Mortar boards rise as cap comes off

Thursday was a big day for students up and down the country, as they received their A-level results. As the many photos of smiling students show, for many it was a time of celebration. However, others inevitably fared worse than expected.

Still, the blow for the latter group was softened by the government’s decision to remove the cap on university numbers. This has freed up an additional 30,000 places for those who missed out.

As Chris Woodhead writes in The Sunday Times, “we now have a buyers’ market in which universities are chasing candidates”. This has given rise to “all sorts of glitzy incentives, from tablet computers or membership of sporting clubs, to cash rewards”.

However, he cautions students to think “very hard” before making a decision. After all, the “majority of the vacancies available in clearing are available for a reason”. In other words, they are there “because no-one wanted them the first time around”.

Of course, even those who go to their first choice may fare little better. The Daily Telegraph’s Bryony Gordon, who studied History of Art at UCL, thought she would spend her time, “drinking whisky with great minds while discussing the meaning of life”.

Instead, her lack of self-discipline meant that she “got used to lying in bed until 4pm, learning to blow smoke rings and grow new forms of life on dirty plates”.

Deciding that “university was not for me”, she dropped out, dismaying both her parents and the institution. However, she’s happy that “I was able to come to this decision during a time when higher education was quietly respected rather than seen as the be all and end all”.

These days, the government insists that “university is for everyone”. As a result, we have a glut of students, and “almost half of graduates end up doing jobs they could’ve done at 18”.

Death of an icon

The death of 1940s and 1950s film icon Lauren Bacall last week, at the age of 89, has prompted the inevitable comparisons with the behaviour and demands of today’s film stars.

Writing in The Sunday Times, Penny Perrick notes that even in her mid-sixties Bacall was still working, autographing books for fans at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival. Of course, the reason she was doing this was because “she had come to fame before stars received whopping salaries and a percentage of the gross”.

Bacall was hardly a recluse, famously posing for a photo with the then vice president (later president) Harry Truman, with her draped over a piano. As Stuart Elliott of The New York Times points out, “it was an era of what were known as publicity stunts, when disc jockeys fried eggs on sidewalks on hot summer days”.

He asks “how different are [these stunts] at heart from the modern-day marketing tactic of using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share content created by advertisers?”.

Tabloid money… Do we want to arm big business with a battering ram?

• “Imagine if Britain were to sign a treaty that allowed US health giants to take over the NHS,” says the Daily Mirror’s Jason Beattie. “And imagine if that treaty also let American multinationals sell us food pumped with chemicals and growth hormones.”

Worst of all, “any global corporation that was barred from doing these things” could “take the UK government to court”. However, “this is not some nightmare scenario”.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is being negotiated between the EU and US, “could lead to all of these things happening”.

While the government claims that the trade deal “could lift the UK economy by £10bn a year”, these figures have “been questioned”.

What’s more, similar deals have allowed multinationals to sue “if they believe their right to trade in a free market is being curtailed”. There’s a big risk that TTIP could be “a battering ram for big business to smash open markets”.

• Katie Hopkins in The Sun is cross that from next year “we may be required to separate our rubbish into six different bins”. She notes that “our family only just about makes the distinction between the green and black bin” now.

The new requirements seem aimed at those who have “time, patience and a love of short men… the idea we’re going to sort rubbish into six different bins while singing Whistle While You Work is a bit of a stretch”.

• Writing in The Sun, Tony Parsons thinks that, “it is good that we are starting to see depression as a serious illness”. However, it’s important to realise that “some people are depressed for a reason” and “Robin Williams was one of them”.

Indeed, he was facing a variety of problems, including “the cancellation of a TV series that he was relying on to pay the bills” and “the early stages of Parkinson’s disease”. After all, “if you don’t have enough money or you are struggling with serious illness, then it hardly matters that you are a beloved Hollywood superstar”.