Institute of Education
Take care with their education
Many young people who have been in care fail to get to university because of "an overriding lack of support". A five-country study, led by academics from the Institute of Education, found that, as a group, children in care are less likely to progress to higher education than other young people in Europe. The study also found that the UK is alone among the five countries (the other four are Denmark, Hungary, Spain and Sweden) where the education of children in care has been recognised as an important policy issue. The researchers said young people in care need close and ongoing contact with supportive adults, greater understanding from schools of their special situation and more generous and reliable financial support to continue in education after the age of 16. The findings were explored at a conference in London on 29 November.
Who lives in a place like this?
Scientists are calling for radical new approaches to conservation after a biodiversity audit. The audit was led by the University of East Anglia, with partners including Natural England, the Forestry Commission and Norfolk and Suffolk biodiversity partnerships and county councils. The study pooled information on every plant and animal species recorded in Breckland, an area of heathland, forest and farmland stretching across the Norfolk and Suffolk border, which is home to 28 per cent of the UK's threatened species. The study is believed to be the first of its kind to consider every single species found in an entire region.
Big problem for predators
Large predators are much more vulnerable than smaller species because they have to work hard to find food to survive. Scientists at Durham University matched predator populations to the abundance of their prey and found that the largest species, including lions, tigers and polar bears, had much greater declines in population due to diminishing food supplies when compared with small animals such as badgers. The study of 11 species of carnivore suggests that the vulnerability of larger species may be linked with the high-energy costs of being big - a hindrance when times are tough and food is hard to come by.
A download to help avoid debt
Managing money has always been difficult for students torn between another pint or a can of beans for dinner. Now students at Cardiff University can access advice about keeping afloat without leaving the pub. A new iPhone app to aid budget planning has been jointly developed by the university's Student Support Centre and the Consumer Financial Education Body. "In the current economic climate, helping students get the skills they need to look after their money and make the most of the opportunities higher education provides is crucial," said Ben Lewis, head of student advisory services at Cardiff.
Alzheimer's drug breakthrough
Scottish scientists have made a breakthrough in the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease by looking at the treatment of diabetics. Researchers at the University of Dundee have discovered that metformin, a drug commonly used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, can help treat Alzheimer's and prevent it in healthy people. Scientists already knew that sugar metabolism played a part in the development of Alzheimer's, but have now found that metformin activates a key protein that can prevent cell death in the brains of patients.
Neuroscience centre opens
A £12 million research institute has been opened by the Queen. The Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield will bring together scientists and medical specialists to search for the causes of neurodegenerative conditions and to develop treatments. The centre, which was part-funded by the largest private benefaction to the university since the Edwardian period, will be led by Sheffield's head of neuroscience, Pamela Shaw. She said the institute aimed to create "the opportunity for focused study of motor neuron disease by a world-class team with the skills needed to solve a complex human disease".
Students are helping to make it easier to be green with a project to reduce waste and promote household recycling. University Campus Suffolk graphic design students have been working alongside the waste management team at Suffolk County Council to help develop innovative ways to promote the notion of recycling in the county. The students have produced thought-provoking images that feature in the newly launched Suffolk Waste Reduction Handbook, as well as a short film, Reuse, which can be seen at the county council's website, www.suffolkrecycling.org.uk.
Hull/Hull York Medical School
Sweet news for fatigue sufferers
Chocolate eases the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome, research suggests. A small trial carried out by scientists from the University of Hull and the Hull York Medical School found that the condition of patients was significantly improved when they ate three bars of dark chocolate a day. A chocolate that contained no cocoa solids did not have the same effect. Steve Atkin, who led the study, said the breakthrough was "potentially very encouraging news" for sufferers, but noted that a larger study was now needed. Researchers in the same institutions previously found that dark chocolate reduces the risk of heart attacks in people with type 2 diabetes.
A university has moved to replace slides and PowerPoint presentations in its humanities teaching with three-dimensional reconstructions and virtual galleries. The University of Nottingham's new Digital Centre will make state-of-the-art visualisation technology available to staff and students in departments such as art history, Classics and archaeology, and will oversee a drive to digitise their vast archive of images. Researchers from the faculties of engineering and biomedical sciences will also use the equipment and share their expertise. The technology will eventually be housed in a bespoke space in the university's new humanities building, which is currently under construction.
A Midlands university has opened a new London campus. Coventry University's campus in the capital, which was officially opened last week, offers a range of professionally oriented courses, including MBA programmes, as well as a range of top-up undergraduate programmes. The courses were developed in consultation with business leaders and prospective MBA students, and have already attracted students from China, Nigeria and India. The facilities at the campus include a working model of a financial trading floor for use in business courses.
Are you watching now, ref?
Chants of "Are you watching, referee?" could disappear from the terraces if football fans have their way. A study by academics at Staffordshire University found that nine out of 10 fans feel technology would help referees to make key decisions about goals, red cards, penalties, offside decisions, diving and foul tackles. The survey is the second carried out by researchers Ellis Cashmore and Jamie Cleland, of the Centre for Sport, Health and Exercise Research. The 10 per cent of fans who agree with football authorities' resistance to video technology argue that it would break up the continuity of the game, the researchers found. But seven out of 10 fans insist that fair play is being distorted by its absence.
Things will be getting heated during a charity walk that will see volunteers striding barefoot across 6m of red-hot embers. The University of Central Lancashire has set up the event in an effort to raise funds for Galloway's Society for the Blind and the institution's Harris Bursary Fund, which helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The university is hoping to attract 200 volunteers for the walk, which it plans to film using thermal imaging cameras to see whether the technology can cope with a wide range of temperatures at one time.
Three iNets net £7.5m
A university has won £7.5 million in funding to head up three new innovation networks for its region. The University of the West of England will lead the South West's "iNets" in biomedicine, microelectronics and the environment for three years from 2010 to 2013. The iNets, funded in part with European development money, bring together academic researchers with industry, businesses and the public sector to spark innovation and create spin-off and start-up companies.
Lost treasure displayed
A "treasure trove" of historical research on 18th-century radical thinker James Mill that was locked away on a computer for 20 years has been published online. Doctoral student Kris Grint, based at the University of Sussex, found the "lost" research of Canadian academic Robert Fenn, who died before he could publish more than a decade's work on the Scottish philosopher. The work, which has now been made available on a special website, reveals how Mill shaped ideas such as the abolition of slavery, freedom of the press and the extension of the vote.
Scientists at a UK university are working with colleagues in Israel on a project to improve the properties of plastics made from plants. The researchers at the University of Bath and Tel Aviv University are developing a new chemical catalyst to aid the process of making Poly(lactic acid), a type of biodegradable plastic that can be made from renewable plant sources such as corn, wheat or sugar. The aim is to make the plastics stronger and more heat-resistant so they can be used for a wider range of objects than their current use in items such as bottles and bags.