News in brief

February 8, 2002

Welsh research could suffer in cluster
Wales is throwing away an opportunity to make research in the principality better than in the rest of the United Kingdom by concentrating more funding and activity in Cardiff, analysts have told the Welsh Assembly.

Research assessment exercise results reveal that institutions outside Cardiff contribute more than half of the above-average research in Wales, despite their relatively small size.

Stuart McLeay, director of research at Bangor University's School for Business and Regional Development, said this showed that significant potential across Wales would be neglected under recommendations in the assembly's higher education review report that Welsh research should be led by a Cardiff-based cluster of institutions.

The report suggests developing new research centres of excellence, with Cardiff leading the way. Professor McLeay said there were already foundations for such centres across Wales, in more than 20 highly rated departments outside Cardiff.

Excluded groups miss prior learning boosts
Recognising learning outside formal education could raise participation, but it is not being targeted at excluded groups, Ruth Whittaker and Paula Cleary of Glasgow Caledonian University have said.
They have called for a rethink of the accreditation of prior experiential learning scheme to expand opportunities for adult learners. Ms Whittaker and Ms Cleary told the Scottish forum of the Centre for Research in Lifelong Learning that Apel is used most in postgraduate courses, but very little in further education and community education. Most Apel learners are white, middle-class and in their 20s and 30s.

King's joins California in science teaching
King's College London has begun a five-year, $10.8 million (£7.65 million) partnership with the University of California, Santa Cruz, to revitalise science education using techniques from museums.
The Center for Informal Learning and Schools, based at San Francisco's Exploratorium interactive science museum, will seek to tap the popularity of museums, aquariums and zoos to boost science literacy.

Arthur Lucas, King's principal, said the goal was "a population that better understands the important science questions that lead policy debate".

The centre will enrol 33 doctoral students to study science education.

Farren rejects claim of huge underspend
Northern Ireland's former higher education minister has admitted an underspend of more than £13 million in his department. But Sean Farren, now finance minister, rejected claims in the province's assembly that the underspend in his time in office amounted to £50 million.
Sinn Fein member John Kelly said the education department had told its Stormont scrutiny committee that the "remarkable" underspend of £51 million had been reduced to £13 million, money then "surrendered" to other departments.

"Aspects of that underspend left the committee with many questions about issues such as New Deal and student grants," Mr Kelly said. "Does the minister know where the missing £38 million has gone?" Dr Farren said he could not recall any underspend on the scale Mr Kelly had quoted.

Government kicks off mobile phone research
The first projects in a government research effort into the health effects of mobile phones have been announced.

Most of the 15 projects - worth a total of £4.5 million - are based in universities and hospitals in the United Kingdom, but one is a collaboration with Sweden's Karolinska Institute. Private consultancies are doing several others.

An independent inquiry chaired by Sir William Stewart advised the government to set up a joint research project with industry to investigate the potential health hazards of mobile phones, although the committee concluded there was no evidence yet to suggest they posed a significant risk.


Cambridge primate lab plan rejected again
The search for cures for devastating neurological diseases has been "deeply damaged", Cambridge University said this week as it lost its second attempt to set up a controversial primate research laboratory.

South Cambridge District Council this week blocked a planning application for a second time because of concerns that the £24 million neuroscience facility, which was to experiment on monkeys, would attract extremist animal-rights protests.

The chief planner reported to councillors that although the laboratory was in the national interest, the high risk of demonstrations would create "a serious danger to the public" and cause serious traffic problems.

The laboratory was initially rejected in January last year on the grounds that its planned location would blight the green belt. The subsequent application was altered to meet these concerns, and the council acknowledged that its national significance was enough to set aside concerns about the green belt.

The council had received submissions from the police expressing grave reservations about the plan after their experience of policing protests and demonstrations at the nearby Huntington Life Sciences, which cost £1.2 million last year.

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