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Academics at Oxford University want to scrap a £75 fee required to apply for postgraduate courses – arguing it is an “elitist” financial barrier.

The fee is not refundable – and an internal email suggests Oxford receives £2m from applications per year, mostly from those who have been rejected.

There are complaints the fee is “discriminatory” and putting off “excellent candidates”.

But Oxford says a “growing number” of universities charge an application fee.

Michael Cassidy, of the university’s department of earth sciences, said charging a fee for even applying reinforced an image of being “elitist and arrogant”.

The campaign to stop Oxford’s levying of application fees – separate from tuition fees – has been revealed by a higher education publication, Research Professional News.

Next month, the university’s “congregation”, its sovereign body, will hear a resolution calling for a phasing out of application fees for graduate courses, such as masters or doctorate studies.

Staff at the university will say the fee “undermines Oxford’s efforts to encourage diversity” and that there is “good evidence” that talented students are being deterred from trying to get a place.

There are some fee waivers for disadvantaged applicants – but those campaigning against the fees say that they “act as a barrier” to trying to widen access to Oxford.

“This is something that came up most years where we’d have applicants directly emailing us saying the fee was a barrier,” professor of astrophysics Chris Lintott told Research Professional News.

He said students would say: “Well, I’m not applying there because they charge £75.”

But an internal university email appears to warn that the fee is worth £2m per year and abolishing it would mean cutting services or finding the money from other departmental budgets.

Oxford says more universities are charging a fee at the point of applying for postgraduate courses.

Cambridge, University College London, Warwick and King’s College London are among those who charge for applying.

For undergraduate applications, entry is by the Ucas system, with the £25 fee usually paid through a school or college.

A spokeswoman for Oxford University said the fee for graduate applications helped to cover the cost of processing admissions from 30,000 applicants per year.

But she said abolishing the fee was “not in line with current university policy, which is to offer increasing levels of waivers to the current fee”.

“Abolishing the fee entirely is likely to have significant implications for our graduate admissions and access activities. However, we look forward to the issue being discussed among the wider university community.”

Young carers spend an average of 25 hours a week looking after loved ones, new research suggests.

Their unpaid work is the equivalent of £12,000 a year on a part-time carer’s wage, says Action for Children.

Describing it as a “hidden child workforce”, the charity says the amount of responsibility being placed upon children is “appalling”.

The Department for Education says young carers “should be protected from excessive caring responsibilities”.

The pressures of being a young carer

‘I missed four weeks’ school a year caring for my sick mum’

A survey of 383 young carers aged between seven and 18 by the children’s charity, found their care equated to around £240 a week.

There were 491,000 carers aged 24 or younger in the UK, according to the 2011 census.

Chloe’s story: ‘It took away my childhood’

“I can’t be a normal child,” says Chloe, 16, from Birmingham.

She started caring when she was 10 and looks after her mum, who has mental health problems and a lung condition, as well as her dad.

“I do medication for my mum. I do housework. With my younger brother and sister, I do their breakfast and get them ready for school.

“It has made me mature, but it has taken away my childhood. Instead of being out – and being able stay out – I have to come and make sure my mum is taking the medication at the right time.”

Chloe says there have been times when caring has become “too much”, saying she has suffered with depression.

“I was the mum for her, but she’s meant to be my mum. I felt that I had no one.”

Chloe is now getting support from children’s charity Spurgeons, but she wants the government to do more for people in situations like hers.

“They allow us to do their work for them and they just turn a blind eye to us,” she says.

“At times it’s frustrating but I have to get on with it because it’s not going to change.”

Action for Children is calling on the government to give all young carers access to respite service.

It says current provisions are “patchy”, despite the services being a “lifeline” for some young carers.

The charity’s deputy chief executive, Carol Iddon, says the fact young carers exist at all is “a sad indictment of our situation”.

“I hear people saying, ‘Oh, come on, kids needs to do chores’, but this isn’t about that. This is about young children taking on quite an adult role and it isn’t acceptable.”

In response to the survey, the Department for Education said young carers “should be protected from excessive caring responsibilities”.

“We expect adult and children’s services to work together and take a whole family approach in identifying and supporting young carers.”

Suzanna and Marissa’s story: ‘I feel guilty’

Suzanna Salter, from St Ives, Cornwall, relies on care from her 11-year-old daughter Marissa.

Suzanna has back problems made worse by a car accident, as well as a lung disease.

“I feel guilty, as if I’m not letting her have a childhood,” she says. “It’s horrible. She shouldn’t have the level of responsibility that she has. She is a child doing an adult job.”

Suzanna says she gets eight hours of care per week on the NHS, adding: “That is the only time Marissa doesn’t have to be on call for me.”

Marissa has missed around a quarter of her school classes in some academic years due to her responsibilities as a carer.

She says: “I love my mum and want to help her but I think we need more support.

“In the mornings I have to get her out of bed, help her put her socks on, and make her coffee.

“I also do the washing up, help with cleaning and the laundry and cooking. And I walk down to the shops to do the shopping because mum isn’t supposed to lift anything.

“I also get upset sometimes because I go online and see all my friends are going to places that I want to go to and they haven’t told me about it because they know I can’t go.”

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A scheme to help preschool children learn Welsh more quickly is being rolled out across the country.

Croesi’r Bont, or Crossing the Bridge, has been developed by Mudiad Meithrin, which runs most Welsh-medium early years provision.

The focus is on ensuring staff at playgroups and primary school teachers use the same language patterns.

The aim is to ease the transition into Welsh-medium education for children whose families do not speak Welsh.

Mudiad Meithrin is taking a key role in the Welsh Government’s aim of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Ysgol Bro Alun in Gwersyllt, Wrexham, adopted the plans early on.

The group’s leader Elin Williams said: “95% of the children here are from homes where Welsh isn’t spoken.

“If parents find that the children don’t cope with the language, they take them to English-medium schools in the community here.

“But with Croesi’r Bont, we find that the parents are surprised at just how much Welsh the children have learned in a single year at the playgroup.”

Croesi’r Bont staff visit playgroups to measure the children’s progress, and also help playgroup staff – especially Welsh learners – reinforce their own language skills.

Mudiad Meithrin has been given funding to open 150 new playgroups by 2027, as part of the Welsh Government’s vision of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Chief executive Gwenllian Lansdown Davies said the ambition could be realised if there was joined-up thinking between councils, colleges and other bodies on training.

“We need to invest in the workforce to raise their confidence in speaking Welsh,” she said.

“There is a danger that some might think that it’s only Mudiad Meithrin’s work that will deliver the target, and that cannot be.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Expanding Welsh-medium early years provision is vital in reaching our aim of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

“We’re providing more than £3m to Mudiad Meithrin this year to enable more children to benefit from early years experiences through the medium of Welsh.”

Health, education and roads in Northern Ireland will benefit from an extra £18m in spending this financial year.

The money has been made available as a result of late spending decisions made by Whitehall departments.

Those spending decisions have an automatic knock-on effect to devolved administrations.

They will also lead to an unexpected reduction in the capital budget, which will be deferred until the new financial year.

The capital budget pays for things like new buildings and roads.

It is being reduced by £52m and finance minister Conor Murphy said it is too late in the financial year to find that money.

“The capital budget was fully allocated. The decision has therefore been made to defer the reduction until 2020-21, where it can be managed as part of the wider Budget process.”

Of the additional £18m most (£10m) will go to the Department of Education to deal with immediate pressures.

The Department of Health gets almost £4m to deal with pay pressures with doctors and dentists and a further £1.3m for health pressures.

The remaining money goes to the Department for Infrastructure to provide services to deal with winter conditions, such as road gritting and street light repairs.

Mr Murphy said there had been an option to carry the money forward to the new financial years but “in view of the unfunded pressures in departments… the executive has decided to access that funding in this year.”

More than 5,000 qualifications in England studied by few or, in some cases, no students are being scrapped.

The Department for Education is pulling funding from about 40% of the 12,000 post-16 qualifications as it prepares to introduce new T-levels in September.

T-levels are post-GCSE courses, equivalent to three A-levels, developed in collaboration with businesses.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said finding the right course was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

He added: “Removing funding for qualifications that have no or low numbers of enrolments will help make sure students have a clearer choice of the qualifications on offer, and ensure they get the skills they need to progress.”

The move is the latest step in the government’s wider review of post-16 qualifications at Level 3 – A-level standard – and below.

But the head of the well respected qualification provider City and Guilds said the move would be “disastrous for social mobility”.

The qualifications purge will move closer to a system where teenagers choose at age 16 from one of three routes – A-levels, apprenticeships or T-levels.

But Tom Bewick, the head of the trade association for examining bodies the Federation of Awarding Bodies, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are 50,000 degree courses in this country, and you haven’t had a vice-chancellor sitting here in front of you having to explain why there is so many.”

He questioned whether Whitehall officials were the people best placed, to make “really important life chance decisions about qualifications”.

“This is clearly a very top down review… vocational technical qualifications have been a great idea but they’re for other people’s children – and they certainly aren’t for the people that are in the senior levels within the Department for Education.”

What are T-levels?

T-levels will offer students a mixture of classroom learning and “on-the-job” experience during an industry placement. The first three will be available in some qualifications from September, but only 2,000 places will be on offer initially.

The qualifications – in subjects such as accountancy, catering, finance, hair and beauty and manufacturing – have been developed in collaboration with employers and businesses to meet the needs of industry and prepare students for work.

Candidates will be awarded one of four overall grades after their two years of study, ranging from distinction* to a pass.

They will also get a nationally recognised certificate which will show their overall grade and a breakdown of what they have achieved across the T-level programme.

The aim of Thursday’s announcement was to ensure all qualifications on offer were high-quality, necessary, and supported students to progress into employment or further study, the DfE said.

The kind of qualifications being scrapped are certificates for specific businesses or jobs, such as dry-stone walling, nail art and warehouse management, but they also include entry-level qualifications and one designed to boost the confidence of pupils who struggle with learning.

Some qualifications aimed at pupils with learning and physical disabilities are being axed, too.

The move is also intended to ensure funding goes towards more popular qualifications that help students learn skills they need to go on to have successful careers.

The government is seeking views on whether any of the 5,000 qualifications on the list should continue to attract public funding

Mr Bewick said not everyone would feel one of the three routes was suitable for them.

He said: “Clearly where there are qualifications where they are no longer in demand, they will discontinue.”

But he gave the example of one of the qualifications which could be at risk – Level 3 in aromatherapy, used by the Royal National College for the Blind.

“It’s actually a qualification that helps learners who have visual impairment gain access employment in the therapeutic and spa industries,” he said. “It enrols very few numbers but nevertheless that’s an example of a very niche qualification that helps people into the labour market.”

He said: “We have got young people, who are leaving school who are turned off by classroom learning. They need opportunities for learning by doing, to get practical vocational qualifications.”

City and Guilds chief executive Kirstie Donnelly said many students were simply not ready to make the jump from GCSEs to T-levels.

The introduction of T-levels is the biggest shake-up in vocational education in a generation. They will be tough and are meant to help more people to attain the higher-level skills businesses say they need.

Each year, about 70,000 teenagers in England do not pass a single GCSE at Grade 4 or above. A further 136,000 do not get a single GCSE at the strong pass, Grade 5.

For those expected to then go on to study T-levels, a transition year will try to help them prepare – but not all will be able to make the leap.

And some of the qualifications being scrapped were aimed at these very teenagers, who may be disengaged and lacking in basic employability skills.

“Removing that vital rung on the skills ladder towards Level 3 and above will be disastrous for social mobility and leave more and more people stranded with no route into work,” she said.

“We urge the government to think carefully before removing this lifeline for people and leaving employers unable to access the skilled workforces they need.”

Children who spend lots of time sitting still are more likely to develop depression by the age of 18, a study suggests.

Researchers at University College London looked at the activity levels of 4,257 12- to 16-year-olds.

Those who did an additional hour of light activity each day, such as walking or chores, had fewer depressive symptoms when they reached adulthood.

The study suggests people of all ages should be encouraged to move more.

The participants, from the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s cohort study, wore accelerometers for at least 10 hours on at least three consecutive days (except when they were washing or doing water sports) at the ages of 12, 14 and 16.

These devices showed whether they were sitting still, engaging in light activity – such as walking or engaging in moderate to vigorous activity – such as running or cycling.

The children also filled out a questionnaire that measured depressive symptoms such as low mood, loss of pleasure and poor concentration.

Between the ages of 12 and 16, physical activity declined, while sedentary behaviour increased, the study says.

Researchers found the average time per day spent on:

  • sitting still rose from about seven hours to eight and a half
  • light activity decreased from about five and a half hours to four
  • moderate to vigorous activity “remained stable”

They found for every additional hour a day spent sitting still at the ages of 12, 14 and 16, the participants’ depression score rose by 11.1%, 8% and 10.7%, respectively.

While with light activity, their depression score fell by 9.6%, 7.8% and 11.1%, respectively.

By the age of 18, the questionnaire scores suggested there were 747 possible cases of depression.

‘Sit less’

Lead author and UCL psychiatry PhD student Aaron Kandola said: “We found that it’s not just more intense forms of activity that are good for our mental health but any degree of physical activity that can reduce the time we spend sitting down is likely to be beneficial.

“We should be encouraging people of all ages to move more, and to sit less, as it’s good for both our physical and mental health.

“Worryingly, the amount of time that young people spend inactive has been steadily rising for years but there has been a surprising lack of high-quality research into how this could affect mental health.

“The number of young people with depression also appears to be growing and our study suggests that these two trends may be linked.”

Senior author, Dr Joseph Hayes, from Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Light activity could be particularly useful because it doesn’t require much effort and it’s easy to fit into the daily routines of most young people.

“Schools could integrate light activity into their pupils’ days, such as with standing or active lessons.”

The study, published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, also involved King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

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Three people have been arrested after climate activists dug up a lawn outside a Cambridge University college.

Extinction Rebellion members destroyed part of the lawn at Trinity College on Monday in a protest over its role in a major development in the countryside.

Four other people were held following further acts of criminal damage in the city on Tuesday, police said.

The five women and two men are in custody and investigations are continuing.

Two of those arrested are also suspected of obstructing a police officer.

Activists involved in digging up the lawn said the action was taken against “the destruction of nature”.

Trinity owns Innocence Farm in Trimley St Martin, Suffolk, where plans were submitted for a lorry park. The scheme was rejected.

Police said Trinity College was assisting with the investigation.

On Sunday, Extinction Rebellion members set up a week-long road blockade in Cambridge and last week a meeting had to be abandoned when a protester abseiled into the city council chamber.

On the third day of action, about 40 protesters gathered outside a research centre run by global oilfield services firm Schlumberger, to the west of the city.

Two Ghanaian university lecturers have been suspended without pay after a BBC investigation reported they had sexually harassed undercover reporters posing as students.

The University of Ghana suspended Ransford Gyampo for six months and Paul Butakor for four months.

Both deny the allegations made last year in BBC Africa Eye’s sex-for-grades documentary.

A Nigerian lecturer was also suspended after it was broadcast in October.

Four academics were secretly filmed as part of a year-long investigation. BBC journalists posed as prospective students to expose sexual harassment and misconduct at both the University of Ghana and the University of Lagos.

WARNING: This story contains graphic sexual references.

In one scene, Dr Butakor is filmed asking an undercover journalist if he could become her “side guy”, adding that “a side will see how best to contribute to your career”.

Prof Gyampo tells another undercover reporter that he will marry her. He then asks her what school she went to. After she responds, he says: “There is a rumour that the students of that school like penis.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

In the aftermath of the film – which sparked widespread social media outrage in Ghana and Nigeria – the University of Ghana lecturers were suspended on full salary pending an internal investigation.

On Monday, the university’s disciplinary committee said it had ruled that Prof Gyampo and Dr Butakor had breached the university’s code of conduct rules.

The lecturers would undergo training about the university’s sexual harassment and misconduct policy and would resume work only after a positive assessment, their statement said.

The pair would also continue to undergo annual assessments for the next five years, the committee added.

‘It’s like they’re going on holiday’

The reaction to the lecturers’ suspension has been mixed, reports the BBC’s Thomas Naadi from the capital, Accra.

Some believe the punishment is too lenient.

“It makes the whole investigation, a joke. Giving six months and four months to the lecturers as suspension without salary, it makes it look like they’re even going on vacation, which doesn’t make much sense. This is the reality on the ground and it needs to be tackled,” one woman in Accra told the BBC.

But others feel the suspensions are enough to deter others from misbehaving in future.

“I think what the university has done will serve as a form of motivation for students to be confident… because they know that if any lecturer tries to do something which is not in line with the university’s rules they will be able to do something about it,” a male resident of Accra said.

On Monday, Nigeria’s Senate began debating a bill, initiated after the BBC Africa Eye investigation, that aims to prevent the sexual harassment of university students.

It wants five-year jail terms for lecturers found guilty of sexually harassing students.

A Cambridge University academic who was accused of sexual harassment published erotic fiction about students the year complaints were made against him.

Dr Peter Hutchinson quit teaching at Trinity Hall in 2015 following an internal investigation into his conduct.

It has now emerged he self-published a raunchy book centred around a university in the same year.

The don said the book offered a “progressive” view of women.

Dr Hutchinson, a former lecturer in modern and medieval languages, had agreed to stop teaching and attending social events in 2015 after facing complaints of “inappropriate” comments from 10 students.

But last year the BBC discovered he had retained some college privileges.

He then resigned in November after more than 1,300 students and alumni signed an open letter protesting that he had been allowed to keep his post.

Now, following an investigation by Tortoise, it has emerged that he published an erotic novel under a pseudonym at the time of the 2015 complaints.

‘Ooo-la-la!’

Dr Hutchinson has confirmed he is the author of “First Time: Ooo-la-la!”, which was published under the name “Barry Able”.

The books tells the story of an “innocent” first year student called Peter at a fictitious Oxford college who is found guilty of alleged sexual impropriety after a “series of erotic adventures”.

Most of the women students in the book are members of a college sex club called “The Virgins” and must sleep with a man – or senior academic – each week to remain in the group.

In the opening of the text, a female student is called a “brazen hussy” and others are described as being “well endowed” in lingerie, suspenders and garter-belts.

It also contains references to bondage, voyeurism and public humiliation.

The front-cover features an image of a woman’s leg in stockings, which Dr Hutchinson confirmed belonged to a former Trinity Hall student.

Dr Hutchinson said that he did not “see a problem using an unidentifiable photo” of a student, adding he was not present when it was taken.

Sophie Newbery, 23, who graduated in German and Russian from Trinity Hall in 2018, said she was “disgusted” and “uncomfortable” by its contents.

In 2015, she was one of 10 students who complained that Dr Hutchinson had asked them during a seminar if they had “ever had any love bites” and, while discussing the subject of a dominatrix in a book, asked a female student: “Does that turn you on?”.

Dr Hutchinson said his book had a “progressive view of women” who were “totally liberated”.

Sexual assault charges

Dr Peter Hutchinson was cleared of criminal charges of sexual assault in 2006 after a complaint brought by an ex-student.

The book echoes parts of the court case and gives a fictionalised account of the encounter.

Ellie Pyemont, now 38, who brought the case, told the BBC she “recognised” herself in the pages.

“It is pathetic that he wrote and self-published this misogynistic, crass and deluded story,” she said.

“The significant point is that the person behind this derisory book was in a position of power over young people at Trinity Hall for decades.”

Dr Hutchinson said it was unlikely Trinity Hall was aware of the book and that its publication had nothing to do with the college.

He said the “recasting is so broad that it bears no relation to real life”.

“It needs to be emphasised that an author rarely thinks the same way as his main character,” he said.

Follow Rianna on Twitter at @The_Crox

A scheme to help preschool children learn Welsh more quickly is being rolled out across the country.

Croesi’r Bont, or Crossing the Bridge, has been developed by Mudiad Meithrin, which runs most Welsh-medium early years provision.

The focus is on ensuring staff at playgroups and primary school teachers use the same language patterns.

The aim is to ease the transition into Welsh-medium education for children whose families do not speak Welsh.

Mudiad Meithrin is taking a key role in the Welsh Government’s aim of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Ysgol Bro Alun in Gwersyllt, Wrexham, adopted the plans early on.

The group’s leader Elin Williams said: “95% of the children here are from homes where Welsh isn’t spoken.

“If parents find that the children don’t cope with the language, they take them to English-medium schools in the community here.

“But with Croesi’r Bont, we find that the parents are surprised at just how much Welsh the children have learned in a single year at the playgroup.”

Croesi’r Bont staff visit playgroups to measure the children’s progress, and also help playgroup staff – especially Welsh learners – reinforce their own language skills.

Mudiad Meithrin has been given funding to open 150 new playgroups by 2027, as part of the Welsh Government’s vision of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

Chief executive Gwenllian Lansdown Davies said the ambition could be realised if there was joined-up thinking between councils, colleges and other bodies on training.

“We need to invest in the workforce to raise their confidence in speaking Welsh,” she said.

“There is a danger that some might think that it’s only Mudiad Meithrin’s work that will deliver the target, and that cannot be.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Expanding Welsh-medium early years provision is vital in reaching our aim of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

“We’re providing more than £3m to Mudiad Meithrin this year to enable more children to benefit from early years experiences through the medium of Welsh.”