News in brief

December 17, 2009

Online learning

Task force aims to keep UK top

A task force has been set up in an attempt to cement the UK's leading global position in online learning. The Online Learning Task Force will be chaired by Dame Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, and will make recommendations on the topic to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, plus other bodies and institutions. Its remit is to look at four key areas: current levels of online-learning provision in the UK; the international market for online learning; levels of demand from students; and perceptions of online learning in British higher education. It will also investigate different delivery models. The task force will provide an interim report early in 2010 and a final report in October.

Equality Bill

Guidance for equality minefield

If a student union bar manager stood by and did nothing while drinkers made unwanted jokes about a bartender's sexuality, would the union be liable under equality legislation? A new briefing by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) addresses such questions by assessing the implications of the Equality Bill, which is expected to become law next year. A second briefing by the ECU covers religious observance in higher education, "in response to growing interest in the sector about the initiatives some institutions have taken in providing facilities and services that are free of unlawful discrimination, as well as targeted facilities and services for staff and students with a religion or belief".[QQ]

Space exploration

Britons should aim for the Moon

Adding manned missions to the UK's space programme would be costly but would also deliver great benefits to the nation, a long-awaited review of space exploration says. The review by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) partnership concludes that increasing investment in both robotic activities and UK astronauts' involvement in lunar exploration is the best option. However, this would cost £229 million a year by 2015, compared with £100 million to maintain the status quo. It was also announced that the BNSC will be replaced by a new executive agency covering the UK space and satellite industry.

Redundancies battle

All over by Christmas, or else

The University and College Union has set the University of the Arts London a Christmas deadline to pull back from job cuts. UCU branch members voted unanimously to ballot for industrial action if the threat of compulsory redundancies at the London College of Communication is not lifted by 23 December. Sixteen courses have been identified for closure, which would result in 37 compulsory redundancies. Sally Hunt, the UCU's general secretary, said: "Industrial action is a last resort, but UCU members have made it quite clear that they will take whatever action is required if management pushes ahead with its deeply flawed strategy."


Last week, Times Higher Education reported that the Government was liable for the first £3 million of a £30 million increase in the cost of international subscriptions to overseas science facilities owing to exchange-rate changes, with the Science and Technology Facilities Council responsible for the rest. In fact, the STFC is responsible for the first £3 million, with the Government liable for the rest.


A recent trip to the US for a well-received guest lecture at a prestigious American university left the Insecure Scholar feeling confused about his status in the UK.

He writes in his blog: "What it demonstrated is that I have achieved a good reputation in my field of research and that fellow academics want to hear what I have to say. That's all enormously gratifying, but my reputation appears to be decoupled from my actual career situation ... Where is all this going to end? Is my reputation going to grow but my career stay stalled indefinitely?"

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