From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Rural doctor scholarship to go? The federal government’s Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship, according to the Department of Health, is designed to address the doctor shortage outside metropolitan areas across Australia. For wannabe doctors, it means an extra 100 Commonwealth-supported university placements annually to first-year medical students — a $25,000 tax-free scholarship if they agree to work for six years in a rural or remote area of Australia. But one student has told Crikey she was told by the University of New South Wales the government had abandoned the scheme:

“I know there were issues with the scheme but for students like me who wish to serve in rural communities it would have been a lifesaver. There are now a limited numbers of scholarships for medicine students (UNSW informed me that this was because the program did not need to attract students), leaving students like myself to search for other ways to pay my $490-a-week college accommodation (I live in rural NSW). Looking at close to $150,000-plus debt by the time I finish the program which will need to be footed by my mortgage-paying parents. Just looking forward to wages in six years.”

So has it be axed? It’s hard to tell. We called the contact for the MRBS on the departmental website, and a spokesperson didn’t think it had been cut (but was reluctant to talk); we called Health Minister Peter Dutton but didn’t hear back before deadline. A university representative said there had been word the name of the scheme had changed — but didn’t seem sure what impact that might have. Do you know more? Drop us a line or use the anonymous form online.

Tomorrow in jeopardy for Today Tonight. The latest word from well-placed sources at Channel Seven is that the future of tabloid current affairs show Today Tonight is hanging in the balance. Channel Nine has had success over summer with a one-hour news bulletin and is likely to continue this strategy in ratings season, with A Current Affair shifting to 7pm. Seven has long toyed with a one-hour news bulletin but has less flexibility than Nine. Home and Away is a strong performer at 7pm and isn’t going anywhere.

One option for Seven would be integrating TT with the back end of the news, but this would offer minimal scope for extended storytelling. The network would also be keen to keep TT as a standalone program in Adelaide and Perth, where the show dominates the ratings. Former TT host Helen Kapalos has left the program to work at Seven’s Sunday Night, a move sources say was her decision. Kapalos is keen to return to reporting and avoid the pressure and fierce scrutiny that comes with hosting TT.

Shanners into the sunset? Are the rumours true that Dennis Shanahan, The Australian‘s long-serving political editor and chief Newspoll interpreter, is set to retire from the Canberra press gallery? Crikey rang Shanahan to give him a chance to shoot the gossip down but received this testy response: “My policy is not to speak to Crikey about anything.”

Pollies in economy — the sad tales. Did Tony Abbott and his family rough it in economy on their trip to Los Angeles over Christmas? That’s according to one spy, who says the family purchased tickets in the back of the Qantas A380 — and missed out on an upgrade. “They were not upgraded by the counter staff or cabin managers and they flew looking rather sad — economy all the way to LA!” No word on what the situation was coming back.

Meanwhile, another spy spotted Christopher Pyne recently flying from Adelaide to Canberra in economy class. Which seems a little stingy to us.

Nauru will give Peter the slip. “Heard on an extreme tendril of the grapevine,” writes one anonymous mole, “that Peter Slipper is on the short list for the next chief justice of Nauru”. Hmm. Extreme tendril (that’s a “stem, leaf or petiole with a threadlike shape”, for those playing at home), indeed.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to [email protected] or use our guaranteed anonymous form