Scottish Universities Have Worst Drop-Out Rates
Government efforts to encourage youngsters to continue their education at university or college have been very successful over the last few decades. But it has also meant that the number of students dropping out of courses because they cannot cope has also gone up. The numbers falling by the wayside in Scotland are significantly higher than in the rest of the UK. 11% (about 2,500) of students left university in Scotland in 2003-4 after a year, compared with a UK average of 7.8%. The lowest drop-out rates are in England where only 7.3% left after 12 months. Bell College in Hamilton, now classed as a higher education provider alongside other universities, tops the league with a drop-out rate of 38%, while Napier University in Edinburgh (pictured here), Abertay University in Dundee and Paisley University all have early leaving rates of more than 20%. Part of the reason is that Scottish institutions take higher numbers of students from deprived areas, who are traditionally more vulnerable because of their financial background and lack of family experience of higher education. Abertay also takes a significant number of international students, who leave, as planned, after 12 months and that inflates their statistics. St Andrews University which is geographically not far away from Abertay University, has the lowest drop-out rate of all Scottish tertiary education institutions - a mere 1.3%. It also has the highest level of students educated at private schools.
£37.5 Million Intranet Project for Scottish Schools
A national schools intranet project to digitally link Scotland's 800,000 teachers and pupils came a step closer this week with the launch of a five-year £37.5 million contract. This aims to offer pupils and teachers access to a range of learning and teaching resources from their computers at school or home. It will allow teachers to maximise the use of internet technology with such mechanisms as video clips and high-quality graphics, making lessons more exciting for their pupils. There will be a virtual teaching and learning environment which will allow teachers to set up lessons that use the power of internet technology to make the work more interesting, in a way that is difficult to achieve at the moment. In addition, there will be a range of communication and collaboration tools that allow teachers, pupils and others across Scottish education to share ideas and resources, to build online communities and to set up video and audio conferences between teachers and learners in different parts of the country. There is already a large-scale broadband network linking all 32 local councils, which includes links to Learning and Teaching Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority. The interconnect is linked directly to the JANET network, the massive UK-wide broadband network that serves higher and further education across the country.
£600 Million Road Upgrade Rejected
Despite pressure from Members of the Scottish Parliament representing all shades of politics, the Scottish Executive Transport Minster has rejected calls to upgrade to dual carriageway standard the entire length of the A9 road between Perth and Inverness, at an estimated cost of £600 million. Only sections of the road have two lanes in each direction, separated by a central reservation and crash barrier. On other parts of the road, there is only one lane in each direction - with cars trying to overtake slower vehicles on straight stretches when they judge it is safe to do so. In the last five years there have been 83 deaths on the 115-mile trunk road. Upgrades at some road junctions have been approved in recent years, but completion of some of these has been delayed and will not be started until next year.
Transplant for Heart and Lung Surgery
All heart and lung operations in Glasgow hospitals are to be moved out of the city to the Golden Jubilee Hospital at Clydebank, six miles from the city centre. The former HCI hospital has already been designated as the main centre for cardio-thoracic surgery in the whole of the west of Scotland. Units in Glasgow, including the Scottish heart transplant service currently based at the Royal Infirmary, are to move to the Clydebank facility. Patients now travel from Ayrshire, Inverclyde and the Scottish Borders to the Golden Jubilee Hospital which was originally set up as a private hospital.
Scottish Birthrate Rises
Scotland's steadily declining population is regarded as a major problem because of its impact on economic development and the difficulties arising from an increasing proportion of the population above working age. So there is considerable interest in the regular reports from the Registrar General on births, deaths and marriages. His latest statistics, published this week, show that at 13,544, the number of births in Scotland, from January to June 2005, has reached the highest level since 1999. Deaths showed the usual seasonal decline, although at 13,667 they were 0.7% above the level of one year earlier. Thus, for Scotland as a whole, deaths slightly exceeded births, by 0.1%. All of which makes even more important the government's efforts to ensure that immigration, particularly of skilled workers, exceeds the number of Scots emigrating.
Revamp Plan for Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens
In the 1990s, plans to transform Aberdeen's Union Terrace Gardens with a huge amphitheatre capable of staging outdoor concerts had to be dropped when the City Council failed to obtain funding for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Now the blueprint has been updated in the hope of securing that vital funding and backing from private sources as well. The scheme involves creating a new civic square, footpaths and gardens as well as the original amphitheatre - see the architect's drawing. It is argued that the scheme could generate considerable confidence and enthusiasm in business, visitors and residents of the city.
Scotland's Job Creation Hotspot
Scottish Enterprise Glasgow's chief executive claimed this week that more jobs have been created in Glasgow than any other area of Scotland over the past 10 years and that in the last decade, Glasgow's growth has also been better than all its direct European competitors. Scotland's largest city now supports 410,000 people - more than 16% of all posts in the country. Around 53,000 jobs have been created in the city since 1995 - a growth rate of 16%. 25% of the residents in the greater Glasgow area commute to the city every day.
Legal Tender Status for Scottish Banknotes?
Most people have come across the term "legal tender" but few actually know the precise meaning of the term. In the UK, anyone can pay a debt or settle a financial transaction in "legal tender" and the person owed the value has to accept it - and not reject the amount or demand, say, gold coins instead (as used to be the case). In Scotland, where 95% of the notes in circulation are those issued by the three largest banks (Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank ), most people think these are legal tender. But the UK legislation defining legal tender only applies to Bank of England notes and coin. The situation is further complicated by the legislation restricting legal tender status to Bank of England one pound notes in Scotland. When these were withdrawn, in 1983, the legislation was not amended. So since then, Scotland has had no "legal tender" banknotes - but this technicality does not seem to have caused any problems! A few months ago, the Bank of England issued a "consultation document" which sought, amongst other things, to tighten the rules by which the Scottish banks provide cover for their notes. However, it is estimated that this would cost the banks, collectively, £80 million a year. Now the Scottish banks are fighting back, suggesting first of all that the regulation of the notes should be handled by the Financial Services Authority, rather than the Bank of England. And they are also proposing that legislation should be passed to give Scottish banknotes the status of legal tender. It remains to be seen how the negotiations will end. At least the Scottish banks don't have to deal with the European Central Bank at this stage, as the UK is not part of the Euro currency zone.
The illustration is an amalgam of banknotes from the three banks.
Royal Bank Unveils Its First £50 Note
The Scottish banks issue notes in denominations of £5, £10, £20, £50 and £100 but for historical reasons the Royal Bank has never issued a £50 note (though it uniquely continues to circulate £1 notes). This week, however, the Royal Bank unveiled its first £50 note. The suggestion for this apparently came from a member of staff in a branch in Inverness when the Royal Bank Group's chief executive, Fred Goodwin, was on a visit. So it is perhaps appropriate that the design incorporates a drawing of Inverness Castle. The bank's other denominations all feature castles - Edinburgh on the £1, Culzean Castle (£5), Glamis Castle (£10), Brodick Castle (£20) and Balmoral Castle (£100).
2,000 CCTV Cameras for First Scotrail Trains
Five state-of-the art CCTV cameras recording high-resolition images are to be installed in every carriage on 230 First Scotrail trains over the next two years. The aim is to increase security and build on a network of CCTV cameras installed in over 50% of the stations in Scotland - the highest percentage in Britain.
Edinburgh Castle Ceiling Falls Near Tourists
Part of the ornate ceiling in the 17th century ante-room of the Laich Hall at Edinburgh Castle collapsed this week, only feet away from visitors touring the building. No-one was injured, but the area is to be cordoned off until an investigation is complete and the damage repaired. The ante-room or King's Presence Room dates back to 1617, when it was created together with the Laich Hall in anticipation of a grand royal visit to Scotland King James VI. James had become the first monarch of both Scotland and England in 1603 and had immediately departed for London. Historic Scotland won a top award for the elaborate restoration work it had carried out on the ceilings of both the Laich Hall and the King's Presence Room.
New Commercial Ferry Route
The Transport Minister has announced that the Scottish Executive will shortly be inviting tenders from companies to operate a ferry service between Gourock on the mainland and Dunoon on the other side of the Firth of Clyde. Currently, the service is operated by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) the state-owned company, with a financial subsidy from the tax-payer. Nine commercial companies have indicated an interest in operating the route and CalMac will be able to tender also, if it can operate without a subsidy.
11,000 Miles to Catch a Bus
A group of Australian enthusiasts travelled the 11,000 miles from sunny, springtime Sydney to a dreich (bleak), overcast Glasgow with a nip in the autumn air - so that they could take a 30-minute trip on a bus. True, this busman's holiday was not on any old bus, but a vintage Albion CX19 Venturer, made in Glasgow in 1949. It plied its trade along the streets of the city until 1962 in its green, cream and orange livery. Ever since, it has been part of the Transport Museum at the Kelvin Hall. But when the Glasgow Vintage Vehicle Trust asked the museum staff if they could borrow the bus so that a group of Australian guests could have a "hurl on a bus" the curators were able to oblige. They needed to do a bit of maintenance, after 40 years of waiting for passengers, but the engine sparked into life and passed its Ministry of Transport vehicle test with flying colours. One of the Australian visitors is extremely familiar with the Albion bus - he owns one back home in Australia where is has resided in his back garden for around 20 years. In its hey-day, Sydney boasted the largest fleet of these Glasgow-built buses - 160 of them. As the bus proceeded through the streets of Glasgow, it turned a few Glaswegian heads too.
Buses Change Traffic Lights
The first phase of a new £31 million integrated transport system using a network of radios, satellites and cameras will track buses in the city and notify waiting passengers about expected times of arrival of the next vehicle was inaugurated this week. Similar information will be displayed on-board as well. If buses are held up in traffic, sensors on the road will detect its approach at traffic lights and change them to green. The system is claimed to be the most advanced in the UK. The cost of the technology is being shared between operator, First Bus, and the city council.
Diversion for West Highland Way?
Residents and businesses based in Glencoe think that hikers who make the journey along the 95 miles of the West Highland way which runs from Milngavie, just north of Glasgow, to Fort William, are missing some of the best scenery in the area by by-passing the famous glen. So they are working on a plan to create a diversion to the walkway which is enjoyed by tens of thousands of tourists every year. Walking the full length is a seven-day hike and a few extra miles through scenic Glencoe could prove to be popular. The National Trust for Scotland, which owns Glencoe, is looking at the feasibility of creating new paths as part of a wide-ranging project to make the area more accessible to "sightseers and strollers" as well as serious hikers. The linkage would also create a "Glencoe Orbital" route taking in Kinlochleven and Kinghouse Hotel as well as the village of Glencoe.
Cold and Wind Defeat Charity Swimmers
Four men and two women attempted to swim in relays the 37 kilometer length of Loch Ness three times last weekend in aid of Cancer Research UK. In addition to the possibility of having their toes nibbled by the local Loch Ness Monster, the swimmers also had to contend with cold biting their extremities as they were all members of a naturist organisation and far from wearing a warm wet suit, they swam as nature intended. However, it was not a lack of clothes that beat them - strong winds meant that their escort boat couldn't keep up with the swimmers and they had to give up after one lap, which took them 14 hours.
"Freezing Winter" Warning
Weather forecasters sometimes have difficulty in predicting the weather a few hours or days ahead, so a warning from the meteorological Office to expect heavy snowfalls in December and January may not cause too many people to look out their winter woollies or the package holiday catalogues. But energy companies are being exhorted to take the forecast seriously and take action to prevent power blackouts. So far, their main response has been to jack up the prices of gas and electricity, which may reduce demand a little. The other reaction has been for bookmakers to slash the odds for a white Christmas - odds are now 6-1 for a snowfall in Glasgow on 25 December.
Weather in Scotland This Week
There was a nip in the air at times this week and more leaves are beginning to fall as autumn advances. Maximum daytime temperatures in Edinburgh and Glasgow hovered around 13/15C (55/59F) early in the week but recovered a bit to 17/18C (63/64F) in the middle of the week. But a fresh, south-westerly wind brought maximum temperatures in Glasgow back down to 15C (59F) on Thursday and Friday and produced 1.35 inches of rain over those two days. Sunshine was in short supply in the west but Aberdeen recorded nearly 9 hours of sun on Tuesday.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of heather growing at the Glendoick Garden Centre between Perth and Dundee. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be used to seeing more photographs illustrating the current flora and fauna in Scotland. This week, there were again so many photos to choose from a Colour Supplement has been created so as not to overload the main Newsletter. Click on the link and you will open up a new page with a half-dozen more illustrations which include a stag, a red admiral butterfly, autumn colours, and the flowers of dahlia and michaelmas daisy.