News in brief - 14 August 2014

August 14, 2014

Source: Alamy

Gaza conflict
NUS supports boycott of Israel

The National Union of Students has voted to support a boycott of Israel. The union’s national executive council voted on 4 August, during the Gaza conflict, to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. A spokeswoman said that the motion passed “commits us to ensuring that, as far as is practical, NUS does not employ or work with companies identified as facilitating Israel’s military capacity, human rights abuses or illegal settlement activity, and to actively work to cut ties with those that do”. The Union of Jewish Students condemned the move, calling BDS a movement “whose tactics are inherently indiscriminate and whose boundaries are undefined”.

Royal Society award
Copley Medal for DNA scientist

The academic who developed genetic fingerprinting has won what is believed to be the world’s oldest scientific prize. The Royal Society awarded the Copley Medal to Sir Alec Jeffreys, professor of genetics at the University of Leicester, for his work on DNA variation. Previous winners of the medal, which the society first awarded in 1731, include Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. Sir Alec discovered how to show the variations in different people’s DNA, a technique widely used in forensic science.

Student applicants
More than half have no plan B

Many university applicants do not have a backup plan if they fail to achieve the required grades for their preferred course, a survey has found. More than half of students (54 per cent) say that they have not thought about what they will do if they fail to gain the marks needed for their first or second choice university, according to a poll by Which? University, the consumer group’s higher education website. Seven in 10 students say that they have not researched the clearing process, which was used last year by 57,100 students to gain places in higher education.

Scientific publishing
Call to withdraw copyright licences

The production of model copyright licences by the world’s major scientific publishers’ body will make it harder for academic research to be a “first-class citizen of the web”. Earlier this year, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers, known as STM, which has 120 members in 21 countries, produced a set of model licences governing copyright on open access articles. On 7 August, an open letter was published calling on STM to withdraw the licences. The 58 signatories include Research Libraries UK, the American Library Association, the Wikimedia Foundation and publishers Plos, eLife and BioMed Central (owned by STM member Springer).

THE survey on Scotland’s referendum
In or out: will it be good for you?

Times Higher Education has launched a survey to discover whether Scottish university staff believe that leaving the UK would be good for their institutions. With Scots due to vote on independence on 18 September, the THE Scottish Referendum Poll is open to all staff in Scottish universities, both academics and administrators. To complete the survey, respondents must have a university email address that ends in ac.uk. Responses will not be revealed to anyone without consent. Participants in the poll can indicate whether they are happy for their answers to be quoted in an article about the results.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

“Sinister buttocks” was a phrase that grabbed readers’ attention online after last week’s revelations that a Middlesex University student had used a series of baffling synonyms in an essay (this one for “left behind”) after raiding a thesaurus. @HELLOK1TTY4EVR wrote that they work for a company that “sells essays to students…and people who dont speak English as a first language always use this weird synonym-exchange in their work”. @AntiProfessor was surprised by the student’s diligence: “My students wouldn’t know a thesaurus if it bit their sinister (or dexter) buttock.” @registrarism, the Twitter handle of Paul Greatrix, University of Nottingham registrar, said it was “reminiscent of Committee Secretary game where you try to smuggle strange meaningless phrases into Minutes” – which suggests the Nottingham council minutes could be worth a read.

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