January 15, 2009

University refuses to answer questions on financial health

Questions surround the University of Warwick’s financial state after it refused to give details of its budget forecasts and plans for this year and the near future.

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request from RaW, the University decided “to withhold information relating to forecasts and budgets, including the five year financial plan”.

Citing Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Deputy Registrar informed RaW the request had been “carefully considered, but that “Information is exempt if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)”.

Nevertheless, Peter Dunn, the University’s spokesman, has said that “despite the global economic downturn the University remains confident that that it has a sufficiently diverse range of funding streams to meet the challenges posed by such a global downturn.”

Mr Dunn refused to use the term “well placed” on grounds of ambiguity.

The Students’ Union, which is facing a deficit this year of nearly £0.75 million has also expressed confidence in the University, from which it receives a significant annual grant.

Andy Glyde, the Union’s Governance and Finance Officer said: “We have no concerns over our annual allocation from the University as a result of the recession. We are confident that the University will be able to ride this wave and continue to support the work of the SU.”

“They have been sensible with their money and in the past have shown the capability to deal with pressures externally on funding. In the 80s when HE [Higher Education] funding was cut by the Thatcher government, Warwick was at the forefront to developing alternative sources of income in order to cope with the declining funding.”

Mr Glyde who was limited in what he could say, added that it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the University’s financial health.

He also believed that the University had a “reasonable reason to refuse the information” requested by RaW.

“You have to remember that the University runs a fairly substantial commercial operation in order to help fund the activities of the institution. They are not a member organisation like the Union and so are not accountable to students on their finances…. Release of financial information could damage them against competitors.”

Given the deteriorating economic outlook, the University may have greater impetus to protect sensitive financial information.

Last year’s statement of accounts of the University indicated that the University’s surplus had fallen to £2.9 million, a fall from a peak of £11.9 million in 2005/06.

For the year ending July 2008, it blamed the fall in the surplus on “strategic investment” and “increases in staff costs following the most recent national pay agreements”.

In the Treasurer’s report it was stated: “We expect the current year to be a demanding financial environment. We have significant inflationary pressures … The investigation of new and growing sources of income, alongside cost saving and efficiency initiatives, is a priority to help compensate for inflationary cost pressures.”

In the short term the University remains ”...confident that the financial outcome for the current year will be acceptable in the circumstances.”

As for student’s job prospects, the University indicated that Warwick Careers service would be “very receptive” to any new internship opportunities which become available from the new “government scheme or elsewhere”.

However, it was less on clear on whether the institution would be doing anything particularly different this year to help graduating students.

Instead, spokesman Mr Dunn says that students will be able to welcome recent media coverage “suggesting that while city firms are reducing the number of Universities they look to recruit from…they are still looking at Warwick as one of their sources of recruits”.

Sam Shirley


"The Manifesto is written", Conservative Party Chairman tells Warwick students

Caroline Spelman MP speaking to Warwick Conservatives says party is “on war footing at all times” and that universities should offer more vocational schemes to help students

The Chairman of the Conservative Party, Caroline Spelman MP, has told students at a Warwick Conservatives event that she doubts that there will be a General Election this year.

However, if the “polls tighten” and government does go to the country, she expects that Chancellor Alistair Darling will use March budget to cut income tax and then hold the election on June 4th, coinciding with local and European elections.

Ms Spelman, who has been dogged by questions regarding expenses eleven years ago, also sought to quash rumours regarding cabinet reshuffle speculation.

At the talk which took place on in the Ramphal building on Thursday evening, she claimed that rumours indicating that she would swap places with Jeremy Hunt as Shadow Culture Secretary as “a little bit of mischief… as many of you know [Newsnight journalist] Michael Crick and I are at loggerheads”.

She said that it was the right of the party leader to pick who was in cabinet, but that nothing can happen until her position was resolved.

The Conservative Chairman argued that the “the [next general] election will undoubtedly be fought on the economy”, but that the NHS, for which the Conservatives has been “quite hard territory”, is an issue which the party is keen to be heard on.

“On the economy there is now a huge difference between the parties”, she said.

Speaking on the issue of students seeking jobs after university, Ms Spelman admitted that when she graduated during the recession of 1980 that she did not have a job, despite her university claiming that “everybody gets a job”.

She said: “We want to encourage the Higher Education sector to offer more vocational schemes to enhance your chances of getting a job”.

“Jobs for you are going to depend on organisations, public and private, having the courage to recruit”.

Ms Spelman, who is MP for the nearby constituency of Meriden, encouraged students to join the Conservatives to avoid the Government’s “burden of debt” that will encumber their generation.

Seeking support, she said: “Students tend to be anti-establishment… and you regard Labour as the establishment”.

Sam Shirley


November 18, 2008

RaW News At The US Elections

Students fill the Grad at Cholo to watch the coverage
Where were you on the night of this year’s historical American Elections on the 4th of November?

If your answer to the above question is “at the Students’ Union Elections Night” then there is a strong possibility that you may – at some stage in the evening – have been approached by an eager member of the RaW News Team wielding a recorder and a multitude of questions on your views on Obama vs McCain.

If that is indeed the case, then click on the link below to here an edited version of the coverage from the Elections Night from RaW News’ flagship show – Insight. Highlights include a grillling of various sabbatical officers on their American general knowledge, an interview with the organisers, Adam Wilbourn’s ‘lighter side’ coverage and the countdown to Obama’s victory.

http://www.radio.warwick.ac.uk/7Ehsmith/News%20Blog%20Clips/Election%20Night%20Coverage%20x%x%20Interview.mp3

You can listen to RaW News Insight every Thursday at 5pm.

For details on how to get involved email news@radio.warwick.ac.uk

Hannah Smith

News Editor


October 29, 2008

Grade Inflation is “slow and uncontrolled”

Grade Inflation “has occurred at Warwick” and continues to incrementally impact undergraduate results, the Boar has been told.

Dr Duclaud-Williams, a lecturer in the Politics department said: “there is no longer the balance between 2:1s and 2:2s as there was ten or twenty years ago; in examiners’ minds 2:2 scripts are now deemed as substantially defective… today there’s an enormous concentration of 2:1s in my department and others.”

Even so, he and other lecturers are adamant that there is no pressure from the University to award higher marks, but said that it was inevitable that institutions and examiners want to improve results: “All institutions come under competitive pressure”.

Responding the possibility that employers are having trouble differentiating between graduates, he recommended that they should be given the relative performance of students according to their year, but that examiners and lecturers should be left to their traditional understanding of grade classifications.

This view was supported by Professor Jonathan Bate of the English Department: “What I do believe is that the old four class system has reached its sell-by date: in all the top universities, the third is an endangered species and the 2:2, which used to be regarded as the benchmark average performance, is now perceived by students as a kind of failure.”

“This shows that we’re doing a good job on admissions, and that the current generation of students are more results focused than many of us were in my generation, but it’s hard to see the logic of a classification system where the lower classes are used as they are now. The system originated as a kind of rank order: as it were, first class meant the top 5% of finalists, 2:1 the next 40%, 2:2 the next 40%, 3rd the next 10% and 4th, the bottom 5%. I think we’d do better to ditch classes and go for some kind of American-style grade point average.”

Indeed, Andrés Carvajal of the Economics department thinks that the system has a big “inertia”:

“...if one year you give a distribution of grades that is considered atypical when compared to previous years, I would expect that someone (e.g. an external) would ask you to explain, and maybe even curve the grades. But this does not qualify as inflation, as it could go both ways: if my grades are seen to be too generous, I suspect that some alarms would go off.
“...for many people in the UK, a scale 0-100 actually means 30-70. I always use the full scale, so I can give a good student a mark of 97, which may seem like inflation to a person who would give 71 to a Nobel prize-winning essay. But, again, it isn’t: I am also willing to give a student a mark of 3, if their work is really bad.

“To me, the reason that may explain grades going up is the real pain that you have to go through when you fail people – like writing, proctoring and marking resits. So, if you want to do research, you better avoid failing students. But I don’t consider this to be “pressure” – it is just wrong incentives.”

According to University figures, compared to 2003/04, when 20% of Warwick degrees awarded were first class, there was a small increase to 23% in 2006/7 after minor fluctuations in the interim years. 2:1s have hovered around the 61.2% mark and 2:2s have averaged at 14.4% figure for the past five years.

In the long term, the picture is quite different. In March 2004, the BBC reported that Warwick “saw the proportion of students gaining first-class degrees almost double from 10.6% to 20.3% during the five years” between 1998 and 2003.

At the time, a University spokesman said what it was “no surprise” that the results were getting better: “We are becoming more and more popular and we are attracting better candidates”.

At present, the University still awards well above the average of first class honours, approximately double the 2006/07 national average of 11.7%. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Warwick is also well above the Russell Group of Universities’ average of 15.7%.

Professor Robin Naylor of the Economics department contests the reasons behind such a rise: “There’s certainly a higher percentage of firsts awarded than was the case, say, 20 years ago: but is this grade inflation, or better work by students, or better teaching? No-one has done an analysis of this locally”.

From the point of view of the Students’ Union Education Officer Mo Surve, a 2:1 from Warwick does not mean any less today than it did ten years ago: “Receiving a 2.1 from one of the top Russell Group institutions is not to be taken lightly. A lecturer I know at another university told me that a 65/66 at Warwick would be equivalent to gaining a first at the institution at which she lectures.”

He also shares the view that there is no pressure on lecturers to award higher marks. Citing a change in the system the Students’ Union won a “few years ago”, marking is now carried out anonymously and some departments double mark all assessed work to ensure there is no bias towards or against a student.

Mr Surve said: “…marking is carried out as objectively as possible and should cut any grade inflation/deflation down to a minimum. If, in some cases when examiners cannot come to an agreement, the external examiner comes to a decision.”

For many students at Warwick, a 2:1 is a prerequisite to attain a job after leaving university. Darshan Shah, an engineering student in his final year said: “If you haven’t got adequate work experience, a 2:1 would be a usual minimum requirement for a ‘good’ job.”

Ian Liverton, a trainee Design technology teacher who graduated last year in electronic engineering takes a more pessimistic view: “As someone with a 2:2, it’s very hard to find graduate placement. I only got my present job because of my experience as an ICT technician at my school.”

Whilst there was considerable grade inflation between 1998 and 2002, the recent figures demonstrate only a slight increase in the proportion of firsts awarded between 2002 and 2006/07 – evewn though the figure 479 firsts in 2006/07 compared to 396 in 2002/03 show that an extra 83 firsts were awarded, or a 21% nominal increase.

As for the national perspective, which has seen the number of first class honours awarded has double over the past decade, Professor Naylor told the Boar that it is more important to look at the disparity between universities:

“If grade inflation occurs in some institutions and not others then that could create unfairness and inefficiency through generating uncertainties and imperfect information.” Dr Geoff Meaden, who retired as a lecturer this year at Canterbury Christ Church University, says:

“They say that the teaching is getting better – by and large this is rubbish. Having worked in schools and/or universities for 30 years I can tell you that it is not. In fact, generally, the kids are getting more difficult to teach. The grades are getting better because marking is now more lenient than it was previously. Notice that I do not say that the exams are getting easier – which I don’t think they are. So, an exam answer today will get about 10% more than would the same answer have got 20 years ago. Why is there a need for higher grades – because schools and universities are competing with each other – by way of various leagues tables. You have to be shown to be near the top if you are to attract the best students – or indeed sufficient students to maintain the viability of courses. I have attended many examiners meetings where we have been told to mark a little more generously. There seem to be all sort of ways of squeezing a few extra marks out for students. When I was at university the ‘average’ grade was a 2(ii) – today it is a 2(i) for many universities. This means that the students are getting 10% higher grades. Well – I am afraid that evolutionary processes could not allow the brain to have developed that much more in such a short space of time !! I think that the world of work recognises what is going on and just accepts that today’s grades are not comparable with those of the past. Also, it now behoves students to get themselves Masters degrees if they are to be ahead of the crowd. In many ways grade inflation does not matter much – but I just wish that the powers that be told the truth about what is happening”

Yet, in Warwick’s case, the University maintains that the calibre of the students is the reason behind the higher than average first class honours awarded. Defending the quality of the University, they claim that: “Data on first destinations of undergraduate students who graduated in 2005 shows that 90% had entered full employment or were taking further study.”
Peter Dunn, the University’s press manager added: “Warwick students get the degree results they deserve…We continue to attract some of the best staff and best students from the UK and beyond and the more of the cream we attract the better their academic performance will be -it’s a virtuous circle.”


June 12, 2008

Warwick Student Cinema: Relocation?

Last week Hannah Smith reported on the problems Warwick Student Cinema are facing regarding new laboratories which are to be built underneath L3 on the Science Concourse, which is home to the screen of WSC. What we know already is that a relocation for the society will cost around £40,000, which is a staggering amount. Unfortunately, a representative from Warwick Student Cinema was unavailable for comment on this issue but the Students Union released the following statement today:

The Students’ Union is of course supporting Warwick Student Cinema with
the issue of new science labs underneath L3. The lines of communication
between the Students’ Union, the department and the wider University
administration are open and clear, and all parties are keen to work
towards a mutually beneficial solution. There is certainly not an
adversarial approach being taken by anyone involved.

At this stage it is impossible to know the outcome of the situation, and
the Students’ Union for its part is working hard to resolve the issue as
soon as possible. It is important to note that the fact discussions are
being had makes it clear there is a recognition throughout the
University of the importance of student-led extra curricular activity.

From there the issue appears to be being dealt with amicably and we will keep you updated on this story, what it means for the WSC. Hopefully we can get a response from the society for next week’s show. As always if you are a member of WSC or simply enjoy the films they show, do email in and let us know what you think on studio@radio.warwick.ac.uk.


Student Opinion: 42 Pre Charge Detention

The Labour government was yesterday successful in the passing the terror law through the House of Commons, which may soon mean terror suspects can be held for up to 42 days without being charged. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stated the obvious reasons for the legislation of national interest and the view that the threat of terror is wholly new and unique.

The government were, however, very fortunate in getting the legislation through the House of Commons; it has a majority of 66 but only managed to win with a margin of 9. 36 Labour MPs rebelled with the government having to make concessions to the Democratic Unionist Party MPs. The House of Lords still has to make a decision with the likely outcome being that they will send it back to the Commons.

But away from the number politics of the whole vote, what do students here at Warwick make of the issue? Do they reflect the wider, national opinion that holding people without 42 is perfectly in line with the tradition of civil liberties in the UK? I spoke to a few on the eve of the vote, to find out what they thought.

Also, have another chance to listen to David Davis, who resigned over the issue, and the new Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve, who we interviewed back in February on the subjects of liberty and security:

David Davis:

Dominic Grieve:


May 30, 2008

Whitefields students seek compensation for lack of personal revision space

Earlier this term RaW News reported on the newly planned changes to the Union Rebuild schedule. However, this week has been one of much disruption on campus as students in Whitefields have been informed of some rather last-minute changes.

At the beginning of term students had been told that Whitefields would be “a 24 hour quiet zone” and that their revision would go on undisturbed. However, last Friday, the Whitefields accommodation Officer Graham Wright informed students in person that construction works were to begin on Tuesday of this week from 9am – 5pm every day until the end of term. The work will take place from just below the Graduate Bar, past Battered, and around the Cooler, all just a few meters away from the bedrooms – or study rooms as they are referred to – of students in Whitefields.

Students have expressed anger with regards to the Union’s lack of communication and they now fear that there will not be sufficient silent space available to study in – the Library and the Learning Grid are both full more often than not with second and third years who livee off campus, and with potentially a whole hall of residence being forced to vacate their houses to revise, how will the Union provide support for those that need it?

Union Rebuild Site

The Union have apologised for the short notice that was given to Whitefields residents, stating that this was due to a “slight breakdown in communications and the unfortunate timing of the bank holiday”. They have also stated that although the work will take place near to Whitefields it will not involve any heavy construction work until the end of the exam period. The preparatory work will not cause any disruption to students sitting exams in Rootes and contractors have full details of exam timetables. Welfare and Equal Opportunities Officer Ed Callow has agreed to block book rooms with enough space to accommodate the front row of houses from today onwards, when the noise was thought to have escalated.
This week on Insight we invited Lev Taylor, a resident in Whitefields, and one of the students instrumental in campaigning against the building works. He suggested that perhaps the Union were not as in control of the rebuild as we would like to think…

You can listen to the interview to find out more by clicking on the link below. I started by asking Lev what he was hoping to achieve by appealing to the Union at this stage in the works:

(Link unavailable)

Hannah Smith
News Editor


May 23, 2008

Warwick Labour predicts loss in by–election

Today, Thursday 22nd May, voters went to the polls in Crewe and Nantwich for the by-election in which 10 candidates took part in the contest, which follows the death of long-serving Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody last month.
Almost 72,000 people were registered to vote, with turnout expected to be above 60% even with the dreary weather conditions that have plagued the days voting. Polling stations opened at 7am and closed at 10pm, with the result expected at about 2.30am tomorrow morning.

On Insight this week, RaW News invited Warwick Labour’s Ben Nolan and Tom Wales from Warwick Conservatives to debate the events surrounding the by-election and to gage their thoughts and hopes for the results. In a controversial statement Nolan stated that a Labour win would be “unrealistic” and he essentially conceded defeat to the Conservatives – albeit a slim one – and Wales was confident of success in the next general election. Much debate was to be had with regards to the tactics used by both parties during the campaigning, and there was some speculation as to the causal roots for a potential Tory win.

Listen to the full debate here to find out more:

Was Warwick Labour being realistic or defeatist?
If the Conservatives do indeed win the by-election what will this mean for the future of the Labour Party in government?
Have your say by leaving any comments you may have in the section below.

Hannah Smith
News Editor


May 22, 2008

Britain should "expect significant slowdown" in the economy

After last week’s inflation report from the Bank of England, RaW News spoke to Dr Andrew Sentance, an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) at the Bank of England. He told us that he expected inflation to return towards the 2% target in the medium run and whilst he said that we cannot rule out a recession, we should expect a “significant slowdown” in the growth of the economy. Asked whether the rising food prices would hit students would be disproportionately, he said that everybody would be affected. He also said that students should be the ones to decide what economic problem they should worry about, but wanted to emphasise the point that we all benefit from a low inflation economy.

As regards the future, he thought that if consumers become more cautious in the coming years, we may become more dependent on export led growth. This will also be helped by the depreciation of the pound.

The MPC is responsible for setting interest rates in the United Kingdom and it targets the Government’s target of 2% inflation (CPI).

We began by asking what his role is:

Please note: if your browser is having trouble opening the file, click here. and then click continue.

To read the overview of May’s inflation report, click here.

Sam Shirley
Programme Controller

The interview was conducted on Tuesday 20th May.


May 20, 2008

Warwick delegates vote for No Platform at NUS Conference

Monday 12th May saw the last Union council of this term, and after 4 and a half hours, it was certainly in the style of councils this academic year. With no policies up for review, and the governance reform, which had taken up a lot of time during previous meetings having passed at referendum, there were 12 pieces of new business to be debated. There were motions on welfare and liberation issues, on education, on international students’ issues and democracy in the union.

Questions to Union Officers were numerous. Officers were asked about their general activities since the last council, and about campaigning during local elections. A question on the voting behaviour of delegates to the NUS national conference on No Platform attracted the most controversy, due to the recent referendum that removed Warwick University’s No Platform Policy. Warwick’s NUS delegates controversially voted in favour of supporting No Platform on a national level, and RaW News invited the Union’s Finance, Democracy and Strategy Officer Tom Callow onto the show last week to debate with Rajiv Shah, a staunch supporter of the removal of No Platform.

No Platform symbol

Were the delegates right to vote for No Platform on a national level, or have they mis-represented the students who put them there in the first place?
To hear the debate click on the link below and feel free to add your comments in the section below.

Hannah Smith – News Editor
Andrew O’Brien – Chief Political Correspondent
Alex Fowles


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