News in brief

February 12, 2009

Research funding

Wellcome cuts budget by £30m

The UK's biggest research-funding charity, the Wellcome Trust, has announced that it will cut its budget by £30 million in the face of the economic downturn. It also warns researchers to expect a rise in the level of competition for grants as academics find that other funding sources are drying up. The trust says it revised its budget for 2008-09 to £590 million, £30 million less than the £620 million it spent in 2007-08. In a statement in which it describes the economic conditions affecting all funders as "unprecedented", it says its asset base fell by £2 billion since the downturn began.

Knowledge transfer

Cumbria grant to aid businesses

The University of Cumbria has received a £100,000 grant from the Northwest Regional Development Agency to improve knowledge transfer between the institution and small local businesses. The money will be spent developing and testing Shorter Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, which will last between ten and 40 weeks and will provide academic consultants to the companies involved.

Vocational education

Call to banish work snobbery

The common practice of classifying occupations as "unskilled" or "professional" is undermining the Government's attempt to develop quality vocational education, according to a leading academic. In her inaugural lecture at the Institute of Education, Lorna Unwin, chair in vocational education, said such descriptions were outdated and dehumanising and gave young people a false picture of the modern workplace. "These emotive terms create feelings of prejudice and privilege. Nobody wants to put in serious work and study and end up being considered 'low-skilled'," Professor Unwin said. She said the UK had a chaotic approach to vocational education, "a result of deep-rooted prejudice against and ignorance of many of the occupations that not only make life possible, but are also vital for a sustainable economy". A spokesperson for the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills said the Government was committed to ensuring that everyone had the opportunity to gain the skills and training they needed for the job they wished to do.

Tuition fees

Review may not report this year

The long-awaited review of student tuition fees may not report until after the next general election, David Lammy, Higher Education Minister, indicated last week. When the £3,000 annual tuition fee was narrowly approved by Parliament in 2004, a review was promised for 2009. But when asked at a conference if it would be finished this year, Mr Lammy said "no".

Responses to recession

Help for industry and students

Universities' efforts to respond to the recession have been highlighted in a House of Lords debate. Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said the sector was playing an "increasingly important role in helping British businesses survive the economic downturn and build for the future". She also highlighted the ways it was supporting students facing an increasingly bleak job market when they graduate, including the creation of internships and graduate start-up schemes that provide cash and training for entrepreneurs.

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