News in brief - 8 August 2013

August 8, 2013

Deregulate sector, urge businesses

University tuition fees would be deregulated, bureaucracy reduced and the Australian federal government in more control of vocational training if the pre-election manifesto of a national forum of business leaders were to be adopted. The Economic Action Plan for Enduring Prosperity put forward by the Business Council of Australia says market arrangements should be extended in the sector to help spur the growth of “world-class and more differentiated” specialist university courses. The document says fees should be uncapped, just as university places have been, as “further deregulating the fees paid by university students [would] enable institutions to move away from the incentive to get high numbers of students through price-capped courses”. The BCA says institutions could better focus on their core business if the bureaucratic burden were reduced, The Australian reported.

Scholar risks jail in headscarf row

A Turkish academic is facing two years in prison for forbidding access to a university building by a student wearing a headscarf. Ankara’s Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld a court’s verdict against Esat Rennan Pekünlü, an astrophysicist at Ege University in Izmir. Professor Pekünlü was first sentenced in September 2012 after Fatma Nur Gidal accused him of violating her right to education, Nature reported. She also said he had violated her right to privacy by photographing her and other students wearing headscarves on campus. After Professor Pekünlü was fined by Ege, four more students filed complaints. A group of eight academic organisations issued a joint statement questioning the fairness of the trial, which they called an attack on secular academics.

Drug data manipulation identified

A second Japanese university has found that clinical data used in research for a drug that lowers blood pressure may have been manipulated. Seibu Mochizuki, a guest professor at Jikei University’s School of Medicine, who led the institution’s research on the drug Diovan, is offering to withdraw a paper published in The Lancet in 2007, noting that doubts have emerged about the credibility of the research. The news came after Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine said in July that it had found manipulation of clinical research data on Diovan, The Japan Times reported. Novartis Pharma KK, the Japanese arm of the Swiss drug giant, claimed at the end of July that a third-party investigation found no evidence that an ex-employee of the company had altered the data. But Kazuhiro Hashimoto, chairman of a Jikei investigation committee, said that the former Novartis employee might have manipulated the data despite later denying it in an interview.

Smaller presidential office sought

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the outgoing president of Iran, is to move into higher education after being granted a licence to start an international university in Tehran. News of Mr Ahmadinejad’s undertaking, reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency, was the first official confirmation of his plans after leaving office this month. The university’s charter must still be approved by two government ministers, The New York Times reported. The institution is still to be named.

United States
Grant misuse charge proves costly

A private US university has agreed to pay $2.93 million (£1.93 million) to settle claims that one of its former researchers used federal grant money for personal expenses over a seven-year period. Northwestern University has reached the settlement after it was alleged that Charles L. Bennett, a professor at its Feinberg School of Medicine, used grant funds to pay for food, hotels, “consulting fees” and airfares for family trips between 2003 and 2010. Dr Bennett, who left Northwestern in 2010, denies the allegations and his lawyer says he was “actively engaged in discussions to resolve” them, The Wall Street Journal reported. The university cooperated with investigators who responded to a whistleblower’s allegations under the False Claims Act. “Allowing researchers to use federal grant money to pay for personal travel, hotels and meals and to hire unqualified friends and relatives as ‘consultants’ violates the public trust and federal law,” US attorney Gary S. Shapiro said in a statement.

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