News in brief - 26 June 2014

June 26, 2014

Course league table proposal
Rankings that are just the job

An adviser to David Cameron has urged the government to rank universities’ courses based on their graduates’ employment rates and earnings. A report by Conservative peer Lord Young of Graffham, the prime minister’s enterprise adviser, recommends using graduates’ tax data to create a Future Earnings and Employment Record, to help prospective students choose where and what to study. The concept chimes with the interests of David Willetts, the universities and science minister. He is known to be a supporter of an existing academic study that will look at graduate earnings by university attended and course studied, using tax and Student Loans Company data. That study prompted claims that it could be used by politicians to raise the tuition fee cap at those elite institutions where graduate earnings are likely to be highest.

Impact assessment
Research’s policy hits tracked

The tracking of research impact on policymaking has been made easier by the launch of a commercial service that records citations of academic papers in government documents. Altmetric for Institutions, a product launched by London-based article-level metrics start-up Altmetric, also tracks mentions of articles across traditional news, social media and post-publication peer review sites. The use of alternative metrics to assess impact is one of the issues to be examined by the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s recently announced independent review of the use of metrics in research assessment.

Library/publisher journal deals
Price variation unrelated to size

The prices that similar universities pay for their journal “big deals” can vary substantially, research has revealed. The prices negotiated by university libraries for publishers’ suites of journals are typically kept confidential. However, a team of US economists used freedom of information legislation to discover that although larger universities often pay more, some universities pay much more than others of similar or even substantially larger size. This echoes the findings of mathematician Sir Timothy Gowers, Royal Society research professor at the University of Cambridge, who reported on his blog earlier this year that the prices paid by similarly sized UK universities for their Elsevier big deals can differ considerably. The US researchers’ paper, “Evaluating big deal journal bundles”, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes: “Some institutions…may not have been aware that better bargains can be reached. Perhaps this…explains publishers’ desire to keep contract terms confidential.”

Renewable energy campaign
Drop fossil fuels, urge students

Student protesters calling for universities to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry have met with the head of Universities UK. Some members of the Fossil Free campaign met with Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of UUK, to discuss the issue while others protested outside the organisation’s headquarters with banners and balloons on 19 June. Ms Dandridge assured the campaigners that she would discuss fossil fuel divestment at an upcoming meeting of the British Universities Finance Directors Group and the next meeting of the UUK board, as well as issue a public statement on the matter, a spokesman for Fossil Free said. The campaign is calling for institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels to help speed up the transition to renewable energy sources. So far, about a dozen universities and colleges worldwide have committed to divesting from fossil fuels, according to the group.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Figures showing that 13 per cent of the students signing up for each of the first 20 massive open online courses offered by UK Mooc platform FutureLearn completed their course had our followers on Twitter talking. “That’s a LOT of people!” said @LSHTMlibrary, while @GiftedPhoenix said the statistics showed that FutureLearn was “off to a strong start”. “At last I’m in the majority!” tweeted @john_holford in reference to the 87 per cent of FutureLearn students who did not complete their course, while @timmarshall asks “how much higher would completion be if they charged?”

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