News in brief - 27 February 2014

February 27, 2014

The Russell Group
Osborne unveils UK-China link

George Osborne has announced a programme of collaboration between leading universities in China and the UK’s Russell Group institutions. Speaking to business leaders at the British Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong on 20 February, the chancellor said that he wanted to strengthen academic ties between the UK and China, and to encourage more Chinese students to come to British institutions. Mr Osborne announced “a new collaborative programme between leading universities in China and the Russell Group of UK universities on the key challenges we all face”. Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said that the collaborations with Chinese institutions would aim to “tackle global challenges, such as public health and sustainable cities”.

British Academy debates
Ageing: a blessing or a curse?

The British Academy is launching a major series of free public debates examining the crucial issues of our time. The first three look at the implications of Britain’s ageing population and will take place in London, Sheffield and Edinburgh, chaired by journalist Evan Davis, classicist Mary Beard and actor Simon Callow. All will give academics a chance to flag up the vital role research can play in helping to understand and address the challenges. The first debate, “Benefit or burden? Coming to terms with ageing Britain”, was held at The Royal Society, London, on 26 February, and considered whether the notion of “the welfare generation” is a myth, what the economy might gain from an older workforce, and how politicians and policymakers might learn to harness the potential of an ageing population.

Foreign students
NUS demands fee guarantee

The National Union of Students has called on universities to fix their fees for international students, protecting them from “unanticipated and unfair” rises during their courses. NUS research has found that at least 50 per cent of universities do not provide international students with any guarantee of what their fee will be each year of their degree. “Many fees increase often by thousands of pounds each year, in the middle of their studies,” the union said – claiming that some students find themselves unable to continue because of the rising costs. Daniel Stevens, NUS international students’ officer, said: “Our fixed fees campaign has one simple goal: to abolish in-course fee increases. We want a fixed fee guarantee for all international students.”

Conference connections
Algorithms aid matchmaking

Cambridge scientists have come up with a new way of facilitating collaborations between delegates at academic conferences – by treating them like genes. Developed by Rafael Carazo Salas, of the University of Cambridge’s department of genetics, and two Italian colleagues, the system relies on algorithms to match conference-goers according to pre-set criteria. Keen to “avoid the usual pattern…of like sticking with like”, said Dr Carazo Salas, “we came up with an idea: what if we treated the delegates like we treat genes, and used mathematical algorithms to build a connectivity picture that could enable new links to be made?”. The results of this pilot project have just been published in the open-access journal eLife. The team now hopes to fine-tune its approach by trying it out at conferences of different sizes and in other disciplines.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

A paper claiming that physicists are more intelligent than social scientists prompted some heated discussion among our Twitter followers (perhaps unsurprisingly).

Physicists were quick to welcome the study. “Hear hear,” tweeted @ashalynd; “Pft. I knew that,” said @Coffeegenius; “Sounds legit,” added @sociablephysics.

@PhilPurnell, meanwhile, found a way for the non-physicists to hit back. “Social scientists will just redefine ‘intelligence’,” he tweeted. “Problem solved.” Some of our followers were not taking the study too seriously, with @SciBry describing the research as “good for a giggle”, while @FQXi described it as a “rather rude & unpleasant study”. “Still sharing it tho,” they added.

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