News in brief – 14 May 2015

May 14, 2015

Springer Nature is born

Competition authorities have approved the merger of two major publishers. The European Union and the US Department of Justice have cleared the unification of Springer Science+Business Media with the majority of Macmillan Science and Education, which publishes Nature. An announcement on 6 May said that the new publisher will be known as Springer Nature. Derk Haank, the chief executive of Springer, said that the merger would allow the company to take a global view. “This will put us in a strong position to benefit from the combined skills and talents of our organisation and to better serve researchers, students, teachers and professionals by helping them to discover more,” he said.

FutureLearners can get validation

FutureLearn, the UK massive open online course platform owned by the Open University, has signed an agreement with Pearson VUE, the proctored examination provider. The deal will allow Mooc students to take certified tests at one of the organisation’s global network of secure exam centres. Courses from the University of East Anglia and the University of Strathclyde are among the first available. Simon Nelson, the chief executive of FutureLearn, said: “More and more of our learners, particularly those on career-enhancing courses, want to take exams to demonstrate their mastery of a subject.”

Higher education
Stuck in the ancien régime

Universities currently suffer from three malaises: they are deadly conservative, not nearly as socially inclusive as they should be, and the research environments that they cultivate remain too enclosed. This is according to Michael Stewart, professor of social anthropology and vice-dean for enterprise and knowledge transfer at University College London, who has berated the state of the university sector in an inaugural lecture. In his speech at UCL on 5 May, Professor Stewart claimed that institutions are not nearly inclusive enough, “despite our strong ethical commitments”; that their research agendas arise “overwhelmingly” out of disciplinary rather than real world concerns; and that their structures and procedures are bettered only by Westminster “for their attachment to unchanging tradition”. Among other things, Professor Stewart called for reform in the way term dates work so that universities can use their estates “48 or 50 weeks of the year – without any change in the amount of time individual members of staff have to be on site”.

Parliamentary credentials
Much Russelling among new MPs

Nine out of 10 new MPs in the House of Commons are university graduates, and 26 per cent hold a degree from the university of Oxford or Cambridge. The figures, from the Sutton Trust, also show that 28 per cent studied at a non-Oxbridge Russell Group university. The figures follow the trust’s earlier research, Parliamentary Privilege – The Candidates, released in February, which analysed the educational backgrounds of prospective parliamentary candidates. The new research brief, Parliamentary Privilege – The MPs 2015, also shows that about half (48 per cent) of Conservative MPs were privately educated, compared with 17 per cent of Labour MPs, 14 per cent of Liberal Democrat MPs and 5 per cent of Scottish National Party MPs for whom the trust has data. Lee Elliot Major, the chief executive of the Sutton Trust, said: “These figures remind us how important it is that we do more to increase levels of social mobility and make sure that bright young people from low and middle income backgrounds have access to the best schools and the best universities.”

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

News that David Cameron was to form a majority Conservative government provoked mixed reactions from our Twitter followers. “I think every Vice Chancellor will be very relieved,” said @dylanjonesevans, while @stephenemoss said that it was “difficult to see [the election result as being] anything other than very challenging for Universities and HE in general”. @Micheline_A_B said that it was “terrible news as an international student starting my PhD in October”.

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