, the newly-appointed President of Imperial College, remarked: “These rankings support what our students alumni staff friends and collaborators know, that Imperial is one of the world’s greatest universities.” Asked by the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings what characteristics were needed to make it into the top 200, Sowter said that the rankings were “always going to be a blunt instrument”, but that reputation, research citations and staff-to-student ratios accounted for 80 per cent of the assessment. He added that the number of international students and staff was also a contributing factor. A month before the release of the THE rankings, academics pointed to an average staff-to-student ratio of one to 12 among top universities, with about 20 per cent of the students coming from outside of the UK. They also highlighted the importance of a research income exceeding £142,000 per academic. Andreas Schleicher, known for his PISA tests measuring the quality of high school education systems worldwide, has argued for a new way to compare universities. Schleicher suggested to The Guardian last week that teaching standards would certainly be assessed in his rankings. A high standing in the QS rankings advertises the university to potential benefactors. The higher-ranked universities are also more likely to attract the best quality researchers and students. Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said that the UK needed higher university funding if it was to cope with international competition. Piatt pointed out that UK university funding was far behind that of countries such as China and the USA. She said: “Our public expenditure of 0.9 per cent of GDP on higher education is on a par with Israel and Mexico.”

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Stereotypes and racism -things of the past, things of the present, things of the future?

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