News in brief

November 13, 2008

Pensions

USS reassurance on funds

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has told members that it is well placed to withstand the current financial turmoil, relative to other pension schemes. "As a long-term investor, USS maintains a well-diversified portfolio, which is designed better to withstand volatile market movements," a spokesman said. "Furthermore, USS income from investments and contributions is higher than its expenditure on benefits." Fund managers had foreseen problems in the financial sector and, as a result, last year "moved to reduce exposure" to the sector, he said. "This has led to the increase in the percentage of assets allocated to the alternative investment portfolio and consequent reduction in the percentage allocated to equities."

Chief Scientific Adviser

Beddington told to raise profile

MPs have criticised the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser for his low public profile, which they said could diminish the effectiveness of the new Government Office for Science. Giving evidence to the Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee last week, John Beddington admitted that public relations had not been his priority since he took up the post at the start of the year. The Chief Scientific Adviser told the committee: "As you can see from my media profile, I think PR is somewhat less important than actually sorting out some of the scientific problems within government." But he admitted that his office needed to improve its media image. Labour MP Desmond Turner told Professor Beddington: "I understand that you are not a PR person, but a certain amount of it is necessary." He added that "as politicians", the committee knew there was no point in working "your butt off" unless others knew what a good job you were doing.

Erasmus scheme

Scottish placements hit record

The number of Scottish students on Erasmus study placements has risen by 18.8 per cent, bringing Scotland's share of students studying abroad to 15 per cent, its highest level since 2000. Wales shows a rise of 5 per cent, England 2.2 per cent and Northern Ireland a drop of 15 per cent. The past decade has seen a persistent decline in Erasmus take-up, but last year's introduction of work placements has seen total numbers rising from 7,235 in 2006-07 to 10,303 for 2007-08, an increase of some 40 per cent. This is the second consecutive year to show a rise, with 2,749 students on work placements and 7,523 on study visits.

Partnership working

'Forget assumptions on schools'

Universities make "a lot of assumptions" about what happens in schools and colleges without necessarily knowing how students are being taught, Mike Neary, dean of teaching and learning at the University of Lincoln, told a conference in the city this week. "Learning Landscapes: Working in Partnership" bought together pupils, teachers, students, academics and employers to debate the relationship between colleges and universities.

20 YEARS AGO

Far from trouble brewing at Heriot-Watt University, it was drinks all round to celebrate the creation of a new international centre for brewing and distilling. Heriot-Watt is the UK's only higher education institution offering full-time training in brewing, and this is now being enhanced and extended to distilling, backed by £2.5 million from the Scotch Whisky Association, the Brewers' Society and the university itself.

Lot 419 proved an unexpected gold mine for members of the staff common room at Queen's University Belfast as one of their assets realised an unprecedented sum. When the common room committee, led appropriately by business studies lecturer Dave Fleming, noticed that Irish paintings had recently reached impressive prices at a sale, they decided that one of their own collection might fetch a tidy sum. The Bridge by the Irish landscape artist and sculptor John Luke (1906-75) was expected both by staff members and Christie's experts to sell for between £10,000 and £15,000. Luke paintings are rare because of the amount of time he spent on each. In the event the bidding at the Belfast sale rose to an astonishing £160,000, the highest sum ever paid for an Irish painting.

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