News in brief

July 17, 2008

Intellectual property

Stiglitz bemoans 'patent thicket'

The protection of intellectual property works to "close down knowledge" rather than encourage its dissemination, Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prizewinning economist, told a public debate on intellectual property. Speaking at the launch of the University of Manchester's Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation alongside Sir John Sulston, a Nobel laureate in medicine, he said the patent system stifled science and innovation. The current "patent thicket", which puts anyone who writes a successful software program at risk of being sued for alleged patent infringement, highlights the problem, he said. The two Nobel laureates also met a group of 40 scientists and ethicists to begin to draw up a consensus on intellectual property, which will be known as the "Manchester Manifesto".

Senate House library cuts

Facebook campaign burgeons

A "Save Senate House library" group set up on the social networking site Facebook has attracted hundreds of members. Times Higher Education reported in April that the University of London's Senate House was to lose £1 million a year - a third of its income - from the Higher Education Funding Council for England because it was not judged to be worthy of central support. The decision prompted the university to commission an external review of the future of the library, which is due to report in December. The Facebook group has called for University of London college heads to increase their funding for the central library.

See: www.ipetitions.com/petition/SaveSHLforUL2008/

Environmental policies

Hefce asked to set carbon targets

The Government has called on the Higher Education Funding Council for England to set strict carbon reduction targets for universities to meet. In a letter responding to the publication of the People & Planet Green League this month, Baroness Morgan, the Minister for Students, said Hefce was to be given the task of fixing the sector's carbon targets. "It (the Green League) is also a cogent reminder that more needs to be done," Baroness Morgan said. "The Government's Climate Change Bill means that this is just the beginning, and because of this we have given Hefce the challenge of developing a realistic target for carbon reductions for the sector."

Further education refurbishment

Sector notches up £731m debt

The further education sector is in the red to the tune of £731 million as a result of a major project to improve the quality of college buildings. Figures from the National Audit Office show that interest paid on the debt is equal to 1 per cent of the sector's income. Between 2005-06 and 2006-07, the number of colleges assessed as being financially weak rose from 68 to 89. While the programme is affordable for the sector as a whole, the NAO said, colleges with large debts could be more vulnerable to loss of income if they failed to generate the projected demand for their courses. Overall, the cost of the building project was £4.2 billion. It has been financed by colleges' reserves, access to loan funding and disposal of surplus assets. The Learning and Skills Council also offered £1.7 billion in grants towards the scheme. Half of the planned work was completed or under way by the beginning of 2008.

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