Sharpening the scalpel
David Willetts, the universities and science minister, met with business leaders and academics at the University of Leeds last week to discuss the government’s strategy for the life sciences. At a roundtable event on 26 September, the minister also met with Sir Alan Langlands, Leeds’ new vice-chancellor, and representatives from the region’s medical technologies sector. Discussions touched on how the UK can improve its global position in medical technologies by equipping graduates and postgraduates with the right skills, providing the best environment to support innovation, and strengthening collaboration between academia, industry and the NHS. Sir Alan, former chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, formally took the reins at Leeds on 1 October.
On their metal
Applications to the Athena SWAN Charter for Women in Science continue to grow, the latest set of awards reveals. There were 112 applications this round, up from 96 six months ago. Of these, 87 were successful (the figure was 68 in April). Eight institutions received bronze awards, the prerequisite for applying for departmental-level recognition. In total, 58 departments won bronze, meaning they had identified good and bad practice and how to improve standards, and 17 received silver awards for the first time, for which they had to demonstrate measurable progress in equality. Imperial College London’s department of chemistry gained a gold award, the fourth granted thus far, while the University of Warwick became the fourth silver-level university. The awards are backed by the Equality Challenge Unit.
Massive student dividend
Student expenditure supports more than 830,000 UK jobs, a study has found. In a report for the National Union of Students by nef consulting (the consultancy arm of the New Economics Foundation thinktank), the immediate value of students to the UK economy is valued at £82 billion. The study, Student Contributions to the UK Economy, published on 25 September, says that students support just over 430,000 jobs directly and almost 834,000 jobs overall – roughly 2.8 per cent of all jobs in the UK economy. The report also says that the economy receives more than £3 for every £1 invested in higher education. Each student receives almost £25,000 of state funding on average and would have contributed about £16,250 in taxes if they had worked instead of studied, the report calculates. But this is dwarfed by the £110,230 in extra taxes paid by each graduate, while lower unemployment payments save the taxpayer almost £5,000 per student.
Prospective students can now search for information about higher education on their mobile phones after the government’s Unistats website was updated. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said that the smartphone version of the site – which contains information on course costs, contact hours and average graduate incomes – would make it easier for users to search and compare courses by location. “We are empowering people by publishing unprecedented levels of information on their options,” said Mr Willetts, speaking at Gresham College in central London on 24 September. Unistats attracted more than 250,000 unique visitors and 5.2 million page views last year.
Our feature on the importance of optimism in science struck a chord with readers. Using the #HEoptimist hashtag, our Twitter followers began swapping their own reasons to be cheerful. “I get to hang out with fab students, engage in fascinating research, meet amazing talented folks,” said @cs_warden. @SarahGoodier described herself as a higher education optimist because “you never know what you may discover, even from analysing the results of a ‘failed’ experiment”. “HE research can drive innovation – always exciting – sometimes lifesaving,” added @UoSinnovation.