News in brief

July 3, 2008

Staff pensions

Protection fund fees scrutinised

Staff at the most successful universities are subsidising employees at more financially unstable institutions through payments to a pension protection scheme, research by the University of Exeter has found. Every academic who belongs to the Universities Superannuation Scheme currently pays £13.87 annually into the pension protection fund (PPF) - an insurance scheme that would pay compensation in the event of the university pension scheme becoming insolvent. But Ian Tonks, professor of finance at Exeter, said the levy on members for the PPF was meant to be 80 per cent risk-based, with the amount paid by each academic varying according to the financial position of his or her university. "The majority of institutions are cross-subsidising the few really risky ones," Professor Tonks said. His estimates suggest that staff at the University of Cambridge, which was the institution calculated to be least at risk, should have paid 3p as the risk-based levy in 2006. Academics at Roehampton University, an institution judged to be one of those most at risk, should have paid nearly £60.

Research exploitation

Cash to take ideas to market

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has awarded £68 million in funding to public-sector research organisations to commercialise their results. The Public Sector Research Exploitation (PSRE) fund will allow 33 projects to share in the money intended to support the initial stages of commercialising research before third-party investment is secured. Winners include the Natural History Museum, whose study of insects could be developed into new techniques to investigate crime scenes. DIUS has provided £30 million in funding for the PSRE. The remainder of the money will come from more than a dozen other organisations, including government departments and research councils.

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Research-leave scheme discussed

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has announced a consultation event in London on 28 July to get input from the community on how it should support individual researchers. It is exploring whether its research-leave scheme is the best way to support high-quality individual research and "what value the scheme adds to quality-related research funding".

See: http://tinyurl.com/5c2map

Entrepreneurship

Teaching bottom-line basics

The National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship has set up a training programme to teach lecturers in all subjects how to encourage entrepreneurship among their students. An NCGE spokeswoman said: "Much of what is currently on offer is focused on a narrow, yet important, context of entrepreneurial activity, namely the business start-up. Yet increasingly the national and international policy emphasis is on preparing graduates for the application of entrepreneurial skills in a wide range of different business, economic and social contexts. The challenge for the educator is to support the development of entrepreneurial capacities and mindsets via engagement right across the university curriculum."

20 YEARS AGO

University vice-chancellors, worried by inflation predictions, have asked Government for an extra £50 million so they can continue with restructuring after the present planning period and to accommodate future pay increases ... Kenneth Davies, assistant secretary of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said: "We are already suffering a 1 per cent reduction in income as a result, and all the talk is now of inflation rising still further."

"I started external examining three years ago," said a young head of department. "I said 'yes', and the next thing I knew, scripts were landing on my desk on the assumption I knew what to do with them. I was just thrown in at the deep end ... ". What he thought he was doing, and what the department and university that appointed him as their external examiner thought he was doing and ought to do, varied quite a lot ... "Being fair" sometimes had inconsistent implications ... Perhaps they should be trained. One thing they certainly would not be: the suggestion of an exam for external examiners was met with howls of "I resign ... ".

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