News in brief - 31 July 2014

July 31, 2014

ESRC appointment
Elliott unveiled as chief executive

Jane Elliott has been unveiled as the next chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council. Professor Elliott is director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies and of the Cohort and Longitudinal Studies Enhancement Resources programme at the Institute of Education, University of London. Professor Elliott said she would look forward “to working collaboratively both within the ESRC and with the ESRC’s many partner organisations to ensure that we continue to foster and support the highest quality social science research”. She will take up the role on 1 October, succeeding Paul Boyle, who is moving to the post of vice-chancellor at the University of Leicester.

Peer’s plea
Clark urged to focus on science

The chairman of a House of Lords committee has written to Greg Clark, the new minister for universities and science, urging him to take account of a recent inquiry about priorities in science. In the letter dated 24 July, Lord Selborne, chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, draws attention to three meetings that took place with a number of witnesses to gather evidence in July. He points Mr Clark to the evidence on the committee’s website and calls for him to consider it in his work on the new science and innovation strategy. “The evidence offered much food for thought and we would urge you, as you begin to engage with the strategy in your new position, to take into account the views expressed,” he says. Lord Selborne wrote a similar letter to Matthew Hancock, minister of state at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department of Energy, asking him to ensure that research and development in the nuclear sector is “adequately nurtured and supported”.

University applicants
Fewer offers for ethnic minorities

Ethnic minority university applicants are less likely to receive an offer than their white British or mixed-ethnicity counterparts, even when controlling for their academic record, social background, gender and school type, a study published last week has found. This discrimination was most pronounced for applicants of Pakistani ethnicity, who for every 100 applications received on average seven fewer offers than 100 equivalent white British candidates. It is “plausible” that the differences between ethnicities could be down to direct racial discrimination by universities, concludes the London School of Economics study, Black and Minority Ethnic Access to Higher Education: A Reassessment. But, the study points out, applicants from lower social classes also have lower offer rates, suggesting that factors other than “direct discrimination” on the basis of ethnicity may be at work.

Engineering employers
Graduates ‘lack business nous’

Graduates are lacking commercial awareness and communication skills, according to a national survey of employers who take on engineering graduates. The research, carried out by the Knowledge Partnership and the Association of Graduate Recruiters, indicates that universities are failing to prepare graduates in these attributes. The report finds that 30 per cent of engineering employers are critical when asked how well engineering degrees prepare students for employment, although they were complimentary about the technical knowledge that graduates possess. David Sanderson, the report’s author, said “much has been reported about the shortage of engineering graduates for industry, but employers have concerns about the quality of some applicants and their lack of broader abilities”.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Last week’s article reporting that, despite former universities and science minister David Willetts’ predictions, almost every English university will charge £9,000 fees for at least some courses in 2015‑16 provoked a strong reaction on Twitter. @rodbristow argued that the problem lies in the meaning of “quality”, which has been “defined in terms of price and exclusivity not learning”. Many agreed with this, including @gimpyblog, who stated “the trouble was always that Higher Education is not a market, and cannot ever be one”. However, this was not the only view. @DT_1975 disagreed, adding “of course the student is the customer” because “Unis act like any other organisation”.

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