News in brief

January 21, 2010

Research monitoring

Data collection responsibilities

A consultation has been launched on "Big Brother"-style plans to monitor the outcomes of work funded by Research Councils UK. Under the proposed system, first reported last April, outcome data - including impacts - will be collected by institutions rather than academics. RCUK is consulting with focus groups to establish how its research outcomes project can be implemented. A final decision is due later this year. If it gets the go-ahead, the system will be introduced in late 2011.

http://bit.ly/51F5yn

Pensions

£60bn council scheme deficit

Higher education staff are facing more uncertainty over their pensions with news that the Local Government Pension Scheme could plunge to a £60 billion deficit. The Liberal Democrats said data obtained from councils across England and Wales raised concerns about the scheme, which is open to support staff at many universities. The party said that 83 out of 87 council funds were in deficit at their last official valuation in 2007, before the stock market slump and recession took hold. Steve Webb, Lib Dem pensions spokesman, said that if this were replicated across all the scheme's funds, the next valuation - in March - would show a deficit topping £60 billion. As Times Higher Education has reported, academic and academic-related staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme could lose their final-salary pensions in a review of the fund.

Public research funding

Science spending cuts inquiry

The impact of public spending cuts on science and research is to be the subject of an inquiry by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The group will examine issues such as the process for deciding where to make cuts, evidence for the feasibility of estimating the economic impact of research, and the implications of cuts to the Science and Technology Facilities Council budget. Written evidence is being sought, with oral evidence to be taken in February.

www.parliament.uk/science

Degree duration

Faster and better

Students enrolling on two-year degrees "perform better" than those on equivalent three-year courses, according to a study of Staffordshire University graduates. The study found that "fast-track degree" students outperformed those on three-year degrees "by an average of two thirds of a degree classification". Despite the findings, it says anxieties remain "about the perceived market value of fast-track degrees". Steve Wyn-Williams, director of academic development at Staffordshire, called for universities to be allowed to charge higher tuition fees for fast-track degrees, warning that at present they struggled to make them financially viable.

http://bit.ly/7MaGl8

Royal Society conference

Science is a 'diplomatic aid'

Science can help answer foreign policy challenges and break down diplomatic barriers, David Miliband has said. Speaking at a Royal Society conference last week, the Foreign Secretary cited the contact scientists had through Cern (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) as an example of how science could lead the way. "We have to think how science and diplomacy can work together," he said. "Scientific progress can achieve breakthroughs that diplomacy simply cannot match."

http://bit.ly/5cbl50

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Enforced recreation time with his children during the recent snowy spell, when many schools stayed shut, was a bittersweet experience for the Insecure Scholar.

He describes in his blog how enjoyment was countered by anxiety about missing work. "Some of the more pleasurable aspects of my life have a bittersweet tinge to them. My insecure career casts a pall of guilt and anxiety over more or less any activity that doesn't guarantee either financial reward or further work," he writes.

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