Campus round-up

April 28, 2011

University of Oxford

Lifeline for language

Researchers are in a race against time to document a dying language that is now spoken by only three people. Suriel Mofu, from the University of Oxford's Faculty of Linguistics, Philology and Phonetics, went to the island of Papua in Indonesia, where he grew up, to record and document the Dusner language last October. But days after Dr Mofu left the island, flooding hit the area and it was not known whether the three remaining Dusner-speakers had survived. Now he has made contact with the three islanders, who are aged around 45, 60 and 70, and the 14-month project is again under way.

Institute of Education

Competence not tolerated here

Greater classroom diversity does not always lead to increased tolerance among pupils, according to a new study. Jan Germen Janmaat, a researcher at the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies at the Institute of Education, University of London, looked at the relationship between tolerance and ethnic diversity in England, Germany and Sweden. He also tracked attitudes against levels of "civic competence" - the knowledge and skills citizens need to participate effectively in a democratic society - and discovered that a 50 per cent increase in competence was matched by a 20 per cent drop in tolerance. "It seems that ethnic minorities are only accepted by majority pupils if they stay in a subordinate position," Dr Janmaat said.

Queen Mary, University of London

Looking at the legacy

Public health specialists are embarking on a five-year study to assess Olympic-led regeneration in East London. Steve Cummins, senior lecturer in the School of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London, said the original 2012 Olympic bid was secured partly because it was recognised that the games could be a catalyst for health, social and economic regeneration. His investigation will examine whether the "Olympic legacies and aspirations" have actually materialised. A team of three postdoctoral researchers and 10 investigators from Queen Mary, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of East London will interview more than 1,800 families from Tower Hamlets, Newham and Barking and Dagenham for the study.

Keele University

Four-letter pain relief

Swearing relieves pain - but only for those who do it sparingly. That is the finding of research by Richard Stephens and Claudia Umland of Keele University, to be presented at the British Psychological Society's conference, 4-6 May. The research assessed pain tolerance by how long people could keep their hands in icy water. Previous research has shown that swearing can relieve pain. But Dr Stephens said he and his colleague had found new evidence that "if you swear too often in everyday situations, the power of swearing won't be there when you really might need it".

London College of Communication

Home-made films

Animation students at a London college have made three short films for Moving House, a National Trust initiative inspired by a house at 575 Wandsworth Road. The building's spectacular interior was created by Khadambi Asalache, a Kenyan-born poet, architect, mathematician and civil servant who lived there from 1980 until his death in 2006. The films produced by students at the London College of Communication represent a creative response to the carved wooden fretwork, paintings and collections of objects in the hallway, sitting room and back bedroom. They will also form part of Stories of the World, one of the projects at the heart of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Plans for the animation students to document another National Trust property at Willow Road in Hampstead are under discussion.

Sheffield Hallam University

K9 guide

An attempt to develop robotic reins could pave the way for mechanical guide dogs. The project at Sheffield Hallam University aims to develop a mobile robot with sensory capacity whose movements and signals can be read and directed by humans. Such robots could also help firefighters in conditions of low visibility. Jacques Penders, head of Sheffield Hallam's Centre for Automation and Robotics Research, said: "Humans naturally interact with animals using tactile feedback in scenarios such as working with guide dogs and horse riding. This project aims to extend that to human and robot interaction."

University of Wolverhampton

From supporting to leading role

Two new degrees will aim to help classroom assistants become teachers. The foundation degrees at the University of Wolverhampton are aimed at support staff working in primary and secondary schools, and allow them to combine full-time work with part-time study. Both courses, run by the university's School of Education, will take between two and three years to complete, depending on experience, and will set the students on the path to gaining qualified teacher status.


Log on and settle in

Two students' unions have launched a video-based website featuring international students reflecting on UK culture. The site,, aims to help prospective or recently arrived international students to adapt more quickly to life in the UK. The students' unions at the universities of Loughborough and Southampton were funded to develop the website by the Prime Minister's Initiative for International Education, through the UK Council for International Student Affairs. The organisers hope the site will attract contributions from international students across the UK, and are inviting other institutions to adapt the content for their own sites.

University of Nottingham

£9k fees no deterrent

A university has reported a major increase in enquiries from prospective students for undergraduate courses beginning in 2012 - despite announcing that it will charge annual tuition fees of £9,000 from that date. The University of Nottingham said that the number of people booked to attend its undergraduate open days was 48 per cent higher than at the same time last year, and calls made to its undergraduate enquiry centre were also up by 26 per cent. Paul Greatrix, registrar of the university, said: "It is clear that interest in a Nottingham degree has not diminished in light of the proposed new fee."

Aberystwyth University

Prize for Domesday dictionary

A 60-year-old Anglo-French language scheme based at a Welsh university has been honoured by a French learned society. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary project, at Aberystwyth University's department of European languages, was awarded the Prix Honoré Chavée, which recognises initiatives that encourage linguistic studies, especially research relating to Romance languages. The project was set up in 1947 to record the Anglo-Norman dialect used in Britain after the invasion of 1066. Its aim was to create a dictionary of Anglo-Norman, which has recently been launched online.

University of Ulster

NI iGuide

Researchers investigating how mobile technology can boost tourism in Northern Ireland have received significant funding from a European body. The team at the University of Ulster believe smart phone apps could be used to deliver site-specific visitor information, turning a mobile phone into a personalised tour guide. It has secured new funding from the European Union's Northern Periphery Programme. Peter Bolan, director of international travel and tourism management at Ulster, said: "People want fast, efficient and easy access to all kinds of information, and mobile technology has huge potential to improve the visitor's experience at tourist attractions."

University of Essex

From Caribbean to Colchester

The sights and sounds of the Caribbean will fill a British campus when it hosts the UK premiere of a new work by Derek Walcott. As part of his role as professor of poetry at the University of Essex, he is running a series of masterclasses for students and will take part in a public poetry reading and a celebration of his work. Professor Walcott will also be leading an international cast to perform Moon-Child (Ti-Jean in Concert). The play revisits Professor Walcott's 1958 play Ti-Jean and His Brothers, first presented at the Little Carib Theatre in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The performance will feature a sound-score by composer Ronald Hinkson and projected images of artwork by Professor Walcott and his artist son Peter Walcott.

UEA/St Andrews

Sell the everyday spiritual benefit

Churches will continue to attract older congregations as increasing life expectancy encourages people to put off involvement in religion, according to research. The study by academics at the University of East Anglia and the University of St Andrews suggests that religious organisations need to do more to highlight the social and spiritual benefits of participation in religion in present-day life if they are to increase congregations and attract younger people. The study showed that religions that de-link salvation or damnation to the timing and amount of religious effort will in particular need to resort to such means to boost membership.

Saved by the shell

A study of giant tortoises has suggested that introducing the exotic species into damaged ecosystems may help to support life. An international team of researchers led by the University of Bristol introduced giant Aldabra tortoises, Aldabrachelys gigantea, to Ile aux Aigrettes, a small island in the Indian Ocean. The island had lost a large amount of its ebony forest owing to intensive logging, and regeneration had been slow following the extinction of the native fruit-eating giant tortoises, which had dispersed the seeds. The introduced tortoises spread large numbers of ebony seeds, but the study also found that the process of the seed passing through a tortoise's gut improved germination, leading to widespread and successful establishment of new ebony seedlings in the heavily logged parts of the island.

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