News in brief

March 18, 2010

Spending consultation

Take in more views, say chemists

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has accused the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of surrounding itself with "unchallenging quangos and tame committees" as it seeks formal advice on distributing the next science budget. As reported last week, six organisations - the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy, the Council for Science and Technology, the government's departmental scientific advisers and the CBI - will give advice on how the next budget should be spent. Richard Pike, RSC chief executive, said the limited consultation showed that BIS was not "open to candid argument and guidance". He said excluding "independent" voices such as the RSC and the Institute of Physics "is unhealthy and risks sycophancy". Adrian Smith, director general of science and research, has said he expects informal contributions from other groups.

Science budget

Sparing the axe worth 'a party'

The Conservatives' shadow science minister has hinted that the 2010-11 science budget could be cut if the Tories win the forthcoming general election. Speaking last week in London at a cross-party debate, Adam Afriyie said he would "hold a party" if the Tories managed to maintain spending in the short term. "It is very, very difficult to see that in the short term lots more money will come to science," he said. "I am happy personally to hold a party if we manage to maintain science expenditure at the level that Labour leaves it, because these are troubled times." However, he committed a Conservative government to a ring-fenced science budget.

Funding council

Hefce urged to increase visibility

The Higher Education Funding Council for England should be more visible and open and will be forced to adapt by the pace of change in coming months, but it has a good working relationship with the sector, a new report says. The analysis by Oakleigh Consulting assesses the effectiveness of the funding council and analyses its relationship with everyone from Whitehall to lecturers. "Hefce will face major challenges in the coming period: a challenge to its culture and style, requiring pace and probably less consensus," says a briefing on the report, Independent Review Group Review of the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Hefce.

Stem subjects

Enrolment up in vulnerable fields

The number of students taking courses in "vulnerable" subjects such as chemistry, maths and physics has increased, a study shows. The analysis by the Higher Education Funding Council for England says that since 2005-06, when the government raised concerns, the number of undergraduates in the fields has risen by 6.8 per cent to 47,269. Hefce has invested about £350 million in additional support for science, technology, engineering and maths-based disciplines since 2005 in a bid to boost interest.

Student sport

It's game on

Universities will receive £10 million in National Lottery funding to get more students playing sport. Sport England, which announced the funding, said its research had found that fewer than three in ten university students play sport regularly. The Active Universities programme aims to get 100,000 more students participating at least three times a week.


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