News in brief - 2 January 2014

January 2, 2014

Big Data Institute
UCL pledges to retain open access

University College London says its partnership with the huge publishing and information company Elsevier on a new Big Data Institute will not affect its commitment to open access. The institute will bring together Elsevier staff and UCL researchers to explore “new technologies and analytics as applied to scholarly content and data”. Elsevier has been criticised in the past for being slow to adopt open access and to permit the data- and text-mining of its papers. But Stephen Caddick, vice-provost for enterprise at UCL, said the institution’s commitment to open access would not be affected by the partnership. “We believe the combination of our academic expertise and Elsevier’s expertise will provide an opportunity to do things that would be very difficult otherwise,” he said. Ron Mobed, Elsevier’s chief executive, said: “This is a significant investment by Elsevier in UK science. Our aim is to help scientists do better research and do it faster.”

Employment contracts
UCU to aid in zero-hours review

The University and College Union is to contribute to a government review of zero-hours contracts. Some 24,000 academics and other staff are employed on the controversial deals – which do not guarantee employees a minimum number of hours – across 71 higher education institutions, according to union research released last year. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said she wanted ministers to focus on “the exploitative nature of zero-hours contracts”, adding that “employers cannot hide behind flexibility as a defence for their continued use”. “Without a guaranteed income, workers on zero-hours contracts are unable to make financial or employment plans on a year-to-year, or even month-to-month, basis,” Ms Hunt said.

Health training provision
Future plans ‘must be widened’

Universities have welcomed a recent report by Health Education England detailing a boost in the number of nursing places and a future plan for the health workforce. But they have raised concerns about the lack of understanding of the services required by patients for the years ahead that are built into forecasts. Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said that the plans may “help reverse some of the damaging cuts to nursing education made in previous years”. But he added that to meet future needs, the planning process must involve healthcare providers outside the NHS, such as those working in social care and education.

Religious T-shirt dispute
LSE head apologises to students

Two students who were forced to cover up T-shirts depicting the Prophet Muhammad and Jesus at a freshers’ fair have received an apology from their university head. Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis were manning an Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society stall at the London School of Economics’ Freshers’ Fair on 3 October when they were asked to cover their T-shirts, which displayed pictures from the satirical comic strip Jesus and Mo. The pair were told by student union officers that displaying the T-shirts might constitute harassment of a religious group. The students formally appealed to the institution on 12 November over the incident and have now received a public apology from Craig Calhoun, director of the LSE. Professor Calhoun wrote to the students acknowledging that, with hindsight, the wearing of the T-shirts on this occasion did not amount to harassment or contravene the law or LSE policies.

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Last week’s story on Ucas’ End of Cycle Report on this year’s admissions to university sparked comments on our website.

Ian Brightarse wrote that the article provided evidence of dumbing down on entry standards. “I’ve made the point before, but I’ll make it again: ‘modern’ universities are exercising their judgement in favour of their balance sheet, and are forcing down academic standards in the process.”

Robert Slack agreed but said that an even more important point was that “weaker students” being put through “weak” courses would cost themselves and society more.

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