News in brief

December 10, 2009

Research councils

Facilities deficit nears £70 million

The size of the funding hole facing UK science and technology facilities could be almost £70 million, Times Higher Education has learnt. The Science and Technology Facilities Council needs to repay a £40 million loan borrowed from the latter years of its current comprehensive spending review budget settlement, and is also facing an estimated annual £30 million increase in the costs of its subscriptions to large facilities as a result of exchange rate fluctuations, based on current exchange rates. Under arrangements introduced this year, the STFC is liable for the first £3 million in the increased cost of the international subscriptions owing to changes in exchange rate across all projects, with the government responsible for the rest. In the current spending period, the STFC has also received £43 million to cover exchange rate costs, but is not required to repay this. Alan Thorpe, chairman of Research Councils UK, was quizzed last week on the STFC's budget deficit at a hearing of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The STFC is due to release the results of an audit setting out where it will make cuts to balance its books later this month.

Internet network

Improved connectivity for Europe

About 40 million researchers and other users are to benefit from the third generation of a high-bandwidth, pan-European computing network. The next generation of the GEANT project was announced in Sweden last week, and follows EUR186 million (£167.5 million) in funding from the European Commission and Europe's National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). The project aims to improve connections between Europe's NRENs through 50,000 kilometres of mostly optical fibre, linking nearly 40 million research and education users in more than 8,000 institutions.

Building design

Accessibility warning

Some universities and colleges are "letting inclusive and accessible building design slip down the agenda", according to a new report. A study by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), released on 3 December, urges institutions to consider accessibility for disabled people at every stage of the building process, and for staff and students to be involved in the design. Sue Cavanagh, ECU deputy chief executive, said: "Institutions need to maintain their commitment to accessibility and inclusive building design, whether they are starting a new-build or adapting existing buildings. This is especially important when the economic climate makes capital building projects less frequent, and institutions are relying more on using, or renovating, old, inaccessible buildings."

International students

Union fears overload in Scotland

Plans to encourage more international students to study in Scottish universities have been criticised by the University and College Union. It fears the increase will lead to worsening pay and conditions for academics. Edinburgh Napier University and The Robert Gordon University, based in Aberdeen, are both in talks with Navitas, an Australian private education provider, which would set up a base at each institution to run bridging courses for international students before they enrol. Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "We believe that expanding in-house provision in the recruitment and teaching of international students is a better option."


Last week, Tessa Blackstone, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich, suggested that academics should take on more backroom tasks to help reduce administrative posts.

A reader responds online: "The implicit claim that academics don't already do administration is ridiculous. I sometimes spend 40 per cent of my time on it."

Another says: "Why must lecturers do admin when administrators don't teach? This is annoying for both, as it assumes that admin is a job anyone can do."


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