Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Give me my fees back, pleads debt-ridden U.S. university student

A desperate US student who is up to his eyeballs in debt, about to become a father and has little hope of finding a job when he graduates next year, has offered to quit law school in exchange for a full tuition refund.

"With fatherhood impending, I go to bed every night terrified of the thought of trying to provide for my child AND paying off my JD," or Juris Doctor degree, the unnamed student said in an open letter to the dean of Boston College Law School (BC Law), where annual tuition is more than $US40,000.

"I'd like to propose a solution to this problem: I am willing to leave law school, without a degree, at the end of this semester. In return, I would like a full refund of the tuition I've paid over the last two and a half years," he wrote in the letter dated October 15, and posted online.

After his early exit from law school, the student said he would return to his previous career in teaching and be able to provide for his new family "without the crushing weight of my law school loans."

His departure would also benefit BC Law "since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News," a magazine that compiles much-read annual rankings of US universities.

BC Law replied in its own open letter, dated October 22, that it was "deeply concerned about the prospects of our students and our recent graduates" in a legal job market that has been severely affected by the economic downturn.

There was no indication, however, that the law school took up the student's offer and refunded his tuition.

US law students borrowed on average $31,800 from any source in the 2007-08 school year and took out $29,400 s in federal loans, according to the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES).

The payback for their investment is supposed to come when they get their degree and are recruited by a law firm, where they could earn in excess of $100,000 a year in their first year.


Strange British attack on "rich" university graduates

A PENALTY for paying off your loan??

Successful graduates who wish to avoid being burdened with decades of debt could be hit with mortgage style redemption penalties if they pay off their student loan early.

The fees, likely to run to thousands of pounds, would also be levied on parents who saved up to pay upfront for the cost of putting their child through university rather than see them saddled with long-term debt.

It is understood that the redemption penalties are being considered as a means of stopping those who can afford to avoiding the higher rates of interest which are due to be levied on students loans for better off graduates.

In last week’s spending review, George Osborne, the Chancellor, confirmed that university fees are set to rise from their current rate of £3,290 from start of the 2012 academic year.

The new level has yet to be set, but Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed that the Government would reject the recommendation of the recent review of university financing, led by Lord Browne, the former head of BP, that the cap on university fees be lifted altogether.

Instead, ministers are understood to be preparing to propose a new fee of around £7,000-a-year, to be paid off by loans with tiered rates of interest depending on how much the graduate earned in future.

A redemption penalty would stop the better off avoiding higher interest rates by paying off a loan early – and would be seen as a sop to Liberal Democrats who have taken flak over the tuition fees rise after signing a pre-election pledge to scrap them altogether.

Lord Browne had suggested that no redemption penalty be imposed. But Vince Cable, the Lib Democrat Business Secretary, confirmed that ministers were examining ways to make the new system more “progressive” before detailed plans were set out in a few weeks’ time.

He said: "High-earning graduates will be paying more later in their life, but in a progressive way relating to their ability to pay. "There is an issue about people who go on to very high-earning jobs and who therefore pay off relatively quickly and we do have to think about how to find a way by which they make some sort of contribution towards low-earning graduates. "It's a tricky technical problem but we're working on it."

Mr Cable confirmed that ministers had already decided not to proceed with Lord Browne’s suggestion that universities be permitted to charge unlimited amounts, with a levy on any fee above £6,000 to be paid to the Government to spend on bursaries and grants. "I don't think there's any prospect of having unlimited fees – that simply isn't going to arise," he told Sky News.

“We're looking at this very carefully, what Browne had to say – but I think that particular approach was one we're not going to pursue." His words echoed those of Mr Clegg, who told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: "I am uneasy about the idea that you, in theory, have unlimited fees. So we are looking at something which would be more restrained."

The Liberal Democrat leadership is braced for a sizeable rebellion by the party’s backbenchers when the plans come before Parliament.

A number of Lib Dems represent university towns and would face a sizeable backlash from students if they supported a rise in tuition fees after fighting the general election on a promise to abolish them.


Australia: Ignorant history examiners in NSW

ANCIENT history students are the victims of a Higher School Certificate exam mistake, aptly - and literally - known as Herculaneum Gate.

In 2008 HSC examiners in their annual post-mortem upbraided students who confused the two towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Two years later the examiners are accused of making the same error in a compulsory question posed to 12,269 students.

In last Friday's exam, students were asked about inscriptions from a cemetery excavated at Herculaneum. But a cemetery has never been found at the Herculaneum archaeological site. The inscriptions come from tombs at Pompeii, near the town's Herculaneum Gate.

Kathryn Welch, a senior lecturer in the department of classics and ancient history at the University of Sydney, said the mistake would have limited answers on one aspect in particular. It describes a public official with a career that was perfectly normal in Pompeii, but not in Herculaneum.

"This will have impeded the students' realisation that they could have talked about politics in Pompeii on which they were probably better prepared," Dr Welch said. "And, sadly, the better prepared the student was on Pompeii, the more they will have hesitated to apply their information to Herculaneum."

Brian Brennan, an ancient historian who has led school tours to both sites, said angry teachers had contacted him over the mistake. Both Roman towns were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

"To the outsiders it may appear insignificant," he said. "However, we wouldn't accept such mistakes in other papers like English or maths. "It's a question about the credibility of the HSC paper and the board which oversees it. This mistake is basic. The teachers deserve better and they complain and complain and get rebuffed each time."

Jennifer Lawless, the NSW Board of Studies inspector for history, said yesterday the Herculaneum reference was a factual error. But she said the incorrect location would have little impact on the students, who were asked to deal with evidence within the inscriptions. She denied there had been errors in papers for the past three years, saying some facts presented were the subject of academic dispute known to students.

A Board of Studies spokeswoman said one complaint had been received about the ancient history paper this year. She said neither students nor teachers had made complaints about the 2009 or 2008 papers. The spokeswoman said the mistake was unfortunate after an eight-month checking process.

"With all those processes there are sometimes errors," she said. "When we find an error, the chief examiner is contacted and we evaluate how it might affect student responses. "Markers are briefed so they are aware of it and gauge whether student responses have been affected. The bottom line is we want to make sure students aren't disadvantaged."


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