News in brief

July 2, 2009

Select committees

Thumbs down to Chief Engineer

The Government has rejected MPs' calls for the appointment of an overarching government chief engineer or chief engineering advisers within departments. It has also ruled out moving the Government Office for Science into the Cabinet Office. The office supports the work of John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser, and is based in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. "The proposals would involve additional management layers and complication ... likely to be counterproductive and confusing," the Government said in response to a recent report on engineering by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee.

Academic freedom

Crackdown on academy escalates

Scholars in Iran are facing a "second purge" as the Government cracks down on reformists, an expert has warned. According to reports, 70 academics were arrested last week after meeting Iran's leading Opposition figure, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims that the recent presidential election was rigged. Ali Ansari, director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews, said the arrests on 24 June marked an escalation of Iran's crackdown on academics. "I see a second purge taking place," he said. "In a way, it's just a continuation of what's been happening but at an accelerated pace - (the Government) has already been retiring professors on the basis that they are 'too old'."

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Research excellence framework

Brace for impact, says Hefce

Universities should start reviewing their research portfolios with a critical eye on the impact of their work in advance of the research excellence framework. David Sweeney, head of research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, told a conference in London on 25 June that now is the time to start preparations for the system that will replace the research assessment exercise as the principal means of distributing research funding. "We want to encourage higher education institutions to review their portfolios and ensure they are going to be able to put forward a strong story about impact," he said.

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Science and technology

Funding cuts for STFC flagships

Funding allocated to three flagship research facilities for 2009-10 will be cut to allow the Science and Technology Facilities Council to balance its books. Funding for the Diamond Light Source, the national synchrotron facility, will be cut by 10 per cent, or about £3 million. The facility, which opened in 2007, supports "groundbreaking research in the life, physical and environmental sciences". The STFC-operated Isis neutron facility will see its funding cut by about 9 per cent, or £2 million. The Central Laser Facility will also receive less money.

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Grant award

Cash for collaboration

The Open University has won a £7.8 million grant from Hefce's Strategic Development Fund to enable university collaboration to improve student retention and flexible provision. The OU is taking the lead on delivering these aims.

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