News in brief

February 5, 2009

Degree standards

More firsts and upper seconds

The proportion of students gaining a first or an upper-second degree has crept up again, official statistics show. Sixty-one per cent of graduates in 2007-08 obtained a first-class or an upper-second degree, up from 60 per cent in 2006-07. Thirteen per cent - 41,150 students - achieved a first, and 48 per cent - 148,265 students - gained an upper second. A total of 308,550 students were awarded a classified degree, up from 291,380 the previous year. Of these, 95,145 gained a lower second and 23,990 obtained a third or a pass.

PhD studentships

Algorithm method

The Science and Technology Facilities Council is planning to change the way it allocates PhD studentships to physics departments, moving from a peer-review method to an algorithmic-allocations process. The changes are expected to take effect from this year, and the council is consulting with heads of department on the proposals. The proposed algorithm is based on a combination of research volume and quality within each department, where the number of academics in a department eligible to hold STFC research grants (a measure of volume) is multiplied by the number of STFC-funded postdoctoral research assistants awarded per academic (a measure of quality). The consultation deadline is 20 February.

Pro-Gaza demonstrations

Sit-ins urge end to military action

Students in 15 UK universities have held a wave of peaceful sit-in demonstrations to protest against Israel's military actions in Gaza. Buildings were occupied at the universities of Bradford, Birmingham, Cambridge, Essex, Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary, Sussex and Warwick, plus King's College London, the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies. The protesters' demands varied, but all called on their institutions to publicly condemn Israel's military action. Protesters at Nottingham said they had been supported and visited by members of the university's department of politics.

Digital archiving

Learning to protect and serve

The British Library will hold a conference on how scientists and writers create, organise and preserve their digital photos, documents and correspondence. The event will address how libraries and archives can help people protect their digital material. The conference is free and will run from 9 to 11 February.


In a news item last week ("Grant letter raises spectre of £400 million black hole"), we reported that the 2009-10 total grant to the Higher Education Funding Council for England of £7.8 billion was 9.6 per cent higher than the previous year's grant of £7.1 billion. However, the two grant figures were not directly comparable. The 2008-09 value did not include a number of specific science funds, but did include £50 million of capital brought forward from 2010-11; and the 2009-10 figure, as was reported in the news item, included £219 million of capital brought forward from 2010-11, so is inflated. Adjusting for these changes, the 2008-09 grant is £7.322 billion and the 2009-10 grant is £7.59 billion, so the increase is only 3.7 per cent on a like-for-like basis. We are happy to clarify this.

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