Campus round-up

April 5, 2012

Brunel University

Khan-do attitude

A university business school is running an Easter "boot camp" to attract sixth-formers predicted to get at least AAB at A level. The three-day residential event at Brunel Business School, which will run from 10 to 13 April, sold out within two weeks of invitations being sent. The boot camp will mix business simulations in the style of BBC One's The Apprentice with seminars led by faculty and external experts, such as former Apprentice contestant Saira Khan. Zahir Irani, head of the business school, said the camp was vital in light of the government policy allowing universities unlimited recruitment of students with grades of AAB or above. "The response of many 'middle-ranking' universities has been to offer cash incentives of £2,000 or £3,000 a year to attract the best and brightest away from Russell Group institutions. However, our view...is that cash alone is not incentive enough. The boot camp experience is our way of proving to students what it is that sets our academic programmes apart."

University of Hertfordshire

New page turner

A group of students is aiming to raise the career and educational aspirations of local teenagers by launching a magazine. Master's students in journalism and media communications at the University of Hertfordshire have created Get Ahead for 15- to 17-year-olds in the county. The magazine will be used by teachers to run workshops on behalf of Herts-based charity Act for Change, which aims to develop young people's personal and social responsibility through training provided in schools and local communities. The three scheduled issues of Get Ahead will be published over the next few months and will look at topics including local role models and the opportunities offered by apprenticeships.

University of Essex

They want to ride their bicycles

Cycling to school has already been linked with improving children's fitness levels, but new research has found a link between their health and the use of bikes for fun. Led by Gavin Sandercock, senior lecturer in clinical physiology at the University of Essex, the study, published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise journal, assessed the cycling habits of more than 5,500 schoolchildren. Each child's usual physical activity pattern was assessed and their cardiorespiratory fitness level measured using the 20m shuttle-run test. The children were also grouped depending on the amount they cycled a week. It was found that children who cycled for fun were fitter than those who did not. Dr Sandercock suggests that recreational cycling could be an area to target in the bid to improve the fitness of the UK's youth.

Canterbury Christ Church University

Through the 'keyhole'

A university is launching a postgraduate course especially designed for British or foreign doctors keen to specialise in "keyhole" surgery. Based at Canterbury Christ Church University's Medway Campus, the course will provide training in orthopaedics, urology, gynaecology and general surgery in the quickly growing field. A particularly exciting feature of the course, said Peter Milburn, academic lead for postgraduate medical education, will be a "live real-time video link" between the operating theatres of two Kent hospitals and the university's clinical skills laboratory. "This will allow the trainee laparoscopic surgeons to watch and engage with leading specialists as they perform complex surgical procedures," he said.

University of Cambridge

Für immer und ewig

A distinguished professorship has been endowed in perpetuity thanks to a £2 million benefaction from The Schroder Foundation. The post of Schröder professor of German at the University of Cambridge was originally created in 1909 thanks to funding from the London merchant bank now known as Schroders. Nicholas Boyle, the current holder of the post, elected in 2006, said of the re-endowment: "The Schröder professorship is the historic core of German teaching in Cambridge, and its prestige underwrites the future ability of Cambridge German to attract the best staff, researchers and students from around the world." The Schroder Foundation was formally admitted to the Guild of Cambridge Benefactors last month in recognition of the gift.

University College London

Blueprint for a level playing field

Architecture undergraduates are mentoring bright teenagers keen to enter the profession. Students at University College London's Bartlett School of Architecture are working with 50 pupils from London who are forecast excellent A-level results but have no family history of university education or are on free school meals. Each pupil is matched with an architecture practice and a student mentor, with 20 Bartlett undergraduates joining forces with their peers from other London schools of architecture. David Sibbald, head of design and technology at Fulham Cross School in Hammersmith, has two students taking part in the programme, which is run by the Open-City architecture education charity in partnership with the Bartlett and the Make Architects design studio. He said the programme was vital in helping pupils as "it allows them to begin their [careers] on a more level playing field".

Edinburgh/King's

Nerve tonic

A breakthrough in the treatment of a debilitating disease has been made after scientists created motor neurons using stem-cell technology. After creating the cells using skin samples from a motor neuron disease sufferer, the researchers from the University of Edinburgh - in collaboration with colleagues from King's College London, Columbia University and the University of San Francisco - found that abnormalities in a protein called TDP-43 resulted in the death of motor neurons. It is the first time scientists have been able to see the direct effect of the abnormal protein on human motor neurons. The scientists believe that being able to grow the cells means that treatments can now be tested more easily.

Cumbria/Bolton/Uclan/Chester/Salford/Manchester Met

The good work continues

A university partnership aimed at helping graduates to find work has won a further £1.7 million of European Social Fund cash. The University of Cumbria is the lead partner in the Department for Work and Pensions' North West regional pilot project, which is testing and evaluating methods of boosting graduate employability. The other partners are the universities of Bolton, Central Lancashire, Chester, Salford and Manchester Metropolitan University. The original three-year, £3.6 million scheme was due to finish this year, but the extra money means that it can continue until 2013.

University of Sheffield

Disable their shields

Scientists are hoping to improve cancer treatment by disrupting the function of a protein that allows tumour cells to resist treatment. Researchers at the University of Sheffield's Institute for Cancer Studies have found that a protein called hPlF1 allows some tumour cells to survive treatment by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which works by damaging the cells' DNA. They hope that disabling the protein's function will improve survival rates. Study leader Cyril Sanders, a lecturer in molecular genetics, said: "This will be the first step in the drug discovery process that could, in the medium to long term, result in a new, targeted, cancer treatment."

University of Leicester

Pre-Olympic spirit

A university is to recreate a Victorian Olympic festival that predated the modern Olympic Games by 30 years. The city of Leicester hosted a Grand Olympic Festival in 1866 in the grounds of the Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum, which now forms the University of Leicester's campus. The university has announced plans to recreate the event in June ahead of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Students and staff will be able to compete in a number of old and modern sporting events, such as the 100-yard dash, putting the stone, the 2-mile walk and tossing the cricket ball.

University of Birmingham

Broken hearts can kill

Immunity experts have found biological evidence to suggest that bereavement lowers physical immunity, putting older people at risk of life-threatening infections. Researchers at the University of Birmingham found that the emotional stress of bereavement is associated with a drop in the efficiency of white blood cells known as neutrophils, which combat infections such as pneumonia. The research, published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, was co-authored by Anna Phillips, senior research fellow in the School of Sports and Exercise Sciences (SportEx), Riyad Khanfer, also of SportEx, and Janet Lord, professor of immune cell biology at Birmingham.

University of Manchester

We're here, we're queer, it's fine

An inaugural "Queer China" conference has been staged aimed at demonstrating that being gay or lesbian in China is not as "horribly dangerous or illegal" as many Westerners assume. The conference, organised by William Schroeder, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Manchester's Centre for Chinese Studies, featured a dozen Chinese gay and lesbian activists, academics and film-makers. Homosexuality was decriminalised in China in 1997 and delisted as a mental illness in 2001. "Many Chinese lead a relatively open gay life ... but those same people are reticent towards telling their families and workmates (since) having a family and children is extremely important in Chinese culture," Dr Schroeder said.

Cherry preserve

Flowering cherry trees on campus used for scientific purposes have been awarded special status by conservation charity Plant Heritage. Keele University's 240 varieties of cherry (such as the Prunus shizuka, or "Fragrant Cloud", left) have been given National Collection status, which means the institution must preserve the trees in trust for the future. Keele said that "as well as making the campus visually stunning in the spring, the collection is primarily of scientific use, acting as a reserve for unusual and little-known varieties". Material from the collection has been supplied to national nurseries, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Natural History Museum in London.

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