News in brief

November 5, 2009

University autonomy

Scorecard for freedom

University autonomy is to be monitored and ranked by a project launched by the European University Association (EUA). The EUA's "autonomy scorecard" is intended to mark progress on governance reform in the European university system. The tool will be developed from an in-depth comparative study of university autonomy across 34 countries, based on more than 30 indicators. The focus will be on four main areas of autonomy: "organisational", such as academic and administrative structures; "academic", such as scholars' freedom to define fields of study; "financial", such as the ability of universities to raise funds independently; and "staffing", including the freedom to recruit without interference. The two-year project, supported by the European Commission's Lifelong Learning Programme, will be carried out with partners including the University of Surrey.

Further education

The limits of mergers

Mergers between low-achieving further education colleges and higher education institutions have failed to raise standards significantly, according to a review. The Summary Review of Further Education Provision in Higher Education 2003-09 by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, explores why further education provision has "flourished in some higher education institutions but not in others". It says mergers involving poor-performing colleges "have not led to significant improvement in the quality of the further education provision". Successful mergers have mainly involved specialist institutions, particularly in the creative arts, the report adds.


Science and engineering

Haldane principle to remain

The Government plans to do little to change the way it uses science and engineering to inform its policies, despite criticism from MPs. A report in July by the former Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee, Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, had suggested that the so-called "Haldane principle" - that decisions on how to spend research funds should be made by researchers rather than politicians - be scrapped because there is too much interference for it to apply, and that relationships between the Government and the research councils should be made more "explicit and transparent". But the Government responded last week, saying that it "does not plan further work to map and describe the overall relationship between the Government and research bodies". It added it is "not aware of any instances in which the formal nature of the relationship is unclear". It also rejected other IUSS recommendations, such as moving the Government Office for Science to the Cabinet Office and establishing departmental engineering advisers.


Digital technology

Jisc funding's wider benefits

Projects to improve the application of digital technologies in universities have benefited the wider community, according to a report by the Million+ group of new universities. The study of more than 100 projects funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) finds that 44 per cent have had unanticipated benefits. The report, From Inputs to Impact: A Study of the Impact of Jisc Funding on Universities, states that even relatively modest awards of £30,000 can have a "profound impact".


An attempt by Sir David Watson, professor of higher education management at the Institute of Education, to distil his experience into ten light-hearted "laws of academia" provoked a lively debate online.

"There are laws in academic life? Wow! Fabulous! I'll check them out," one reader writes.

Another says: "I particularly like the rule 'never go to a school or department for anything that is in its title'. There is probably no better example of this than the author's own outfit, the Institute of Education."


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