Monday, April 27, 2009

Rising fees and loans make British students ask whether higher education is worth it

Student debt is spiralling because of increasing tuition fees and the use of some commercial loans at very high rates, a report commissioned by the Government suggests.

More than half of the students questioned said that money worries had affected their academic performance. One in 12 full-time students had considered dropping out because of financial problems. Fewer students thought that higher education was worth the expense when their responses were compared with similar research conducted three years earlier.

Although the number who had jobs while taking their degree had decreased, it was still a popular choice. For many students it had a negative impact on their studies.

Researchers from the Institute of Employment Studies and the National Centre for Social Research interviewed more than 2,600 students about their finances for the Student Income and Expenditure Survey.

They said that the average debt in 2008 of students at the end of their first year was £3,500, compared with £2,400 three years earlier. The report said: “Some full-time students had borrowed from commercial or higher cost sources, such as commercial credit companies and via bank overdrafts. Where students had made use of these sources, the average amounts involved were substantial.”

The direct cost of going to university for first-year students had risen by almost 70 per cent between 2005 and 2008, the report found.

Students were deeper in debt than their predecessors, because they were less reliant on their families and more dependent on loans. This was particularly evident for students from working-class backgrounds.

Concerns about debt nearly stopped a quarter of full-time and almost a third of part-time students from going to university. The report said: “It is expected that students in their first or second year of study, under the new student finance system, will on average graduate with greater debt.

“One in three students said that the availability of funding and financial support affected their decisions about higher education.”

The researchers found that having a job was essential for many students to survive, but this came at a cost. They said: “Income from paid work was important for full-time students, representing 20 per cent of their total average income, and it was critical for part-time students. Half of part-time students and around one third of full-time students who worked during the academic year reported that this had affected their studies.”

Three quarters said that they had less time available to study and read, three fifths were more stressed and the same proportion said that the quality of their university work had suffered. Almost half were getting by on less sleep because of their paid work.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: “It is not acceptable that a third of students have to base their decisions about which university to attend or which course to study on the amount of financial support which will be available to them.

“We need a national bursary scheme, so that all financial support is based on how much a student needs it, not where they happen to be studying. We cannot leave this in the hands of individual institutions any longer.”

David Lammy, Minister for Higher Education, said: “Higher education remains one of the best pathways to a rewarding career, and it is good to see that students recognise it as a good investment for their future.

"We firmly believe that finance should never be a barrier to good education. This is why we continue to make generous loans and grants available to students.”


Appalling: NHS Hospital used wrong sperm to fertilise eggs -- kills embryos

The usual bureaucratic carelessness

WOMEN undergoing fertility treatment have had their eggs fertilised with the wrong sperm in a series of mix-ups at one of Britain’s most famous hospitals. Embryos belonging to three couples had to be destroyed and their cycles of treatment abandoned after the errors were discovered at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London earlier this year. In a separate blunder, a woman had the wrong embryo implanted at the same hospital in 2007.

Fertility experts say the errors, along with similar mistakes at other hospitals, raise serious concerns about the way IVF clinics are regulated. They believe the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the watchdog, is failing to deal with serious problems. [That's because they are too busy persecuting Dr Taranissi, Britain's most successful IVF practitioner, who is, unforgiveably, a PRIVATE doctor]

The mistakes have raised concerns about a “casual approach” to the 37,000 British couples who seek fertility treatment every year. Critics point out that inspection reports from 2007 and 2008 warned that Guy’s and St Thomas’ was carrying out “risky” procedures in the preparation of sperm samples for fertilisation.

A February 2007 report by the HFEA warned that embryologists at the hospital were running the risk of confusing sperm samples from different men by preparing them in the same container. Yet errors were still being made earlier this year.

One of the recent cases was discovered when the embryologist realised she had used a sample from the wrong man to fertilise a patient’s eggs. Within days of this mistake, scientists carrying out tests designed to ensure that babies are free of hereditary diseases found genes showing that the embryos could not belong to the parents they had believed to be the owners.

In 2007 a patient at Guy’s had been implanted with the wrong embryo. The treatment failed to result in a birth and embryologists later discovered that they had put back a weak embryo – despite the patient having created a stronger one that had a greater chance of developing into a baby.

Documents seen by The Sunday Times show a series of mistakes at other clinics that led to general warnings being issued. In one incident, a surrogate mother was given embryos from a couple who had a similar-sounding surname to the couple who had hired her. The surrogate did not become pregnant. The HFEA warned clinics about the mistake in March 2007, but the incident was not made public.

At another unidentified clinic, a woman became pregnant after she was implanted with embryos belonging to another couple with the same surname. The HFEA told clinics about the mix-up in May 2007 but the public was again not informed. The pregnancy ended in miscarriage. At about the same time, treatment for two other couples had to be abandoned after their embryos were mixed-up.

Josephine Quintavalle of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “It is horrifying that this information is not available to the public. I didn’t realise the extent of this. The casualness is just dreadful.”

Sue Avery, consultant embryologist at Birmingham women’s hospital and a former chairwoman of the Association of Clinical Embryologists, said the sperm mix-ups at Guy’s were “very serious”. She said it was disappointing that clinics had not learnt lessons from the mistakes that had led to the birth of black twins to a white couple in Leeds in 2002.

Despite the repeated mistakes at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital, the HFEA has not carried out an investigation. Avery said: “We would expect in the case of repetition that the HFEA might want to investigate unless they can be thoroughly satisfied that the centre has taken sufficient action.”

The assisted conception unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital said a thorough internal investigation had been carried out and the HFEA was informed of the mistakes.

The HFEA said that while IVF was a delicate procedure and it was impossible to eliminate human error, only 0.5% of treatments resulted in problems. It added: “The HFEA takes incidents very seriously. When incidents are reported to us, we will investigate and take action where necessary. The risk of mix-ups is a serious concern for patients, clinics and the HFEA.”


'What makes you think it's natural to be heterosexual?': British Christian teacher suspended over homosexual rights

A senior teacher has been suspended from his £50,000-a-year job after he complained that a training day for staff was used to promote gay rights. Kwabena Peat, 54, was one of several Christian staff who walked out of the compulsory session at a North London school after an invited speaker questioned why people thought heterosexuality was natural.

The presentation was given by Sue Sanders, a co-founder of the Schools Out organisation which campaigns for gay equality in education. According to Mr Peat, Ms Sanders, herself a lesbian, said that staff who did not accept that being gay was normal had ‘issues’ they had to deal with.

Mr Peat, a history teacher who is also a head of year, said he was upset that people who disagreed on religious grounds had no chance to respond. He wrote privately to the three staff members who organised the session, complaining about Ms Sanders’ ‘aggressive’ presentation. In his letter, he cited the Bible and warned that practising homosexuals risked God’s ‘wrath’.

But the staff complained to the school’s principal that they felt ‘harassed and intimidated’ by the letter and, after an investigation, Mr Peat was placed on paid leave. He is now being supported by the Christian Legal Centre. ‘I am very disappointed, although not shocked,’ the married father of three said last night. ‘I am the one who has been harassed and intimidated – for expressing my religious views.’

Mr Peat, who has spent most of his career teaching in inner-city London schools, joined Park View Academy, a large secondary comprehensive in Tottenham, three years ago. He said he was very supportive of ‘equality and diversity’ programmes.

The row erupted in January when the school held an In-Service Education and Training (Inset) day, during which staff were required to attend a session on child protection issues. Ms Sanders, 62, founded the voluntary organisation Schools Out in 1974. However, the £850 training session was organised by Chrysalis, a training team that specialises in diversity issues.

Mr Peat said he had expected her merely to provide information to help teachers handle homophobic bullying, but she had gone much further. ‘She started promoting homosexual lifestyles and suggesting those who had objections should sort out their prejudices. She said, “What makes you all think that to be heterosexual is natural?” It was at that point I walked out.’

In a statement last night, headteacher Alex Atherton said: ‘An allegation of intimidation and harassment is currently being investigated.’

Ms Sanders said her training sessions were designed to ‘raise awareness’.


Prominent British Labour politician hits out over immigration levels

The United Kingdom will have to build one house every six minutes, day and night, seven days a week for the next 20 years to meet the current scale of immigration, Labour MP and former minister Frank Field warned yesterday. He said immigration would account for 70% of population growth in the next 20 years – that is seven million, or seven times the population of Birmingham. In 2007, immigrants were arriving at the rate of almost one every minute.

Field, MP for Birkenhead, issued his stark warning in an article in parliament's The House Magazine. He recalled that he and Tory MP Nicholas Soames had established a cross-party group on balanced migration, designed to stimulate and inform a non-partisan and calm debate about the issue. "For many years, probably a generation, immigration has been a no-go area to British politics. 'Racist', 'Little Englander', 'xenophobe' – those who have raised the subject have been insulted, abused and, all too often, silenced."

Field went on: "The beneficiaries of this have been the extremists, lurking in the wings, eager to piggyback on the public's concern for their own despicable ends. The losers have been the citizens of this country."

He said that over the past few years immigration had reached unprecedented levels. "Net migration – the number of people coming to the UK minus the people leaving – has more than quadrupled since 1997." In 2007, 502,000 migrants arrived in the UK – almost one every minute, Field said. "Our population is officially projected to reach 70 million by 2028 and 80 million in mid-century, with immigration the main driver and the only one that the government can directly influence.

Field said that these projections were based on the Government's own net immigration assumptions. "But cold statistics do not paint the whole picture," he said. "Delve beneath 'seven new Birminghams' and we see that in the next 20 years, one-third of projected household formations will be a result of immigration, meaning we will need to build 260 houses a day for the next 20 years to meet the requirement."

And he warned: "If the Government does not adopt the policy of balanced migration, or something close to it, our population is set to rise to a level to which the vast majority of people are strongly opposed. They are not opposed to immigration or immigrants, but to the present scale of immigration, which is bound to have a negative aspect on life in Britain."


Typical: British spy loses secrets in a handbag: "A BRITISH agent has thrown the war against drug traffickers into chaos by leaving top secret information about covert operations on a bus in South America. In a blunder that has cost taxpayers millions of pounds and put scores of lives at risk, the drugs liaison officer lost a computer memory stick said to contain a list of undercover agents’ names and details of more than five years of intelligence work. It happened when the MI6-trained agent left her handbag on a transit coach at El Dorado airport in Bogota, Colombia. Intelligence chiefs were forced to wind up operations and relocate dozens of agents and informants amid fears the device could fall into the hands of drugs barons. The incident, which was hushed up by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), the agent’s employer, is an embarrassment for the government. It is another blow for Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, who has ultimate responsibility for Britain’s anti-drugs operations and the safeguarding of criminal intelligence."

We’re fleeing high-tax Britain, say City tycoons: "Two of Britain’s best known entrepreneurs are considering leaving Britain in protest against Alistair Darling’s new 50% tax rate, as leading figures from business and the City line up to warn of a talent exodus. Hugh Osmond, the pubs to insurance entrepreneur, is thinking about a move to Switzerland. Peter Hargreaves, the £10m-a-year co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown, the financial adviser, is looking at the Isle of Man or Monaco. More are likely to be follow. Osmond, whose net worth is estimated at £230m, said: “A lot of people will be off. It’s highly unlikely that I will continue to have the UK as my country of residence. It’s just as easy to work from any close location — Switzerland or wherever.” Hargreaves, facing an extra £500,000 on his tax bill, warned: “I won’t pay, I’ll leave.”

Commonwealth cousins prop up the British Army: "The British Army’s “foreign legion” of soldiers recruited abroad to fill its ranks has expanded to more than one in 10 of all troops. NonUK nationals now number about 10,430, just less than 11% of the army’s full-time troops, excluding reserves, according to new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act. Some nationalities have become so numerous that they could form their own units in the manner of the Nepalese Gurkhas. The number of Fijians has reached 2,110, the strength of a small brigade. Other nationalities such as Ghanaians and South Africans have also increased to 700-800 each, enough for a battalion apiece. Some fears have been voiced that burgeoning numbers of nonUK soldiers could foster a “mercenary” image, while other critics believe the armed forces’ British identity could be endangered... The army has now put a cap on the number of Commonwealth recruits in some units at 15% “in the interests of operational effectiveness”. The influx of foreigners has helped compensate for the army’s problems in retaining British-born soldiers. The number of Fijians in the forces as a whole has grown from just 10 in 1999 to 2,220 in January, the figures show. One attraction for the army is the Fijians’ prowess at rugby. Last year the army’s 12-man sevens squad included 10 Fijians and a South African. Its captain, Mark Lee, was the only British player."

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