News in brief - 5 December 2013

December 5, 2013

European Commission awards
Winning formula for HR

Almost 90 UK universities have been awarded the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research accolade. Ten institutions won the award for the first time this year, and 15 more have retained theirs after a two-year review. The award recognises universities’ commitment to developing the careers of research staff and improving working conditions. The 10 universities to receive the award for the first time are the University of Chichester, the Courtauld Institute of Art, Glasgow Caledonian University, Keele University, Glyndwr University, Manchester Metropolitan University, St George’s, University of London, the University of East London, the University of South Wales and the University of Sunderland.

Academic Health Science Centres
From the lab to the ward

The Department of Health has added a new Academic Health Science Centre to the list of NHS and university partnerships working to research new treatments and to improve health education. OxAHSC – comprising the University of Oxford, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Oxford Brookes University – is the latest addition to the six-strong list, the others being Cambridge University Health Partners, Imperial College AHSC, King’s Health Partners, Manchester AHSC and UCL Partners. The existing five have been designated AHSCs for a further five years. The centres will bring scientific discoveries from the lab to the ward, operating theatre and general practice so that patients can benefit from innovative new treatments.

University of London
One strike but not out

Outsourced cleaners at the University of London have vowed to fight on despite being offered improved terms and conditions after a two-day strike. On 28 November, Balfour Beatty Workplace announced that it would enhance sick pay entitlement, increase holiday pay and offer access to its company pension scheme. It followed strike action by outsourced cleaners as part of the 3Cosas Campaign, and which was timed to coincide with a visit by Princess Anne to attend an honorary degree ceremony at the university on November. Led by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, a trade union not recognised by the university, strike action continued on 28 November. Branch secretary Jason Moyer-Lee called the offer “great progress” but said that staff would fight on for their stated aim: equal terms and conditions with University of London staff.

Languages provision
Plea to keep diplomatic lines open

A British Academy report urges universities to help stem a decline in provision of languages with “strategic importance for defence and diplomacy”. Lost for Words: The Need for Languages in UK Diplomacy and Security, released on 28 November, claims to offer the first systematic review of how “language capacity within the UK affects the government’s ability to maintain diplomatic relations and deliver national security and defence”. Higher tuition fees pose a particular threat in “the area of lesser-taught or minority languages”, including Turkish and Farsi, states the report, given that “student demand is unlikely ever to reach levels that make provision economically self-sustaining”. An increasing reliance on philanthropy has also led to a situation where “the Chinese government now funds more Chinese language learning in the UK than the UK government [does], and this imbalance may give rise to potential strains on the neutrality/impartiality of the recipients”, the report says.

Follow Times Higher Education on Twitter

Last week’s story exploring whether the research excellence framework has actually been more burdensome than its predecessor, the research assessment exercise, got a few people talking on Twitter. “Der, tell us something we didn’t know. I have spent 20% of time for 2 years on REF (what a waste),” was the reaction of @cj_pope. However, @ViewforthHE decided to give embattled academics a pat on the back for reaching the finish line. “It wasn’t supposed to be this hard”, she tweeted, in reference to the article, before adding: “…but congratulations to all #REF2014 teams today. You made it!”

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