News in brief - 16 January 2014

January 16, 2014

Doctoral training centres
It pays to recycle

At least 19 additional centres for doctoral training in engineering and science were announced by universities and science minister David Willetts on 9 January. The centres join the list of 72 that was announced by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in November last year as part of a £350 million programme. About £50 million in funds for the new centres has come from the research council clawing back money from the first round of successful bidders, a move revealed last month by Times Higher Education. Meanwhile, £40 million in government money has been added to the pot from the additional funding for quantum mechanics announced in the Autumn Statement. Industry partners will supply a further £124 million.

Royal Astronomical Society
Durham professor joins the stars

A professor at the University of Durham has won a prestigious award for his theory of the origins of galaxies and the structure of the universe. The Royal Astronomical Society announced on 10 January that Carlos Frenk, director of Durham’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, was the winner of the Gold Medal for Astronomy, its highest honour. The society recognised Professor Frenk’s leadership of the ICC, which it said is regarded as a “world-class centre” for theoretical cosmology. Professor Frenk said that it was a “unique feeling” to see his name listed alongside scientists he has admired his whole life. Previous winners include Charles Babbage, Edwin Hubble and Albert Einstein.

Student visas
Diplomatic reassurance in Delhi

The British High Commissioner to India has addressed Indian students amid concerns that a tighter visa regime and a poor exchange rate could put them off. Sir James Bevan made the pitch to students in a speech at the University of Delhi on 9 January that addressed the perception that the UK’s visa system will bar genuine students. In 2011-12, the number of Indians studying at UK universities was down by almost a quarter, while concerns have also been raised that the dramatic fall in the value of the rupee last summer will further deter Indians from studying abroad. “We want the world’s best and brightest; we have set no limit on the numbers of foreign students who can come to Britain,” Sir James told his audience. “So if you are a genuine student with a place at a UK university, you will get your visa.”

Russell Group
A very select cohort: the poor

On average each Russell Group university admits just 64 of the poorest young people, identified as those in receipt of free school meals, per year. A written parliamentary answer from David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has revealed how many state school pupils in England “with free school meals at age 15” progressed to Russell Group institutions. The minister’s answer states that for the 24 institutions now in the Russell Group, the number of free school meal pupils “in HE by age 19” was 1,580 in 2009-10 and 1,540 in 2010-11, the most recent figures available. For 2010-11, that works out to an average of 64 students for each university. For the University of Cambridge the number of free school meal pupils admitted was 25 in each of the two years, while for the University of Oxford the total was just 15 in both years, according to Mr Willetts’ answer.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Research that detailed, at an institutional level, the correlation between student dropout rates and the proportion of undergraduates from low socio-economic backgrounds had our Twitter followers’ tongues wagging. @PaulWappett described the findings as “troubling”, adding: “Unis need to ensure that they are committed to *teaching*; not just *accepting* low [socio-economic status] students.” @ThomasWson said that the article highlighted the “disturbing effect of financing by tuition fees: less incentives for English universities to recruit poorer students”, while @AMLTaylor66 argued that the article was evidence of the “widening participation agenda being squeezed yet again”.

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