News & Current Affairs

July 2, 2009

Student maintenance cash frozen

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Student maintenance cash frozen

Graduation ceremony

The system of student finance is different around the UK

Student maintenance grants and loans in England will be frozen for the academic year 2010-2011, the government has announced.

However, loans to cover tuition fees will be raised in line with the increase in the fees themselves.

Tuition fees will increase by 2.04% from September 2010, higher education minister David Lammy said.

He insisted that “difficult decisions” had to be made in the current economic climate.

The full maintenance grant, payable to students whose family income does not exceed £25,000, will remain at £2,906.

Maintenance loans and thresholds will also remain at 2009/10 levels.

Grants available for trainee teachers will also be reduced to be brought into line with amounts available to other students, Mr Lammy said in a written ministerial statement.

He said: “In these difficult economic times, we are continuing to take difficult decisions in the interests of students, universities and taxpayers alike.

“We have therefore decided to maintain the current package of maintenance support for full-time students, reflecting the current low inflationary environment.”

Recession

The Russell Group of 20 leading universities said it was “vital” that income from tuition fees kept pace with inflation.

“The introduction of fees has managed to halt a long-term decline in funding per student but funding for higher education in Britain is still significantly lower than in most other OECD countries,” said its director general, Wendy Piatt.

“The system of student support in England remains one of the most generous – and expensive – in the world.”

But the National Union of Students President, Wes Streeting, said: “Students are already racking up thousands of pounds of debt, and in a recession every penny counts.

“It appears that the inflation rate is being applied where it suits universities, but not where it will improve student support.

“In the context of the current recession, these real terms cuts in student support will be felt in students’ pockets.”

And the General Secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, said ministers had “failed” to ensure higher education was not a victim of the recession.

Loans

Students in England can apply for a means-tested grant to cover living costs – the value of this depends on their family income.

They can make up any shortfall by applying for a maintenance loan.

In addition, a tuition fee loan to cover fees is paid by the government on behalf of every student directly to the institution they attend.

These are repayable after graduation once annual income reaches £15,000.

Students in Northern Ireland are charged the same fees as in England.

The situation in Scotland and Wales differs – both countries charge higher fees to students from elsewhere in the UK coming to study there.

In Scotland, home students do not pay any fees.

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October 1, 2008

Senate urged to back crisis bill

Senate urged to back crisis bill

Wall Street, file pic

Shares remain volatile ahead of Wednesday’s key vote

Democratic and Republican Senate leaders have appealed for a new version of a $700bn (£380bn) Wall Street bail-out to be approved in a key vote.

Republican Mitch McConnell said it would shield Americans from “shockwaves of a problem they didn’t create”.

The plan needs support in the Senate and House of Representatives, which rejected a similar bill on Monday.

Senate Democrat Harry Reid said he hoped a strong show of bipartisanship would “spark the House to do the same”.

President George W Bush has been speaking to senators ahead of the vote. The White House said it hoped to see “strong support for the bill”.

“It’s critically important that we approve legislation this week and limit further damage to our economy,” said spokesman Tony Fratto.

US presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama are returning from the campaign trail for the vote, which is due to begin late on Wednesday.

Revised proposal

Global shares were mixed in Wednesday trading ahead of the vote.

By early afternoon on Wall Street the Dow Jones was down 0.2% or 30 points.

CHANGES TO BILL
Raises government’s guarantee on savings from $100,000 to $250,000
Tax breaks to help small businesses and promote renewable energy
Expansion of child tax credit and help for victims of recent hurricanes

But hopes that enough changes had been made to get the bill through saw shares close up strongly in Asia on Wednesday.

In Europe, the UK’s FTSE 100 finished 1.1% higher at 4,959.6 points, France’s key index added 0.6% while German shares fell.

Changes to the rescue plan involve lifting the US government’s guarantee on savings from $100,000 to $250,000 and a package of targeted tax breaks.

They are designed to answer critics who felt the original plan was weighted too much in favour of Wall Street while not enough was being done to help struggling American families.

To get through the Senate, the bill will require backing by 60 of the 100 senators. It would then return to the House of Representatives for a vote on Thursday or Friday.

Some members of Congress continue to press for more fundamental changes to the bill.

President Bush has warned of “painful and lasting” consequences for the US should Congress fail to agree a rescue plan.

The House’s rejection of the earlier version of the plan on Monday led to sharp falls on world stock markets.

In other developments:

  • The European Union outlines its own proposals for reforming banking regulation which, if approved, could see dramatic changes to the way in which banks operate
  • Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says the “irresponsibility” of the US financial system is to blame for the crisis
  • Ireland’s government discusses a move to guarantee all bank deposits with the EU Competition Commissioner

‘Painful recession’

In election campaigning on the eve of the vote, Mr McCain and Mr Obama urged politicians of both parties to work together to pass the emergency legislation.

Speaking in Reno, Nevada, Mr Obama warned that without action by Congress “millions of jobs could be lost, a long and painful recession could follow”.

John McCain campaigns in Iowa, 30 Sept

John McCain said inaction by Congress was putting the US at risk

He added: “There will be a time to punish those who set this fire, but now is the moment for us to come together and put the fire out.”

Mr McCain, who campaigned in Des Moines, Iowa, said inaction by Congress had “put every American and the entire economy at the gravest risk” and that Washington urgently needed to show leadership.

“I am disappointed at the lack of resolve and bipartisan goodwill among members of both parties to fix this problem,” he said.

The vote comes a day before a TV debate between vice-presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.

Mr Biden, Mr Obama’s running mate, is also expected to take part in the Senate vote.

Meanwhile, ex-President Bill Clinton is to hold his first rally for Mr Obama.

Mr Clinton, whose wife Hillary lost to Mr Obama in a fierce primary contest for the Democratic nomination, is due to appear in Florida, where he will encourage people to register as voters before a deadline on Monday.

September 7, 2008

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Poles first in Euro dance contest

Polish Eurovision Dance Contest winners Marcin Mroczek and Edyta Herbus

The Poles beat 13 other couples to win the Eurovision title

Poland claimed first place in the Eurovision Dance Contest, which was held in Scotland on Saturday.

Actor Marcin Mroczek and dancer Edyta Herbus won the votes of watchers throughout the continent with a routine set to Michael Jackson’s music.

Russia finished second and Ukraine were third, while hosts UK finished ninth out of 14 competitors.

A television audience of millions watched the 135 minute program, which came from Glasgow’s SECC.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman hosted the show, which featured 14 couples from Austria, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.

Each couple – one celebrity and one professional dancer – performed a freestyle dance with a national flavor which could have elements of Latin and Ballroom.

Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

The show was fronted by Graham Norton and Claudia Winkleman

A panel of expert judges as well as the TV audience voting from home then decided on the winner.

The UK was represented by Vincent Simone and Eastenders actress Louisa Lytton.

It is the second time the contest has been run. Finland won last year’s vote.

“With this competition, we created a fantastic new Eurovision tradition, which we are confident will last for many years to come,” said Bjorn Erichsen, Director of Eurovision TV.

September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

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Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

August 3, 2008

Seven feared dead in K2 avalanche

At least seven climbers are feared dead in an avalanche after scaling the world’s second-highest mountain, K2, expedition organisers have said.

There are fears more of the climbers, who are of mixed nationalities, could have died in the accident in northern Pakistan, but others reached safety.

A chunk from an ice pillar snapped away on Friday and broke ropes on a feature called the Bottleneck, reports said.

Only a few hundred people have climbed K2 and dozens have died in the attempt.

Fatality rate

One Basque climber who reached safety, Alberto Zerain, told reporters the 18-person international expedition hit trouble on descent.

The mountaineers included Koreans, Pakistanis, Nepalis, a Dutchman and an Italian, reports said, but there are other nationalities and the exact details are unclear.

One of the climbers reported missing is Gerard McDonnell, 37, from County Limerick in Ireland, the first Irish person to reach the mountain’s summit.

Many regard K2, at 8,611 metres (28,251 ft), the most difficult mountain in the world to climb.

The fatality rate for those who reach the summit is three times higher than that for Mount Everest.

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