Daily Archives:December 9, 2017

An express university degree hopes to rid student debt

09 Dec 17
No Comments
  • A new degree will be offered to students in the UK wary of high tuition fees
  • The degree is two years long and is thought to be 20 per cent cheaper overall 
  • Universities Minister Jo Johnson hopes the degree will mean no student debt
  • But some say that high interests rates on student loans is what needs changing

High levels of student debt – on average £50,000 – force many young people to think twice about embarking on a university degree. 

But the launch of a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete, rather than the standard three, is designed to attract those fearing high bills for tuition fees and living costs.

The so-called ‘accelerated degree’ will work out 20 per cent cheaper overall and save students thousands of pounds in borrowing costs, according to Universities Minister Jo Johnson.

Announcing the proposals today, Johnson told The Mail on Sunday he hopes universities will grab the opportunity to offer students more flexibility and choice by providing short-term degrees over a wide variety of subjects – in addition to traditional courses.

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

His proposition emerges against a backdrop of frenzied criticism of the higher education system. 

In the last week alone universities have been condemned for bosses’ fat cat pay, the loan system dubbed ‘diseased’ by Labour peer Lord Adonis – and the courses currently on offer denounced by watchdog the National Audit Office for providing poor quality for the price.

The new degrees, due to launch in 2019, are expected to attract mature students in particular who want to study but cannot justify the time or cost involved in a three-year pause from the workplace.

Johnson, says: ‘The aim is to break the current “one size fits all” model which I am concerned is squeezing out applicants. There has been a big decline in the number of mature students and I think that is why.’

But the planned scheme is not limited to mature students. He expects many school-leavers to seize the chance to pursue shorter courses. Johnson says: ‘There are plenty of young people who want a faster pace of learning and to get into the world of work more quickly. It will be the same degree with the same quality assurance.’

He says employers also like graduates with speedy degrees under their belt as it suggests they will make highly motivated, hard-working members of the workforce.

The teaching of the degrees will typically take 45 weeks a year over two years instead of 30 weeks a year over three.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Some smaller universities and colleges, such as Hertfordshire and Coventry, already offer two-year degrees but just 2,500 students are enrolled in such courses out of a total 1.5 million undergraduates in England. 

The Government hopes traditional universities will see the benefit of offering shorter courses as a flexible option alongside three-year arrangements.

Universities will be allowed to charge 20 per cent more than the current £9,250 annual cap for tuition fees – making the teaching bill £11,100 a year or £22,200 for the whole course. That compares to £27,750 for a three-year degree – a student saving of £5,550.

Johnson says: ‘They will be the same programmes, same degrees, same quality but less debt and more value for money.’

He believes these courses plus newer arrangements from the likes of UK vacuum cleaner giant Dyson, which has set up its own engineering university in Wiltshire are set to shake up the system. Johnson says: ‘There is an appetite for something different as shown by the fact Dyson’s courses are oversubscribed by 20 or 30 times.’

Staffordshire University is another institution already offering fast-track degrees in subjects such as English, journalism and law (costing £18,500 in fees over two years).

Karl McCormack, who teaches two-year degrees in accounting and finance, says: ‘They offer students extra focus, the drive and immersive experience of learning over two years.’

Student Laura Montague, taking a two-year finance course at Staffordshire, says: ‘It prepares you well in terms of what the working environment will be like when you finish.’

The Office for Students, a new watchdog that will be in place next year, will support the provision of the new degrees. Government research suggests more than 70 per cent of universities report a craving for shorter courses among students and employers.

For many students a £5,550 reduction in the overall cost of a degree will only make a fractional dent in the giant debt they will carry for years. 

Fees on standard degrees have trebled since 2012 and students can now expect to graduate with debts of at least £50,000 – or nearer £57,000 for those from poorer families who borrow extra to cover living expenses.

For full-time students in England, repayments equivalent to 9 per cent of income over £25,000 only begin once they have left university and are earning £25,000 or more a year.

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

But interest racks up at March’s Retail Prices Index measure of inflation (3.1 per cent) plus 3 percentage points while at university.

So on graduation those earning more than £25,000 pay on a sliding scale of up to 6.1 per cent where income reaches £41,000 or more.

The Government plays down the impact of the debt. After 30 years, any outstanding student debt is written off though for many thousands of pounds of interest will have been paid along the way.

Danny Cox, of financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Reducing a course by a year might bring the cost down a bit, but it is still an astronomical amount of money to saddle young graduates with as they head into the workplace.

‘The student loan system teaches young people that unaffordable debt is perfectly acceptable and you do not need to worry about repaying it – which is a terrible money life lesson.’

Liz Emerson, of the Intergenerational Foundation think-tank, says: ‘Graduates who make repayments are effectively paying a tax of 41 per cent. Jo Johnson is in the age group who got their degrees for free and does not pay extra tax for it. The Government needs to rethink the interest on these loans.’

Jake Butler, of website Save The Student, says: ‘Would students on a two-year course really get the same value as those on a three-year course? Given the fact many students already feel their contact time is too limited, I am not so sure.’

He calls for an end to the high rates of interest charged to all students, particularly since the highest rate applies while they are studying and unable to make repayments.

He says: ‘After graduation the interest drops to just 3.1 per cent if they earn below £25,000 from April 2018. Why can it not be this low when studying?’

Johnson told The Mail on Sunday that student funding, including interest rates, is still under review. He said: ‘Details will be set out in the coming weeks.’ 

No loans, a salary, student digs… welcome to the Dyson university 

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

A desire to introduce innovation into the nation’s provision of university degrees was behind the launch of the Dyson Institute, which opened to its first students in September.

British technology tycoon James Dyson launched his own university in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills. 

About 850 school leavers applied for 33 places on the four-year course. Unlike most other undergraduates, the successful applicants have their £9,250 annual tuition fees met by the company – plus they receive an apprentice salary of £15,500 a year.

Dyson is also in the process of building student accommodation. These few lucky students will have no massive debt to carry with them – and there is no obligation to stay with the company.

The students spend three days a week working on projects and the remaining two studying at the Wiltshire campus.

The first students will have their degrees awarded by Warwick University. 

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills

Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Somalia veterans’ malaria drug case is too old to proceed, National Attorney argues

09 Dec 17
No Comments

Veterans of the Somalia mission who say they had been permanently damaged by the anti-malarial medication they had been forced to take during that installation have waited too long to proceed with a class-action lawsuit launched almost 18 years ago, the federal government says

Justice Department attorney Elizabeth Richards advised the Ontario Superior Court on Friday that the lawyers for Ronald Smith, a former member of this now-disbanded Airborne Regiment who’s the lead plaintiff in the case, have provided no reasonable excuse for the amount of time it has taken to move the situation forward.

It would not be possible now, Ms. Richards told Justice Robbie Gordon, for the authorities to call witnesses who may provide accurate testimony around how mefloquine was doled out to the troops who participate in the Somalia mission of the early 1990s. That means, she said, there can’t be a fair trial. Justice Gordon has been asked to determine whether the case can be certified as a class action a lot of years after the initial documents were filed in the court.

Ms. Richards said the judge has to balance the possible unfairness of this delay, which both she and Wayne Stickland, the attorney for Mr. Smith, concur was surplus, and the right of Mr. Smith and the other specialists to receive justice for the harms they say they’ve suffered.

Mr. Stickland told the court that his office has been contacted by hundreds of Somalia specialists who state mefloquine left them with long-term emotional issues. Whether this case is thrown out, he said, another plaintiff will immediately step ahead to launch an identical lawsuit.

But Ms. Richards stated that could run against the principle that defendants are entitled to a finality of justice. “We say nobody could deliver a subsequent class actions,” if Mr. Smith’s case isn’t allowed to move, she told the court. “Once it has been dismissed for flaws, it has been dismissed.”

That seemed to concern Justice Gordon, who requested both sides to return after Christmas to present their arguments about whether this class action is the end of the line for Somalia veterans who wish to sue for the damages which they blame on mefloquine.

According to Mr. Smith’s statement of claim, the medication he was obligated to take in Somalia as part of a badly implemented clinical trial left him with a plethora of residual mental-health difficulties, including depression, aggressive behavior, poor concentration, social isolation and suicidal ideas. He states his Charter rights were breached and is alleging negligence and battery.

His lawsuit, which premiered in 2000, sat almost dormant before being taken over and restarted last year by Mr. Stickland.

In explaining the delay to Justice Gordon, Mr. Stickland said there was a lengthy debate between attorneys about who was best positioned to represent Mr. Smith in court.

Additionally, he said, the situation was hampered by Mr. Smith’s own psychological condition, a lack of scientific proof in the first years to link mefloquine into the kinds of symptoms suffered by the veterans, and a lack of expert witnesses.

That evidence has become more solid and he’s procured an expert witness, Mr. Stickland said.

However, Ms. Richards said none of these explanations are reasonable. Concerning the scientific evidence, she said “a plaintiff does not get to sit back until they receive the best possible evidence to proceed.”

And even when Mr. Smith’s mental state improved in 2010, the prior attorneys for Mr. Smith did nothing to move the situation forward, she said.

Regardless of the amount of vets who say mefloquine caused severe difficulties, Ms. Richards said, “the conclusion so far is that there’s not any conclusive scientific evidence” to connect mefloquine into the permanent psychiatric ailments they’ve described.

A couple of the soldiers on the Somalia mission were charged in the beating death of a Somali teenager, and lots of others complained of alarming dreams, depression and hallucinations.

Health Canada upgraded the warning labels for the medication in 2016 to highlight that certain side effects may persist for months or years after the medication is stopped, and some can be irreversible in some patients.

The Canadian army conducted a review of the medical literature this year and concluded there’s not any evidence that the drug causes long-term issues. However, it now says choice drugs are the preferred choices for soldiers who deploy to countries where malaria is a risk.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail