Birmingham MP Wants to Toughen Student Housing Laws

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

A Birmingham MP has vowed to crackdown on rouge student landlords despite his proposals not receiving the necessary support.

Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe drew up his Protection of Family Homes Bill after being inundated with complaints from residents who said that family homes were being over extended and split up into student flats.

Mr McCabe proposed a law to strengthen planning regulations, giving council planning departments more powers, including levying fines on non-compliant landlords.

The Labour MP previously warned that student houses were taking over family properties in parts of Selly Oak. However, despite initially gaining support from other MPs whose own constituencies were being blighted by rouge landlords, the Bill fell flat at the second reading stage in the House of Commons last year.

Despite the setback MP Mr McCabe has not waned in his attempts to fight back.

Commenting on the proposals, he said: "I'm furious about the Government's attitude. Despite acknowledging that a number of rouge landlords have no regard for planning legislation or building regulations, there was nothing in their recent white paper to deal with the exploitation of permitted development rights."

He added: "I introduced my Bill with the aim of strengthening planning enforcement practices by imposing fines on landlords and developers who violate planning regulations. I'm pleased to see the council is taking action but a change in law is needed which is why I'm not letting my Bill to protect family homes go. "

Client Money Protection Could Become Mandatory for Agents

Posted by Richard Ward in ,

The working group set up by the Department of Communities and Local Government to consider Client Money Protection rules, has suggested the scheme should made compulsory for all letting agents that handle client money.

The housing minister Gaving Barwell has subsequently accepted the findings, and a formal government announcement is expected today.

The working group was put together last August with the remit to decide on whether it would be appropriate to recommend making client money protection mandatory (CMP) on letting agents in England.

After gathering evidence on the matter and a consultation period, the working group suggested that 85% of interested bodies, including letting agents, were keen to see mandatory CMP.

A statement released from the group said: "This would improve the reputation and professional standards in the industry as well as giving consumers the financial protection that they want and deserve. It would also bring the sector into line with others where client money is held, for example the legal profession and travel operators."

The group went on to say: "It is presumed that it is those agents that dot not have CMP voluntarily that are more likely to abscond with or abuse client money in their custody. Mandatory membership of a CMP scheme would help to drive up standards across the sector."

The group also suggested those existing agents which fail the due diligence requirement to access CMP cover should not be able to continue to handle client money.

Furthermore, to give agents time to adjust, the group recommends a transitional implementation and those seeking to obtain CMP cover should not be required to join a professional body.

Warwick District Council to Develop Student Housing Strategy

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

Warwick district council is to develop a student housing strategy to address issues raised by local residents.

Over the past 15 years the number of students living in Leamington alone has tripled to over 5,000.

Although the council recognises the boost to the local economy students bring, there have been calls for them to be more responsible for the number of complaints regarding anti-social behaviour.

Warwick District Council's executive has now agreed to develop a Student Housing Strategy. The strategy will look at meeting the demand for student housing, as well as offering advice and support to both students and residents.

Commenting on the announcement, councillor Kristie Naimo, said: "I'm pleased to see the council's executive have now agreed to develop a Student Housing Strategy.

"This is something councillors, residents particularly of South Leamington and others have been calling for and we hope that officers will start investigating this as soon as practically possible.

"Having a strategic approach to student housing will benefit all members of our communities - students as well as permanent residents."

Work will be undertaken to develop the strategy, with the aim of bringing the district in line with other areas which have a high student population.

The executive report noted that students have particular requirements, which leads to specific issues for the local community. The report also highlighted the important of promoting harmonious relations between all sections of the community.

Peers Vote to Remove International Students from Migration Targets

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

Peers have voted in favour of removing international students out of the UK's net migration targets.

Representing a significant blow to the prime minister, peers backed an amendment from Lord Hannay of Chiswick which sated that students should not be treated for public policy purposes, as a long-term migrant to the UK, for the duration of their studies.

The amendment received strong support and was passed by 313 votes to 219 in the upper chamber on 13 March.

The Prime Minister Theresa May has previously ignored calls from the higher education sector to remove international students from net migration numbers, seemingly in an attempt to meet their pledge of bringing the figures down into the tens of thousands.

The current stance on international students has been blamed for a fall in recruitment from markets such as India, which has seen numbers half since 2010. Meanwhile competing countries such as the US, Canada and Australia, have seen their intake of Indian students explode.

Lord Lucas, a Conservative peer, argued the change is required as the Home Office was in theory the sales desk for international applicants to UK universities. He suggested the website was "antagonistic" and therefore deterred some potential students.

The amendment in its current state says, those who receive an offer to study in the UK shall also not be subject to more restrictive immigration controls than were in force for a person in their position on the day this act was passed. It also says the secretary of state should have a "duty to encourage international students to attend higher education providers".

The amendment will now be considered by MPs, who may choose to either accept or reject it. Peers can then try and insist on the changes, recommend alternatives or back down.

Oxford University Academics Set to Leave the UK

Posted by Richard Ward in ,

Reports from Oxford University colleges suggest that academics are already planning to leave the UK in the face of uncertainty on their rights after Brexit.

The heads of 35 colleges have warned that the institution will suffer "enormous damage" if European Union staff lose their right to work in Britain.

As a result, they had urged the government to back a House of Lords amendment to the Brexit bill which guarantees protections for EU nationals living in the UK.

However, late on Monday peers back down over the issues of EU residency rights and a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal after their objections were overturned by MPs. In the end the House of Lords agreed not to reinsert guarantees over the status of EU residents in the UK into the bill, with government winning the vote by a margin of 274 votes to 135.

A letter signed by all but three Oxford college heads had stated that the governments previous promises had not provided the reassurance they were after.

In the letter it said: "Oxford University relies on EU citizens as lectures, researchers and support staff. If they lost their right to work here our university would suffer enormous damage, which given our role in research, would have reverberations across the UK.

"Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law, some are worried, some are already making plans to leave.

"Many of our staff don't know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK."

In 2015-16 almost a fifth of UK academics were from the EU, highlighting the potential scale of the issue for universities.

Degree Apprenticeships Increase in Popularity

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

Degree apprenticeships, consisting of university studies and work, are close to becoming a significant success, according to a new report from Universities UK.

Nearly 5,000 people will begin degree apprenticeships for the 2017-18 academic year, representing an eight-fold increase on when the scheme was launched in 2015.

The report also found the scheme was reaching people who would not otherwise have gone to university.

The degree apprenticeship scheme operates across England and Wales, but is open to applicants from throughout the UK.

The study into the scheme found that at least 60 higher education institutions were looking to introduce degree apprenticeships from September and that by then more than 7,600 people will be enrolled on degree apprenticeship courses.

The report suggested the current growth was driven by the need to meet skills shortages, with chartered management, digital and technology solutions and engineering the top three areas of provision.

However, there is still room for improvement with the report finding that awareness of the scheme among individuals and employers was too low.

Researches have therefore urged government and universities to increase efforts to "publicise and improve understanding of degree apprenticeships and their fundamental role in supporting social mobility and raising productivity."

Surrey Students' Union Calls for Housing Intervention

Posted by Richard Ward in , , ,

The University of Surrey Students' Union has called for action to combat what it calls a student housing crisis.

According to student union president, Alex Mackenzie smith, the market system has failed and it's time for intervention, including more regulation.

The students' union has said students are being forced out of Guildford or into working longer hours, in order to pay for rent.

A housing manifesto created by the union said: "The housing market is increasingly occupied with those who are looking for an increasing return on their capital, and squeezing their tenants for everything they can, while doing the absolute minimum to be a legal landlord."

Miss Mackenzie added: "The market system has failed Guildford, and now it is time for intervention to bring fairness back to the system designed to provide the most basic human need. A roof over our head."

The manifesto called for more regulation to help protect students from exploitation, more purpose-built student accommodation, for students to be treated as residents of Guildford and for the introduction of rent controls to ensure prices are kept down.

The union is looking for Surrey residents to sign a petition to increase student loans with a London weighting, as students are being forced to pay rents similar to those in the capital.

The document also referenced the recently launched landlord accreditation scheme, suggesting its purpose was worthy but will fail to work when the market isn't functioning correctly. It suggested below par properties are still able to attract tenants, ensuring poor performing landlords aren't forced to raise their standards, leading to the exploitation of students.

Councillor Paul Spooner welcomed the manifesto but suggested a shortage of housing locally and regionally for all residents presented many challenges.

Nearly a Third of University Academics Originate From Outside the UK

Posted by Richard Ward in , ,

Date released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency has revealed that nearly a third of university academics in the UK are from outside of the country.

Almost one in five university academics are from a country within the European Union, which has caused concerns for university leaders worried about retaining and recruiting staff.

Universities have warned they depend on be able to recruit highly-mobile international staff and students, with the latest figures from UCAS showing a decline in applications from the EU.

The data from HESA shows that 29% of academic staff are from outside the UK and in some cases, such as engineering and technology, non-UK academics account for 42% of staff.

In maths, physics and biology, 38% of staff are non-UK, with the majority of these coming from other EU countries, while the percentage of non-UK staff in the humanities was recorded at 35%.

When the education select committee took evidence from universities about the possible impact of Brexit, they heard concerns that talented and sought-after mathematicians from the EU could move elsewhere.

The University of Cambridge professor, Catherine Barnard, told MPs the university had seen a 14% decline in applications this year from EU students and raised concerns about a risk of perceived anti-immigrant sentiment.

Fast-Track University Courses Proposed by Government

Posted by Richard Ward in , , ,

The government is to introduce fast-track university degrees with higher annual fees.

Under the plans, the two-year degrees will cost the same as a traditional three-year course, meaning annual fees will be higher.

Ministers are expected to put forward a bill to lift the current £9,000 cap on tuition fees so universities can charge higher annual rates associated with courses with a reduced length.

The Department for Education stressed the fast-track degrees will carry the same weight as the current undergraduate model.

Under the proposals, universities will be able to charge more than £13,000 a-year for those courses that are cut down to two years and will only apply to institutions in England. Annual fees for four-year courses being delivered in three years could rise to £12,000 a year.

The increased fees will be limited to those courses being accelerated and delivered in fewer years, with universities having to prove they're investing the same resources into the fast-track students.

Education ministers have suggested the reduced course time-frame will appeal to those looking to get into, or return to, the workplace or those looking to cut down on living and accommodation costs.

Those partaking in the new system will forgo the long summer and winter breaks in exchange for the shorter course duration.

The proposal to lift the cap on tuition fees for fast-track students is part of a range of changes set to be included into the higher education and research bill.

According to University minister Jo Johnson, the new bill will provide students with new and flexible ways of learning.

Commenting on the plans, he said: "Students are crying out for more flexible courses, modes of study which they can fit around work and life, shorter courses that enable them to get into and back into work more quickly and courses that equip them with the skills that the modern workplace needs."

Plagiarising Students Could Face a Criminal Record under Proposed Plans

Posted by Richard Ward in ,

Under plans being proposed by the government, those university students who purchase essays online could face fines and a criminal record.

To combat the growing essay writing industry, the government is looking to introduce tough new rules amid concerns the quality of a British university degree is under threat.

Recent reports suggest as many as 20,000 students enrolled at British universities are paying thousands of pounds for bespoke essays in order to obtain degrees.

The Department of Education has announced it is in consultation with universities over how to crackdown on cheating students.

The DfE is currently consulting on a variety of proposals with higher education bodies, ranging from fines, academic blacklists and even criminal records for students found submitting professionally written essays.

Commenting on the matter, a spokeswoman for DfE said a change in the law was something that could be considered in the future.

The new guidance is due to be implemented in September so it coincides with the start of the next academic year.

Commenting on the announcement, Universities Minister Jo Johnson said: "This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.

"Essay mill websites threaten to undermine the high-quality reputation of a UK degree so it is vital that the sector work together to address this in a consistent and robust way."

Although universities use anti-plagiarism software to detect when academic texts have been copied, students submitting bespoke essays as their own can circumvent the software in place, meaning examiners are powerless to prevent foul play.