News in brief

February 11, 2010

Research funding

Departments need accountability

Government structures need to be rethought because there is no single point of accountability when it comes to science spending, Lord Drayson has said. The Science Minister was giving evidence to a Lords inquiry into science research funding. Current government structures make it difficult for departments to agree on overarching science themes, he said. He added that the "prioritisation of investment" will be increasingly important. The inquiry is being conducted by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. Adrian Smith, director general of science and research, also gave evidence on 4 February, when he stressed the need for research to deliver greater impact.

Public science investment

Cuts risk trauma

A reduction in public spending on science would deter companies from investing in research and development and hinder efforts to solve major world problems, the head of the research councils has warned. The dangers posed by cuts were outlined to MPs on the Science and Technology Committee on 3 February. Alan Thorpe, chair of Research Councils UK, told MPs that cuts would lead to a fall in the number of trained scientists available to enter the workforce. He also predicted that private-sector investment in UK science would "go down straight away" and that the country would be less able to address the "grand" problems it faced.

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Northern Ireland

Water leaches education funds

The higher education budget in Northern Ireland has been cut by almost £13 million, apparently to cover the cost of domestic water rates. In cash terms, Northern Ireland's two universities will face a 1.5 per cent cut in recurrent funding for teaching and research in 2010-11, although funds to expand postgraduate places and cross-border research will be protected. The cuts follow a government commitment to cover the cost of domestic water rates in line with the Republic of Ireland. Richard Barnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Ulster, said: "The cuts have nothing to do with the tightening of public finances ... half the cuts to universities are to pay for domestic water rates."

London South Bank

No pay rise, no job losses

London South Bank University will not pay staff the national 0.5 per cent pay rise negotiated last year in a bid to avoid redundancies. It is also in talks with unions about adopting local pay negotiations. Martin Earwicker, vice-chancellor, said that "the executive and the board of governors have ... decided that no pay award will be made for this year" because the university's income could not support its expenditure.

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Scotland

Shift to pay for student support

The Scottish government has shifted millions of pounds away from other departments to meet the rising cost of student support. Last year, Scottish universities, as elsewhere in the UK, recruited more students than the Government had allocated funded places. In the Spring Budget Revision unveiled last week, the Government said £20 million would be moved from other areas into the Education and Lifelong Learning portfolio, "specifically to support higher education students" as more of them than ever enter the system.

ONLINE NOW

The view of Stanford University academic Thomas Sowell that academics have made the world a worse place in the 20th century provoked a healthy debate online. As Times Higher Education reported, Dr Sowell contends that scholars are rarely held to account, and that "from unaccountability to irresponsibility can be a very short step". Reader Peter Phill writes: "My own take on academics (and I am one myself, having worked in a 'prestigious' university for 25 years) is that the vast majority have never had an original idea that could have possibly had any influence on world events."

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