News in brief - 20 March 2014

March 20, 2014

Research and development
UK’s spend is below EU average

Britain’s spending on research and development as a proportion of gross domestic product fell in 2012, according to the latest figures. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that the UK spent 1.72 per cent of GDP on research and development in 2012, down from 1.77 per cent in 2011. This ranks the UK 12th in terms of research and development expenditure in the EU-28 group, behind countries such as Slovenia, Estonia and the Czech Republic. Finland spends the highest proportion of its GDP on research and development at 3.55 per cent, which is more than double that of the UK. The average for all EU-28 countries is 2.06 per cent of GDP.

Overseas student visas
Mythbusting in Mumbai

Two visa application centres have been opened in Mumbai in order to make it easier for Indians, including students, to come to the UK. They were opened on 12 March by Sir James Bevan, the British High Commissioner to India, who told an audience not to believe “myths” about the difficulties of getting a UK visa. “If you have a place at a UK university and speak decent English, you will get your visa,” he said. In 2012-13, the number of Indian first-year students starting at UK universities fell by a quarter against the previous year, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency data.

Technology Strategy Board
Extending the range of Catapults

Ministers have commissioned a review of the possibility of expanding the Technology Strategy Board’s network of Catapult centres. Vince Cable, the business secretary, and David Willetts, the science and universities minister, have asked entrepreneur Hermann Hauser to look at how best to build on the progress of the technology and innovation centres. In a report published in 2010, Dr Hauser proposed that the UK should develop a series of centres bringing together academia and industry to help commercialise new technology. Since then the TSB has developed a network of seven Catapults, loosely based on Germany’s Fraunhofer applied research institutes. A further two Catapults, in energy systems and precision medicine, will open next year. Dr Hauser’s report, due in the summer, will look at the different Catapult models, offer recommendations on future funding models and international strategy, and consider how the network can link with the British Business Bank and the Green Investment Bank.

International research initiatives
British cash goes near and far

The UK is to commit £290 million to three international microscope and telescope projects. The government has pledged £165 million towards the construction of the European Spallation Source, a giant neutron microscope that will be built in Lund, Sweden. This amounts to about 10 per cent of its total construction costs. It also will put £100 million towards the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope currently being built in Australia and South Africa, and £25 million towards the European Space Agency’s Plato mission, which will launch a space telescope to search for habitable planets orbiting other stars. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the investments would see British scientists and businesses “working together on some of the most exciting scientific projects of the future”, generating £150 million for the UK economy every year.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Last week’s cover feature, in which academics on zero-hours contracts spoke of the personal and professional costs of such precarious employment, had people talking online. The article prompted @JohnPill4 to tell his own story. “I spent 2 yrs on [a zero-hours contract] in a mainstream outstanding FE college,” he tweeted. “It’s extremely demoralising & prevents your life moving forward.” @tombrownfs said the situation was “scandalous”, while @zenscara praised the “really brave staff” who came forward to tell their stories. @Lillithsusili said in a tweet that the feature highlighted “the grim reality” for academics on such contracts, and @aidanhorner said the content of the piece was “depressing”.

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