News in brief

June 4, 2009

Languages provision

Decline harms research, BA says

The future of the UK's world-class research base may be threatened by the decline in the study of modern languages, research from the British Academy suggests. A year-long study by the BA has concluded that this decline harms the ability of UK-born researchers to compete with their counterparts overseas, damaging the country's "world-class" status in research and its economy. In a report out this week, Language Matters, the BA says that the trend is particularly harmful to humanities and social science research. It follows recent cuts to foreign-language teaching, most recently at Imperial College London, and the announcement of a review of languages provision by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

For the full story, visit www.timeshighereducation.co.uk

Science and society

Groups plan attitude adjustments

Five groups of experts have been charged with taking action on "science and society" by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The groups will aim to engage scientists, the media and the public to "change cultural attitudes to science". They have been formed after a DIUS consultation last year to develop a new science and society strategy for the UK was dismissed by leading scientists as flawed.

For more information, visit: www.interactive.dius.gov.uk/scienceandsociety

Academy demographics

Old timers and part timers

The academy is getting older, figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal. The average academic is now 43 years old, and in just four years the proportion of academic staff aged over 55 has risen from 18.9 per cent to 20.5 per cent.

The full story is on THE's website: http://tinyurl.com/nnbxe5

Medical research charities

Giving and funding are falling

A quarter of medical research charities plan to cut funding to universities, in some cases by up to 40 per cent. The trend, identified in a survey of members of the Association of Medical Research Charities, is blamed on a fall in charitable giving caused by the recession. More than three quarters of the charities think the downturn will have a "significant impact" on their work.

The full story is on THE's website: http://tinyurl.com/lttuat

Part-time researchers

Universities must do more

Universities must strengthen support for part-time researchers, according to a report by Vitae, an organisation for the development of research staff. The study makes 14 recommendations to get universities to communicate with part-time researchers better, understand their problems and provide training.

The full story is on THE's website: http://tinyurl.com/lbzfsf

University College London

Provost calls for budget cuts

The provost of University College London has asked all departments to reduce their budgets by 6 per cent. In an email to members, the UCL branch of the University and College Union said: "We do not believe that this will be possible without a significant impact on departmental performance. There is no waste to cut. Many staff already report that their current workloads exceed their contracted hours." A union meeting about the proposals was due to take place on 4 June. A spokesman for UCL blamed the "extremely difficult economic climate".

ONLINE NOW

Tara Brabazon ponders the differences between doctoral examinations in the UK and in her native Australia, where the viva is rarely invoked.

"The overbearing attention to the oral examination seems to me like the woman so focused on the wedding that she forgets about the marriage after 'her big day.' The Australian system assesses three years of research and how it has been shaped into a work of scholarship. There is no 'big day.'"

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