News in brief

September 10, 2009

Corruption

Tuition fee bribes for foreign work

The City of London Police has uncovered evidence that British firms are paying foreign students' tuition fees to win international contracts. The force's overseas anti-corruption unit has written to universities and colleges warning them to conduct due diligence into students whose fees are paid in full or part by third parties. The unit's head, Detective Superintendent Colin Cowan, said: "There is intelligence that people are being put through UK schools and universities, that their fees are being paid by UK businesses, and that these are bribes in return for winning overseas contracts. Rather than giving someone a suitcase full of cash, the company will offer to send the person's son or daughter to school or university." If a student's fees are being paid for by a third party, the university should speak to them and ask why, the detective added.

QAA audits

Two strikes and Hefce's in

Two successive judgments of "no confidence" in a university by the sector's quality watchdog will trigger intervention by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in future. A new Hefce policy for addressing unsatisfactory quality in universities will be implemented if the Quality Assurance Agency has no confidence in a university after two successive audits, or if an institution fails to make sufficient progress on an action plan agreed after such a judgment. "We will consider any institution that triggers the policy as being at higher risk, and would expect to work closely with the institution, alongside the QAA and other agencies as appropriate, until the 'no confidence' judgment is withdrawn," the funding body said. Under the policy, Hefce has the right to withdraw funding from a university, but the funding council said that this action would be taken only as a last resort.

Information technology

Birmingham's 'draconian' policy

The University of Birmingham's decision to terminate email accounts as soon as academics leave the institution's employ has provoked a call for scholars to sever "e-ties" with Birmingham. The policy is designed to stop fraud that might be committed by former workers, reduce junk mail and prevent confidential material being sent to individuals who are no longer employed by the institution. But a University and College Union newsletter states that the policy is "the most draconian in UK academia" and claims that Birmingham is wrecking academics' "e-presence" by stripping them of the contact details published on their previous journal articles and conference papers. The UCU advises staff to "sever all e-ties with the institution as far as possible" by using alternative email addresses, such as those offered by professional associations for academic contacts and publications.

Industrial action

UCU boycotts London Met

The UCU has launched an academic boycott of London Metropolitan University. As reported last week on our website, www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, the union claims that managers refuse to negotiate on job cuts or put them on hold until a review of the university's operations is complete. London Met insists that it has been in formal consultation with all campus unions since May. The institution has been forced to repay more than £36 million to the Higher Education Funding Council for England after inaccuracies were discovered in its student-data returns.

ONLINE NOW

"Of course, we don't want to know what everyone has for breakfast, but the people who believe that that is all Twitter is for fundamentally misunderstand the technology. I made the same mistake, too, until someone emailed me and said: 'Please don't tell me where you are flying off to today, but do tell me of any interesting websites you find at the conference you are going to.'"

Russell Stannard, winner of Times Higher Education's Outstanding ICT Initiative Award 2008, offers advice on the joys of social networking site Twitter.

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