News in brief - 12 December 2013

December 12, 2013

REF 2014
‘Selective’ alarm fails to go off

Fears that universities would be more selective about who they submitted to the 2014 research excellence framework have proved unfounded. According to the funding councils, higher education institutions submitted 52,077 staff to the REF by the 29 November deadline. This is only fractionally fewer than the 52,401 submitted to the 2008 research assessment exercise. Academic numbers have grown during the intervening period, but only by just over 1 per cent. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were 179,040 UK academics in 2008-09, compared with 181,385 in 2011-12, the most recent year for which figures are available. This means that 28.7 per cent have been submitted to the REF, compared with 29.3 per cent to the 2008 RAE. However, the funding council figures are full-time equivalents, while the Hesa data simply record the number of salaried academics, both full- and part-time.

Student support
Popular counsel in anxious times

Students are seeking more help from university counsellors amid growing concerns over debt and job prospects. Demand for psychological support services on campus has risen by 16 per cent over the past three years, according to a poll of about a third of all university counsellors undertaken by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and published on 6 December. Students who met with university counsellors attended 4.5 counselling sessions on average last year, the survey says. Anxiety, depression, relationship issues, academic problems and self-identity issues are the most common concerns raised, it adds. Students are increasingly using online counselling for help, with an 85 per cent increase in those seeking assistance via this route, the survey notes.

Knowledge transfer
Open-door innovation policy

Research Councils UK has launched a web portal giving businesses access to information about 42,000 research projects. The Gateway to Research includes details on who is researching what and where, as well as the technologies, processes, outputs and impact of the work funded by the seven research councils and the Technology Strategy Board. RCUK hopes that businesses will identify potential university partners that can help commercialise knowledge. David Delpy, RCUK’s impact champion and chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, said the portal would pave the way for greater connectivity between research and business, leading to economic growth and societal benefits.

Public policy
Reality check for decision-makers

A network of economists, psychologists and computer scientists at the universities of Nottingham, Warwick and East Anglia will promote research into the links between human behaviour and public decision-making. With £4 million in funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Network for Integrated Behavioural Science will investigate ways to ensure that key policy decisions better reflect real-world behaviour. Theodore Turocy, director of UEA’s Centre for Behavioural and Experimental Social Science, said: “There is enormous potential in having policy that takes into account the varied ways people approach decision-making day to day.”

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Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement that the cap on student numbers in England is to be abolished “altogether” in 2015-16 elicited a huge online response. Some hailed the move. @saburnett2010 called it “good news for competition”, while @mhanneghanLJMU spotted a possible “breakout of common sense” in Westminster. But @ProfDaveAndress urged the higher education sector to brace itself for “the Battle Royale, the kill-or-be-killed, get-those-bums-on-seats rush” and @jamesmrobinson asked if ministers “had lost their minds”. @SteveJWaring added: “Abolishing student number cap on surface good, but without sustainable plan for HE funding overall it’s just irresponsible.”

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