The Daily: May 22
Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Daily: May 22

We scour the news so you don't have to

Written by Julie Hall
Crucial EU voting today
How well UKIP will really do in the EU elections is the question on a lot of lips today. They are certainly on course for victory, although Nigel Farage has been under a lot of pressure recently as the "face" of the party. Opinion polls put UKIP ahead of Labour at 32% compared to 25%, with Conservatives on 21%, and Liberal Democrats and Greens on 6%.

Liberal Democrats especially seem geared up to lose some or all of their MEPs in what may well turn out to be a very disappointing day of elections for them. It is widely believed that they will be doing well to hang on to even two or three of the MEPS gained since 2009.

However, reports are that even the most committed voters may well be daunted today by the weather – violent storms are expected to surge across the country, with torrential rains battering those on route to the election centres. After the mini heatwave earlier in the week, the coming bank holiday weekend is unlikely to enjoy the fine weather experienced by most of the country earlier in May.

Save Money By Haggling!
Consumer group WHICH? are urging people to learn the art of bargaining in order to save money, particularly when renewing contracts with big brand firms and insurers. Their research shows that most people in Britain could save at least £240 a year, and that the process of hunting for deals is a lot simpler and easier now thanks to the Internet which enables us all to shop around and compare prices, rather than just accepting the renewal prices quoted to us by our current providers. The key, say WHICH? is to be prepared, voice your demands, and – if no luck at first – state your willingness to switch company or provider.

In other financial news, the British economy is set to benefit by 2017 in a rise of "%% spent on staycations, particularly in the South where domestic tourism is strong.

As for spending in shops, a Spring spending spree saw many British stores reporting a month of sales growth over the Easter break, with a rise of 1.3%. The Bank of England stated that the economy is less fragile now than it was, and other experts believe that we are now at pre-recession levels. Personal confidence in finance matters has also increased as household finances have seen a slight boost in market conditions.

On the housing market front, however, soaring prices have resulted in a dearth of homebuyers in the 20s – only 6% of people buying a house last month were aged between 18-30, say the National Association of Estate Agents. The average age of the first-time buyer has risen from 24 to 27, and many of those were only able to buy with considerable help from parents. The NAEA has called homebuyers under the age of 31 an "endangered species", with a record 3.3 million Britons aged 20-34 (a quarter of that age group) still living with their parents.

Parcels on Sundays
Due to the increase in online shopping, Royal Mail have announced plans to tackle the problem of extra deliveries by opening sorting offices on Sundays. More than one million parcels are handled by Royal Mail every year, so it is a huge part of their business. Annual financial results are due to be revealed later today.

In contrast to parcels, letters are continuing to decline in popularity due to the rise in emailing, texting and social media.

The Communication Workers' Union welcomed the plan for Sunday opening but insist it must be on a voluntary basis, with higher pay. From this summer, 100 of Britain's 1,400 busiest delivery offices will open on a Sunday in a pilot scheme, which, if successful, will be rolled out across the country.

It will begin next month with Parcelforce Worldwide offering the service to customers of selected online retailers, open to 97% of Britain but not including Northern Ireland. It is hoped that the new measures will meet the growing consumer demand for parcel delivery and collection.

Poor Value For Money For Students
Despite the tripling of University fees – from £3000 a year to £9000 – it seems that the value for money is falling. Tuition time has increased by at most an average of ten minutes a week, and students are complaining that such a hike in fees is inexcusable if teaching input and support continues to drop. Traditional lectures are coming under threat also due to the increase in online access to notes and teaching material; most undergraduates, when questioned, said they preferred small tutorials.

University Minister, David Willetts must do better to engage students and ensure that the course content is delivered adequately.

Students study on average for 33 hours and 49 minutes a week in their first and second years – although at some Universities this dropped to as little as 20 hours a week. This is far short of the 40 hours a week that is recommended by the Quality Assurance Agency, a University Standards Watchdog.

Of course, it is accepted that different courses may require different levels of attendance and study – medical students averaged 50.9 hours a week, while media studies was 26.7 hours. However, apathy on behalf of the students themselves has also been blamed for attributing to the decrease in study time. Easy access to course material online remains a worry for the QAA; they call for an improvement in the quality of the student experience and more accountability by the Universities of their breakdown of costs.

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