News in brief - 21 August 2014

August 21, 2014

Academic Ranking of World Universities
China gains ground on West

China’s universities are catching up with the West on research strength, but only slowly, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2014. The rankings, based on research prowess and published by Shanghai Jiao Tong University on 15 August, show that mainland China in particular has improved its performance. It has 32 universities in the top 500, up from 28 in 2013. Mainland China still does not have any institutions in the top 100, but three elite universities, Peking, Tsinghua and Shanghai Jiao Tong, have moved up to the 100-150 place bracket. For the 12th year running, Harvard University is ranked in first place. Stanford University remains in second place, while the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is third.

National Student Survey
Poll ‘on a par with TripAdvisor’

The National Student Survey does not give an accurate representation of student feeling, according to more than half of university staff responding to a straw poll. According to a Times Higher Education survey of 50 higher education workers, carried out after the results of the 2014 NSS were released last week, 56 per cent do not trust the findings of the annual barometer of student feeling. One lecturer called the NSS “about as scientifically useful as TripAdvisor is for travellers”, referring to the hotel and restaurant review website, adding that “the construction of the survey is too blunt to record the variables of individual student satisfaction”. Another respondent said that students “are expected to rate their course effectively in comparison to every other course out there. Having only studied one university degree (in most cases), this is impossible.”

Research councils
EPSRC makes pledge on impact

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council aims to accelerate both scientific breakthroughs and social and economic impact. The pledge is contained in the research council’s draft strategic plan for 2016 to 2020, which was published for consultation last week. The document, which updates the EPSRC’s strategic plan in light of recent developments such as the government’s industrial strategy, commits the funder to increasing the number of leading scientists and engineers working in the UK and encouraging them to be “more adventurous than ever before”. It also says the EPSRC has a role “to help make it more likely that impact will arise, that it will arise more quickly and that it will bring benefit to the UK”.

Mathematics prize
First female Fields Medal winner

Maryam Mirzakhani has become the first woman to win the Fields Medal in the history of the world’s most prestigious mathematics prize. Professor Mirzakhani, a professor of mathematics at Stanford University, becomes the first woman to win since the award was established in 1936. The Iranian-born mathematician was recognised for her “outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces”. The Fields Medal is awarded by the International Mathematical Union once every four years to exceptional talents under the age of 40. The three other winners named last week included the Austrian Martin Hairer, Regius professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, who has made a major breakthrough in the study of stochastic partial differential equations by creating a new theory of regularity structures for such equations.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Our coverage of the Kardashian Index, a ranking that maps academics’ number of Twitter followers against their number of citations to measure the scholarly weight behind their internet fame, had our online community talking. The measure was developed by Neil Hall, professor of functional and comparative genomics at the University of Liverpool, and takes its name from Kim Kardashian, the US television personality who is, he says, famous simply for being famous. @DrPetra said Professor Hall’s suggestion that some academics should “get off Twitter and write those papers” was “academic elitism and anti engagement/activism nonsense at its worst”, while @jennycz said: “Uh oh, my k-index is 6.85. Time to start planning a reality tv show?”

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