News in brief - 15 May 2014

May 15, 2014

Women in science
Wait three years and we’ll see

The government may “consider further action” on increasing the number of women in scientific careers “if significant progress is not observed over the next three years” through existing initiatives. That was one of the comments in its official response to a report earlier this year by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on women in scientific careers that criticised “biases and working practices” that “result in systematic and cumulative discrimination against women throughout STEM study and academic careers”. The government’s response, published on 7 May, supports the committee’s recommendation that diversity and equality training should be provided to all students and staff. It notes that the research councils are currently introducing training on unconscious bias, progress on which will be reported later this year. But it stops short of explicitly endorsing the select committee’s call for fewer short-term research contracts, which the MPs say has a particularly detrimental effect on women, noting that they allow the research base “to be flexible and responsive”.

Scottish independence
Stay or go, union opposes fees

The Educational Institute of Scotland, a union representing teachers and academics, has said it will oppose the introduction of tuition fees in the country whatever the outcome of this September’s referendum on independence. Its manifesto on the vote, released on 9 May, does not take a pro- or anti-independence stance but says it will campaign for a reduction in the workload of all its members, and will “fully support measures aimed at the widening of access to higher education”.

Overseas postgraduates
Imports to help firms’ exports

Business secretary Vince Cable has announced the launch of a scheme to encourage firms to recruit postgraduate students to help them break into overseas markets. The students will work during their vacations to help businesses overcome language and cultural barriers faced when exporting. Universities will work with business schools and UK Trade and Investment to identify students with appropriate language skills. There is a pool of about 200,000 overseas postgraduates at UK universities from which the Postgraduates for International Business scheme can recruit, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, along with a sizeable cohort of British students who have foreign-language skills. “Our medium-sized businesses have the potential to be economic powerhouses for the UK but their success is dependent on expanding beyond domestic markets,” Mr Cable said.

European Students’ Union
New chair keen to target ministers

A Swedish gender studies student has been elected chair of the European Students’ Union. Elisabeth Gehrke, who has served as vice-chair of the ESU since July 2013 and vice-president of the Swedish National Union of Students, succeeds Slovenian Rok Primozic as head of the umbrella organisation, which represents more than 11 million students in 39 European countries via their national student unions. Ms Gehrke, who will lead the Brussels-based organisation from July, said she was particularly keen to represent the interests of students at next year’s conference of European higher education ministers, which will take place in Yerevan, Armenia next year.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Our feature asking if universities’ zeal for student surveys and best-practice audits meant that those students expressing critical views are increasingly unwelcome and their opinions suppressed had our Twitter followers talking. @stephen_mcglynn imagined an institution’s response to the charge that the student voice had been tamed: “‘Of course not’, says university, holding hand over mouth of student.” “Is free speech dying a death due to perceived brand control?” wondered @yazelhakim10, while @VanessaCui1 said it was a “very thought provoking piece on students’ role in HE”. @dbexeter, however, saw no such problems at his institution. “Our students engage, ask awkward questions, and we all benefit,” he tweeted.

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