News in brief

May 3, 2002

Union report shows Oxford inequalities
Students from poorer Oxford colleges suffer academically compared with students at richer colleges, according to the Oxford University Student Union.

They lose out on library provision, accommodation, hardship grants and teaching, according to a report from the union. It says disparities in college wealth could affect the access agenda as poorer students in poorer colleges suffer most.

Students in poorer colleges are more likely to have to live out of college, it says. And there are inequalities in grants for individuals. For example, Christchurch distributes £324,764 a year, about £560 per student, while a middle-ranked college such as Hertford, distributes £66,733 a year (£1 per student).

Poorer colleges also have a worse student-to-fellow ratio.

The report draws attention to Oxford's prospectus for 2002-03, which claims that "all the colleges are alike in offering good sports, music, computing and library facilities as well as accommodation to their students".

The university does have a system of college redistribution designed to build up the endowments of poorer colleges but this is not working, according to the report. A university spokesman said that the report was yet to be considered in detail.

Move to stop research exploiting third world
Safeguards designed to prevent people in the developing world being unfairly exploited in medical research have been drawn up by a panel of international experts.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a framework report in a bid to encourage better regulation of efforts to bridge the healthcare gap between rich and poor countries.

The panel noted that £35 billion-£40 billion was spent on medical research worldwide but only 10 per cent of this targeted the problems faced by 90 per cent of the world's population, such as tuberculosis and malaria.

Sir Kenneth Calman, chairman of the multinational working party and warden of Durham University, said the recommendations provided guidance for anyone designing or conducting research in developing countries. "We want to ensure that there is no exploitation of those who take part," he said.

Scots universities praise protection bill
Scotland's higher education institutions have praised the Scottish Parliament for safeguarding academic research from premature disclosure under Scotland's radical freedom of information bill.

There were fears that researchers could be forced to disclose incomplete research, but MSPs backed an amendment to protect unpublished research.

The amendment's opponents claimed it could allow scientific information to be concealed for an unspecified period. But deputy justice minister Richard Simpson said it was aimed solely at guarding against the premature disclosure of incomplete research that had yet to realise its commercial value.

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said: "We very much welcome the decision by the parliament and can assure MSPs that the sector will treat this exemption in the spirit in which it was intended."

Devolution may give St Andrews MD award
Scottish devolution is set to correct a Westminster error that has prevented St Andrews University from offering postgraduate medical degrees for almost 40 years.

The Universities (Scotland) Act 1966, which established St Andrews' University College as the autonomous University of Dundee, axed St Andrews' right to award qualifying degrees in medicine, since the clinical undergraduate course was based at Dundee.

But a drafting error in the bill, unnoticed until it was too late, also removed St Andrews' right to award higher medical degrees.

Michael Steel, St Andrews' professor of medical sciences, said: "A lot of people who have been qualified for a number of years now want to get some experience in specialist areas, and it's certainly appropriate that they progress to take an MD or PhDs. We can award PhDs but not MDs, and that is a disadvantage."

There had never been parliamentary time for another Westminster act to put matters right but legislation on postgraduate courses is now within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Local Liberal Democrat MSP Iain Smith has won cross-party support for a member's bill giving St Andrews the power to grant postgraduate research degrees. The bill is expected to come before next week's meeting of the enterprise and lifelong learning committee.

Oral history of average Brit saved by archive
A project designed to get English students involved in recording the oral histories of their local communities is to be preserved for future generations in a national archive opening this week.

Pamela Russell, senior lecturer in English at Edge Hill College, said the significance of folklore and childhood memories were often overlooked by academics.

"Many of the subjects chosen by students are ignored by formal history, such as working-class concerns, women's concerns and the day-to-day lives and belief systems of ordinary people," she said.

Students have recorded dozens of people talking about a range of subjects, including wartime evacuation from Liverpool, aspects of folklore and childhood memories.

The recordings will be placed in The Edge Hill Archive at Wigan Pier. It will be part of the heritage interpretation exhibition.

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