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London Student

Universities warned over preventing graduation because of debt

By London Student, National News

A report by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) warned universities last month that terms and conditions that prevent students who owe non-tuition fee debts from graduating could breach consumer protection law.

The Office of Fair Trading has warned universities preventing students from graduating became of debt could breach consumer law.

The report, published on 18 February, showed that approximately three quarters of the 115 UK universities surveyed by the OFT enforce such conditions, which could also prevent students from enrolling into their next academic year or using certain university facilities.

Non-tuition fee debts can include library fines, university accommodation and childcare services.

In a letter sent to 170 universities and higher education institutions, the OFT has asked for a review of such rules and practices, urging the revision of them where required.

The regulator has also expressed further concern that some of these existing terms can allow institutions to impose sanctions on students who owe only small amounts or are disputing their debt.

The investigation was opened in July 2013 following a complaint from the National Union of Students (NUS), who welcomed the report.

Colum McGuire, NUS vice president (welfare) commented, “It’s almost laughable that students who are in thousands of pounds of tuition fee debt were having academic sanctions placed on them for money owned for non-academic debt”.

Queen Mary University of London, which currently withholds official graduate certificates and transcripts if a student has an unpaid ‘academic debt’, defended its position by stating that these students are still entitled to receive informal notifications of their results.

“The recent OFT report has been discussed within the Academic Registry and Council Secretariat at Queen Mary, and will be discussed by other departments, as a priority, over the coming weeks.”

The OFT has stated that the results of this investigation will be fed into its call for information into the provision of undergraduate higher education in England.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 8 (10/03/2014)

Students fight closure of school at Kingston University

By London Student, National News


Angry students and staff have protested against the closure of Kingston University’s School of Surveying and Planning.

Last Tuesday around 60 people rallied against proposals which would involve six of the school’s courses being scrapped, with seven others being moved to various faculties.

The School of Surveying and Planning at Kingston University is set to close.

A petition opposing the closure with over 1,000 signatures was handed to the university’s board during the 4 March protest.

Dr Sarah Sayce, the head of the school, was suspended after emailing students information about a consultation process on the plans, which could mean students having to complete their studies at other universities.

Denza Gonsalves, president of Kingston University Students’ Union (KUSU), said: “Over 500 students will be directly affected in terms of their course moving faculty or closing down completely, and of course that’s of massive concern.”

Will Franden, KUSU vice president, highlighted concerns about the movement of faculties, telling River Online: “Students are worried about whether those faculties and lecturers will be fully qualified to teach them to the same standard as staff within the [existing] school.”

Julius Weinberg, the university’s vice-chancellor, said that the plans were motivated by low National Student Survey scores and poor recruitment figures.

However, building surveying student Nick Beers told River Online the school was not to blame for low recruitment numbers: “The independent report commissioned by the vice chancellor highlights the fact that no money has been spent on recruitment on the school as a whole, so to blame recruitment figures… is ridiculous.”

An open meeting with the dean of the university’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture is due to take place on Wednesday 12 March.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 8 (10/03/2014)

Vast majority vote for ULU to remain in student hands

By London Student, University of London News


The majority of participants in a referendum held by the University of London Union (ULU) have voted against university management plans to scrap the union.

86% of the 4,545 students who took part in the referendum, which closed on 7 February, voted ‘yes’ to the question “Should ULU’s building, activities and campaigns continue to be run democratically by students?”

University of London’s (UoL) current plans involve closing the democratic representation functions of the union with management taking over its current facilities in order to create a ‘New Student Centre’.

Heythrop College and Goldsmiths have yet to contribute their results due to “political” and logistical issues, but both are expected to do so at a later date.

Adrian Smith, UoL’s vice-chancellor, was principal at Queen Mary in 2005 when the the possibility of absorbing the students’ union into the college as a department was considered.

Michael Chessum, president of ULU, said the result proved that proposals to abolish the union have “no legitimacy”.
“Any notion that the university’s plans had any sort of public support are now out the window,” he said.

Shelly Asquith, chair of National Union of Students London said: “It is clear that students are rejecting the university’s proposals, and the University of London must respect that.”

But UoL said they were standing by the conclusions of their own review and criticised the referendum on the grounds that those who voted were “only a tiny minority, just 3.75% of our total student population.”

However, just 826 students – 0.6% of the student body – responded to the university’s own survey on the student centre plans late last year.

A university spokesperson insisted the survey and referendum were “two completely different things” and said the survey was to see students’ opinions and would not “be used directly to create policy.”

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 8 (10/03/2014)

UCL and IOE in merger discussions

By London Student, University of London News

Institute of Education

University College London (UCL) and the Institute of Education (IoE) have announced on Wednesday that they are beginning to consult on a proposed merger.

The consultation, which will last until May, comes after a report by Times Higher Education (THE) which revealed that staff at IoE had been informed of the plans at a faculty briefing on 5 February.

If the merger were to go ahead, IoE would become UCL’s biggest faculty, a follow on from a strategic partnership already formed in 2012.

However, concerns have already been expressed about the loss of IoE’s university charter, degree-awarding powers and of potential ‘asset-stripping’.

Even though UCL Provost, Professor Michael Arthur, has stated that IoE staff have been guaranteed that there will be no job losses in the first year after the merger with UCL, an internal report by the two institutions suggests that this may change later.

The report states that job losses may be a scenario in the long term owing to a “detailed consideration of the administrative requirement for the new faculty” that would take place after the two institutions combine.

Charlie Owen, president of the University and College Union (UCU) branch for IoE, stated they had no official stance on the issue but expressed concerns over potential job losses over the medium term as well as the sudden announcement, which had been discussed behind “closed doors” by the management.

This news follows a merger between UCL and The School of Pharmacy in 2012 which went ahead despite meeting significant resistance by the school’s staff.

The UCU launched a ‘Saving Our School’ campaign after a survey of just over half the school’s staff voted 85% against the decision.

In original minutes, the institution’s audit committee stated that the merger proposals “did not provide assurance that the project was adequately managed or resourced” and that there was “no coherent plan”.

Yet, three months later, the committee removed the most explicit criticism from the minutes after the governing council suggested that these “strongly held concerns” be raised with its chair.

Professor Arthur has said that the School of Pharmacy benefited from attracting additional investment whilst retaining its own leadership under UCL.

In regards to IoE he commented, “We are not a predator – we are a thoughtful academic institution that does things for academic reasons, not to make cost savings”.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: for Issue 7 (17/02/2014)

KCL halls to close

By London Student, University of London News

King's College

Students at King’s College London (KCL) are angry at proposals to close the university’s Hampstead halls of residence over the next 2 years under a development plan.

Over 300 people have signed an online petition opposing plans which KCL claims will increase available rooms by 648 by 2016.

Part of the Hampstead residences, which KCL plans to gradually close over the next 2 years under a development plan.

The petition notes Hampstead’s rents are among the cheapest KCL offers and demands managers “show that they are committed to ensuring that King’s is a university open to students from all economic backgrounds, not just those who are economically privileged”.

The petition also raises concerns that construction work will cause “huge disruption to students during the… summer examination period.”

A KCL spokesperson said the university “is committed to providing high quality and affordable residential accommodation” and added: “We understand that affordability is a key issue for students”.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 7 (17/02/2014)

Anonymous hack QMUL over MoD links

By London Student, University of London News

Queen's Building, Queen Mary, University of London

Online activist group Anonymous has hacked into and leaked confidential information from Queen Mary, University of London.

The information included a sample of student details and map of the college’s IT network.

That ‘hacktivist’ group claimed the move was a response to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) funding “invasive” research at Queen Mary.

This attack was in response to the Guardian’s revelation earlier this month that the MoD funded individual Ph.D students’ cyberspace-related research at six higher education institutions, including Queen Mary and King’s College London.

A member of Anonymous told the Daily Dot that the group “plan on stirring things up over the universities taking MoD cash for invasive research”.

A spokesperson from Queen Mary said “We are investigating the claims. We have informed the police”.

Keumars Afifi-Sabet and Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 6 (27/01/2014)

Charges against Willetts protesters thrown out after 'shocking' police inconsistencies exposed

By London Student, University of London News

Two student protesters who faced charges of assault, obstruction and resisting arrest have had the cases against them thrown out after a YouTube video revealed, what the judge in one of the cases said were, “shocking” inconsistencies in police officers’ accounts of the events.

The incident, occurring at a protest during a talk by education minister David Willets at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in June 2011, involved the two students being wrestled to the ground by the police, arrested, strip-searched, fingerprinted and charged.

Former London School of Economics student Ashok Kumar, 29, who had been invited to interview Mr. Willetts, attempted to intervene in a dispute between a teenage student filming police and PC Paul McAuslan.

PC McAuslan claimed Mr. Kumar pushed him twice before running away, but the case against Mr. Kumar was dropped in court after YouTube footage revealed the police account to be wrong and that no assault or obstruction had taken place.

Scotland Yard have agreed to compensate Mr. Kumar, now studying for a PhD at Oxford University, £20,000 in damages for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution.

Mr. Kumar told the Evening Standard: “what was astonishing was I was sitting in court and there were officers there ready to testify that I had done something when it was as clear as day from the video that I hadn’t”.

The other case involved former Birkbeck law PhD student Simon Behrman, 36, who went to SOAS to demonstrate against Mr. Willett’s policies.

Mr. Behrman is also set to receive £20,000 in damages, after a court testimony given by PC Chris Johnson contradicted photo evidence of the incident. Mr. Behrman claimed he fell after PC Johnson grabbed his rucksack and the protest group he had joined surged forward.

Mr. Behrman’s defence claimed that he was then punched in the chest by PC Thomas Ashley and then being taken in a headlock by another officer

A spokesperson for the Met said it had begun an investigation, adding, “Three officers are the subject of the [Independent Police Complaints Commission] supervised investigation. At no time had we previously received a public complaint in relation to this matter. As soon as we were aware of the video evidence an investigation was launched.”

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 6 (27/01/2014)

Teaching staff take further strike action

By London Student, National News, University of London News
Deptford Town Hall

Deptford Town Hall

University academic and support staff held a second strike over pay last Tuesday, following previous action on 31 October, with student at one University of London college staging an occupation in support.

Members of four unions – the University and College Union (UCU), Unite, Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland – formed picket lines all over the country on 3 December, opposing a 1% pay rise offer which they say constitutes a 13% real terms cut sincere 2008.

Last Tuesday’s action forced the University of London to shut Senate House Library and caused class cancellations across the city.

The strike also say Goldsmiths students occupy Deptford Town Hall, which houses university management offices, in support of the strikers. Around 100 students moved in last Monday evening, with around 30 saying until 12pm the following day.

Their occupation came after other by students in Sheffield, Edinburgh, Sussex, Ulster, Birmingham and Exeter.

In a statement, the occupiers said managers should look to their own incomes to find savings. “The university sector has the biggest pay disparity of all public sectors, with the gender pay gap widening with every new government policy of marketisation”.

In an open letter to Pay Loughrey, Goldsmiths’ warden, members of the university’s UCU brand wrote: “While salaries of lecturers and support staff have declined in real terms, the same cannot be said of the warden who has recently been awarded a 9% pay rise and benefits from a pension contribution far in excess of the annual salary of most support staff”.

A Goldsmiths press officer response to UCU’s letter by emphasising that of the four years Loughrey has been warden, he has only accepted a pay rise in one of them, making his average yearly pay increase just over 2%.

He also claimed that Loughrey was “well below average” in league tables comparing university head’s salaries with seventy others earning more than him.

Adrian Polglase and Nicholas Winchester, London Student: Issue 5 (09/12/2013)

London universities airbrushed Wikipedia pages

By London Student, National News


Two London universities have been deleting negative information and finessing critical passages on their respective institution’s Wikipedia pages, a Times Higher Education investigation discovered.

In August, London Metropolitan University’s press office deleted comments made last year by Malcolm Gillies, their vice-chancellor, in which he considered a campus alcohol ban because conservative Muslim students considered the substance “immoral”.

The magazine’s investigation also found that the University of Arts London’s press office edited passages on their Wikipedia page in May 2012. They gave a section describing staff and course cuts a more positive spin, ending with: “the university has consolidated and is looking to the future with cautious optimism”.

The first-party ‘airbrushing’ of these articles breaks the online encyclopaedia’s guidelines and the site’s administrators have since banned London Met’s account for “promotional editing”.

Sections deleted by the university have since been reinstated by other Wikipedia users, although between November 2012 and March this year, anonymous users with IP addresses traceable to London Met’s location have attempted to re-delete the comments.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 5 (09/12/2013)

Government begins to sell-off student loan book

By London Student, National News

Student Loans

The British government has sold student loans with a face value of £890m for just £160m to a private debt purchaser renowned for its persistent debt recovery practices.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced the sale, which covers loans to around 250,000 students who started courses between 1990 and 1998, to a consortium named Erudio Student Loans.

The price paid by Erudio reflects their assessment of the proportion of loans likely to be paid back in full or in part, with the majority of the book in arrears or deferred.

The consortium is led by investment fund manager CarVal Investors and debt purchasing group Arrow Global.
Following this decision, George Osborne announced in his autumn statement that “new loans will be financed by selling the student loan book”.

A spokesperson from BIS confirmed to the Independent that student loans taken out between 1998 and 2012 have “the potential” to be sold “over the next five years”.

If privatised, the sale of the loan book would deliver roughly £10-15 billion to the government over a five-year period, although any future repayments of capital and interest from the loans sold would be lost.

In both instances, BIS have claimed that there will be no change to borrowers’ terms and conditions, including to the interest rates charged.

But Michael Chessum, the University of London Union president, argued students should not be reassured by the government’s promises.

He said: “There is every reason to believe that current and future governments will simply flout commitments on higher education funding, because that is what has happened consistently under both Labour and Tory governments”.

Adrian Polglase, London Student: Issue 5 (09/12/2013)