News: Clearing; investing in youth; students to sue; parents urged to strike a balance

Record numbers turn to Clearing

Universities filled up in record time this August, with 35 per cent more vacancies taken during the first 72 hours of Clearing than last year. The scramble is particularly intense as record A-level results mean that many young people will have got better grades than they have been expecting.

Figures from UCAS show that, as of 19 September, 380,422 students had confirmed their university places; a drop from the figure of 394,350 at the same point last year. The latest Clearing figures show that 33,609 students had found last-minute university places via the service, which appears in The Independent. Only 32,937 students had found university places through Clearing at the same point last year.

Critics fear that the drop in overall student numbers shows that the introduction of top-up fees has put many young people off Higher Education (see page 13). Others argue that last year's numbers were artificially inflated by a rush of students seeking to avoid top-up fees by starting their courses under the old regime. It is thought numbers will return to normal next year.

Governments urged to invest in youth

According to the World Bank Development Report launched this month, there has never been a better time to invest in youth.

There are now a record 1.3 billion people aged 12 to 25 in the developing world, creating what Francois Bourguignon, the bank's chief economist, describes as a "demographic window of opportunity."

In many developing countries, illiteracy and unemployment are still rife: some 130 million cannot read or write. The report strongly advises that governments must seize the opportunity to invest in better education, healthcare and job training, in order to produce rapid economic growth and sharply reduce poverty.

"It is far easier to develop skills during youth," said Bourguignon. "If we fail to do that, it will be impossible to remedy the missed opportunity. It is fundamental to invest in youth."

The report warns that failure to seize this opportunity to educate and train young people as active citizens and productive workers could lead to widespread disillusionment and social tension.

Students to sue

More than a dozen students were recently taking steps to sue the University of Wales, Newport, for damages of more than £5,000 each, for the stress and inconvenience they claim was caused by a reduction in their teaching hours, carried out without consultation with students or professors.

At Christmas last year, Mandi Hine was informed that teaching time on her second-year course in environmental management was being slashed and the course closed. "We are getting £5,500 in debt every year and we aren't being taught," says Hine. "Surely there has to be some compensation?"

The test case comes as universities are making more explicit what they expect of students, through contracts spelling out students' obligations to attend lectures and abide by university rules.

If the case reaches court, James Rudall, the solicitor advocate representing the students, believes it will serve as a warning to other institutions. "I think universities must be taken to task over such issues."

Parents urged to strike a balance

The "helicopter parent", a phenomenon originally associated with colleges in the US, is increasingly becoming a problem this side of the Atlantic. The term is used to describe those parents who hover around their offspring, ready to dive in and interfere at any moment.

According to Frank Furedi, professor of Sociology at the University of Kent and author of Paranoid Parenting, over-parenting risks infantilising a generation of young adults, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of life upon leaving home.

It is difficult for any parent to negotiate the balance between giving your children the best possible start and interfering in their affairs to their detriment. Administrative staff at British universities are already attempting to combat this problem by offering peace of mind, in the form of information specifically aimed at parents and invitations for them to participate in the induction process.

The University of Reading's website has a section talking parents through all aspects of university life, including welfare, accommodation and finances. Meanwhile the University of Leicester's open days include a specially designed parent's programme, including tours of accommodation, a talk on finances and opportunities for informal chats with admissions staff and current students.

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