News in brief - 21 March 2013

March 21, 2013

Politics and international relations
UWE department shrinks to fit

The University of the West of England has opted not to close its politics and international relations department but will instead merge four undergraduate courses into one. A complete closure had been on the cards after a review of courses last month pointed to expanding competition from local institutions, sharply falling applications and a “lack of strategic fit” within the university. But the university now says that for new entrants in 2013-14, the department’s four undergraduate courses will merge into one, while the department’s master’s course in human rights will close. In a statement on the institution’s website on 5 March, vice- chancellor Steve West said that significant challenges remained for politics and international relations at UWE and that major changes were required to bring about necessary improvements.

Widening participation
Tell Offa how it’s done

Examples of successful widening participation schemes are being sought to inform a new national strategy on improving access to higher education. The Office for Fair Access and the Higher Education Funding Council for England have called for universities, further education colleges, schools and other interested organisations to submit evidence of good practice as they draw up a new strategy to improve the effectiveness of university access schemes and promote collaboration between institutions. The call for evidence, published on 14 March, follows a similar appeal in November when the government urged Offa and Hefce to speed up their work on the strategy.

School exam reforms
Gove: spell respect with an A

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has written to England’s exam regulator Ofqual confirming plans to reform A levels. The proposals mean that AS levels, which take a year to complete and currently count towards a full A level, will become standalone qualifications. Students wishing to obtain an A level will have to take a linear, two-year course. Universities, including the research-intensive Russell Group, have criticised plans to separate AS and A levels, claiming that such a move may put off poorer students from applying to more selective courses. In a letter to Glenys Stacey, head of Ofqual, Mr Gove said: “It is essential that new A levels command the respect of leading universities.” Despite its concerns, the Russell Group is to establish an advisory board that will help develop the reformed qualifications, which will be introduced from 2015.

Medical Research Council
Brain bank speeds up withdrawals

Researchers will be able to access samples from more than 7,000 donated human brains thanks to a new online database launched by the Medical Research Council on 21 March. The UK Brain Banks Network database hopes to speed up access to donated brain samples held across 10 brain banks in the UK and allow researchers studying brain diseases to track down human tissue samples for their work. The database is a collaboration between the MRC and five charities: the MS Society, Parkinson’s UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK and Autistica. Under the initiative, researchers will also no longer have to seek ethics approval for their project before they apply for tissue samples as all the banks can now give delegated approval.

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