News in brief - 29 January 2015

January 29, 2015

Qatar and Lebanon take top spots

Qatar and Lebanon are the top performers in a snapshot of what a new ranking devoted to universities in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) could look like. Texas A&M University at Qatar took first place in a top five table for research impact drawn up by Times Higher Education, while Qatar University was fourth. Lebanon holds two of the top five places, with the Lebanese American University in second and the American University of Beirut coming fifth. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz University took third position. The ranking was formulated using Elsevier’s Scopus database to highlight some of the region’s top performers ahead of THE’s inaugural Mena universities summit, to be held in Qatar on 23 and 24 February. The event will include consultation on proposals for a full THE ranking for the region.

Welsh governance
Bill altered to calm fee plan fears

Welsh university leaders’ fears about loss of institutional autonomy have been appeased by final amendments to the higher education (Wales) bill. The legislation, which bids to restore leverage to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales in the light of cuts to teaching grants, had triggered fears of “micromanagement”, principally via the development of fee plans that institutions must submit for approval. Previous amendments had offered reassurance on academic freedom and the charitable status of institutions, and the latest batch of approved changes confirmed that Hefcw would not be able to require universities to spend money beyond that received in fees. A Universities Wales spokesman said that, as a result of the amendments, the organisation was “hopeful that the bill will no longer pose a threat to the operation of universities”.

Computing skills
Teacher support gets cash boost

The government has pledged more than £3.5 million to various university-linked projects to train computing teachers. In one scheme, a consortium led by Queen Mary University of London, working with Hertford College, Oxford, will use £25,000 from the Department for Education and matched funding from Google and others to create a range of resources that will support teachers in promoting the development of computing-related thinking skills. Other projects will have modules on computational thinking and networking, developed by Newman and Birmingham City universities, and Oxford Brookes University’s Centre for Educational Consultancy and Development is working on a course for primary school teachers that can be delivered online.

Teaching standards
Call for evidence-based policies

A report into improving teaching standards has called on the government to create a system in which schools work with research institutions, including universities, to produce evidence-based policies. The Sutton Trust report, Developing Teachers: improving professional development for teachers, released on 23 January, said the existing “well-qualified workforce” needs a system “not only based on and grounded in evidence but [that] also actively encourages research”. “Schools need to work more closely with universities and organisations such as the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation,” it continues. The report was published just a few days after Sir Andrew Carter’s Review of Initial Teacher Training said it was “critical” that ITT emphasised the importance of evidence-based teaching and encouraged trainees to undertake research.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Last week’s story looking at concerns being raised about the remit of the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport prompted a flurry of responses on Twitter. Referring to comments in the article that Sir Mark should not be portrayed as a “Bond villain pursuing world domination”, @robwitts said that he would “always now picture him stroking white cat in Whitehall lair”. But @mcleish_t wrote: “Bond villain or leader?…key is to make good decisions for UK science not pork-barrel ones.” Meanwhile, the view of @jackstilgoe was that it was “vital to clarify Walport’s role before he is neck-deep in a controversy over sci advice and conflicts of interest”.

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