News in brief - 13 November 2014

November 13, 2014

Student loans
Nothing to see here: government

The government has ruled out an “urgent” review of the sustainability of the student loans system despite being advised to do so by a group of MPs. In a July report, the cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills Committee called for a review of the system, citing evidence that a “persistent miscalculation of the department’s estimates of the RAB charge” – the amount of money paid out in loans that will not be repaid by students – had resulted in “holes in the budget”. But in a response published last week, the government said there was no need for such a review, arguing that projections on graduate repayments “will continue to fluctuate due to numerous macroeconomic variables, and present no immediate pressure on the system”. Adrian Bailey, chair of the BIS committee, expressed disappointment at the response, pointing out that the government is currently estimating that it will lose around 45p on every £1 it lends to students. The government did, however, accept some of the committee’s recommendations, including a promise to improve debt forecasting and changes to financial modelling around the RAB charge.

Scottish admissions
Numbers from poorest quintile rise

The number of students from the poorest backgrounds attending Scotland’s universities has increased. Entrants from the most deprived 20 per cent of communities in Scotland made up 13.3 per cent of the overall intake of the country’s universities in 2012-13, according to a report from the Scottish Funding Council. This compares with 12.3 per cent in 2011-12. The improvement was not universal, with the proportion of entrants from the most-deprived quintile of communities shrinking at three of 20 universities year-on-year – and at six of 18 when only undergraduates were considered. Gordon Maloney, the president of NUS Scotland, said: “It is vital that every institution, old and new, now does all it can to…boost fair access even further.”

Innovate UK
‘Valley of death’ escape plan

An almost £70 million package of funding for innovation has been announced by the government. The support is designed to help academia and industry bridge the so-called “valley of death” that can hinder the development of promising research into innovative products for the marketplace. Seven new areas of technology are poised to receive a £50 million boost from Innovate UK, formerly the Technology Strategy Board, and £17 million has been earmarked for up to 210 industrial PhD placements as part of the plan. Details of Innovate UK’s funding pledge were outlined in the government’s emerging technologies strategy unveiled at the Innovate UK 2014 conference in London on 5 November. It lists the seven areas for investment as synthetic biology, energy efficient computing, energy harvesting, non-animal technologies, imaging technologies, graphene and quantum technologies.

Garrett named director of OBHE

A co-founder of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education is to become the research unit’s next director. Richard Garrett, who served as the OBHE’s deputy director from its formation in 2001 until 2005, will take over from William Lawton in January. Mr Garrett will continue to serve as director of data and analytics for North America for the OBHE’s parent company, i-graduate, in addition to carrying out his new role. He said that the study of worldwide developments in higher education had “never been more important to help institutions and policymakers leverage these innovations for the common good”.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

A Times Higher Education investigation that revealed that as many as 200 applicants are chasing every early career post at top universities caused a stir online. “These numbers scare me,” tweeted @leotanczt, while @Sophrosyne_1 said the story highlighted the “depressing reality for would-be academics”. @LucyCraggs said the news provided “another reason to breathe a sigh of relief after securing an industry job”, and @bacterioskeptic described the article as “a depressing read”. @JFRushworth said she was “feeling grateful that I somehow managed to survive this type of competition”.

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