News in brief

May 7, 2009

Data protection

Breach earns official reproach

The personal records of more than 1,700 students, including details of some students' disabilities, were mistakenly sent out in an email by the University of Manchester. The university has been rapped by the Information Commissioner's Office over the error, and its vice-chancellor, Alan Gilbert, has signed an undertaking to tighten its systems to ensure that the breach of the Data Protection Act is not repeated. More than 400 students were sent a spreadsheet containing personal data - some of it sensitive - about 1,755 Manchester students. The employee who mistakenly distributed the spreadsheet received it from a colleague in response to a request for a list of student email addresses. Mick Gorrill, the Assistant Information Commissioner, said: "This case reinforces the importance that only those authorised should have access to sensitive personal information." A Manchester spokesman said the university had acted to address the lapse.

Local business needs

Cap on numbers harms retraining

Restrictions on higher education numbers are preventing colleges from helping local businesses through the recession, college heads have warned. Businesses want colleges to provide higher education to retrain employees and those made redundant. But the cap on student numbers imposed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England means that the largest colleges cannot take more students on to their foundation degrees and other higher education courses despite increasing demand. "Inflexible funding limits for foundation degrees are impeding some (colleges) in their ability to respond to local community and business needs," said Lynne Sedgemore, executive director of the 157 Group of further education colleges.

Widening participation

Hefce clarifies reporting duties

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has issued further guidance on how universities should report their spending on widening-participation (WP) activities amid concerns that league tables will be created from the data. An email from Hefce this week said universities had expressed concerns about "difficulties in disaggregating their spend on WP-related activity from broader investments". Universities had also sought more guidance on how to complete the new document, which they will submit to Hefce annually. There was also, the email added, "concern that comparisons of resource will be made and league tables created from data that will be essentially incomparable". In November, the Conservative Party said the reporting requirement was an extra burden universities could do without. But the National Audit Office said there is "insufficient" information about universities' access activities.

Knowledge transfer

Survey seeks academic views

The research councils want academics' views on their performance in transferring knowledge from universities to businesses. The councils have launched an online survey to gather feedback on their knowledge-transfer schemes, activities and mechanisms. The survey asks participants to list the barriers to knowledge transfer and to report how well councils address their needs.

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