Immunologist found guilty
A former researcher at the universities of Glasgow and Liverpool has been found guilty of serious scientific misconduct by his previous university in Singapore. The National University of Singapore launched an investigation in March 2011 into all 70 papers produced there by immunologist Alirio Melendez after being "disturbed" by its discovery of research misconduct relating to two of his papers. In a statement issued on 20 December, Singapore says it has "uncovered evidence of fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism associated with 21 papers, including the two in the original allegation". It says that "based on similarities in the pattern of misconduct and in some cases sole authorship of questionable papers, [the investigation] concluded that Dr Melendez has committed serious scientific misconduct. The committee found no evidence...that other co-authors were involved," it says.
VAT exemption under microscope
HM Revenue and Customs has begun a consultation on the likely effects of withdrawing the existing VAT exemption for research subcontracted between charities and public bodies, including universities. Currently HMRC treats research services provided by one "eligible body" to another as VAT-exempt. The European Commission ruled before Christmas that the exemption breaches European law and the UK government has agreed that it will be withdrawn in early August. But non-commercial research that is directly grant-funded will continue to be VAT-exempt, so HMRC said it did not expect the change to have a "significant impact on UK research". If the consultation contradicts this assumption, HMRC will consider whether "transitional relief is necessary or possible". The consultation closes on 14 March.
Subsidiaries face audits
Universities with private subsidiaries have been warned that their offshoots may be required to go through independent audit rather than being guaranteed by the parent institution. A number of institutions have set up or are planning to set up private, low-fee subsidiary colleges, one example being Coventry University College. The Higher Education Funding Council for England last week drew universities' attention to Charity Commission guidance, which notes that the Companies Act 2006 could potentially exempt small company subsidiaries from external audit. But subsidiaries would still need independent examination if gross income exceeds £25,000, the commission says. The guidance also says the parent charity guarantee "should not be given for a non-charitable subsidiary because it risks charitable funds being used for a non-charitable purpose".
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Last week's lead story about the trend for universities to require new academic recruits to hold a PhD prompted dozens of comments. Sarah said: "I have been lecturing for two universities for the last 5 years. I have just completed my PhD and do I think I will be a better lecturer because I have a PhD now? No. I am a good lecturer...because I am passionate about my subject, have a good rapport with students and I become better the longer that I lecture, not because I have completed a PhD within a very small field of my subject."