News in brief - 20 November 2014

November 20, 2014

European Commission
Chief scientist role scrapped

Scientists and science bodies have reacted with dismay to the decision by the European Commission to axe the post of chief scientific adviser. The role was created in 2012, and has since been held by Anne Glover, the Scottish biologist. However, Professor Glover announced on 12 November that Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission’s new president, would not seek a replacement for her when she departs in January. The future of the position has been contested since environmental groups, irritated by Professor Glover’s support for genetically modified crops, wrote to the Commission in July calling for it to be scrapped. Science bodies hit back with letters of their own calling for the post to be retained. Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, called the Commission’s decision to scrap the post “a very backward step”.

National Scholarship Programme
Doubts and gratitude over scheme

Most universities believe that the £226 million National Scholarship Programme has not encouraged poorer undergraduates into higher education – but students back the scheme. The Higher Education Funding Council for England commissioned CFE Research and Edge Hill University to carry out an evaluation of the scheme’s second year. Their report puts the value of the fund at £226 million in 2013-14, including £100 million from the government. It finds that “while some institutions report that the NSP has had a positive effect, a slightly higher proportion perceive that it has not encouraged students who otherwise would not have applied to HE, or improved participation amongst disadvantaged groups”. But the report adds that the “majority of NSP award recipients confirm that they would have found it difficult to remain on their course without financial help and that they are more likely to complete as a result of receiving it”. The scheme is being wound down this year before the money is redistributed to help postgraduates.

Unpaid internships
Graduates face £926 monthly bill

Nearly a third of graduates who are employed as interns receive no pay, a new report says. The Sutton Trust analysed statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s 2012-13 leavers’ survey to find that, of the respondents who reported that they were employed as interns six months after graduation, 30.6 per cent said they were unpaid. The thinktank called for all interns who carried out placements that lasted for longer than a month to be paid at least the minimum wage. It calculates that a six-month unpaid internship in London would cost a graduate £5,556, or £926 a month, in accommodation costs, bills and food – presuming that their transport costs were covered by their employers.

Social mobility
Scotland ‘sleepwalking into crisis’

More school leavers from poorer backgrounds must be admitted to universities if Scotland is to avoid “sleepwalking into a social mobility crisis”. That was the warning from former health secretary Alan Milburn, now the UK government’s social mobility tsar, as he highlighted statistics showing that young Scots from poor backgrounds are only a third as likely to enter higher education as their wealthier counterparts. They are half as likely to enter the “ancient” institutions of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. In a speech in Edinburgh, Mr Milburn said that time spent in education was the most important determinant of future social status and claimed it was a “moral outrage” that one in five young Scots left school “only to join the dole queue”.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Are UK degree standards comparable? That was the question asked by our cover feature last week, and our Twitter followers were keen to have their say. The “truthful answer” is that “we don’t know”, said @StuartWilksHeeg, but Times Higher Education’s @Phil_Baty was certain, describing it as a “QTWTAIN” - or a “question to which the answer is ‘no’”. @drbenvoyer described the piece as a “great thought provoking article”, while @simonrae suggested the discussion could also apply to school-level qualifications. “Should we also ask if an A in an Edexcel History exam is the same as A in an AQA History exam at GCSE?” he tweeted.

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