News in brief

April 1, 2010

Overseas students

Cream for the top cats

The government has set up a £2.5 million scholarship fund to attract the world's best research students to the UK. A total of 100 postgraduate researchers will receive Newton Scholarships worth up to £25,000 each, which will be administered by the research councils. Announcing the initiative last week, Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary, said it was aimed at meeting the needs of British industry. "Our high-tech and research-intensive industries are in particular need of a highly skilled workforce to ensure that they can grow and compete globally," he said. In a statement, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills adds that the Newton scholars will "work closely with industry, business and policymakers in critical areas of the UK economy".

Space research

Blast-off budget

The UK Space Agency, which was launched last week, will commence operations with an annual budget of £230 million. The sum will incorporate the subscription money currently paid by the research councils to the European Space Agency and £40 million for the public-private International Space Innovation Centre, to be set up on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire. Based at Research Councils UK's headquarters in Swindon, the agency was due to assume responsibility on 1 April for a sector previously overseen by six government departments, two research councils, a technology committee and the Met Office. Lord Drayson, the science minister, said the agency would bring "clarity of decision-making" to the area.

Libel reform

Public-interest defence mooted

Libel laws could be reformed to give greater protection to scientists' work under public-interest exemptions. The reform is included in a list of proposed changes to England's libel legislation submitted by Jack Straw, the justice secretary. The government is considering whether a "statutory public-interest defence" would help groups that investigate matters of public importance, which are sometimes prevented from making their findings known because of the threat of legal action. Campaigners have argued that there is an "essential requirement" for reform that would protect scientists and academics from the legislation. The changes could be introduced in a proposed libel reform bill in the next Parliament.

http://bit.ly/9dcJge

Retrenchment

Academy cuts would hit region

Universities in the East Midlands could face a reduction in public funding of up to £60 million over the three years from 2010 to 2013. This is one of the findings of a report from the East Midlands Universities Association (Emua), which outlines the potential damage to the region's economy from cuts to higher education. "University activity underpins the economy of the East Midlands," said Neil Gorman, chair of Emua and vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University. "To remain a prosperous region, we must continue to support and invest in our universities."

Clarification

Last week we reported the 2010-11 allocations from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. We are happy to clarify that the totals reported did not include funding for initial teacher training, which was awarded to six institutions.

For a fuller breakdown of funding by institution, see http://bit.ly/ceOGQu

ONLINE NOW

The news last week that the higher education unions are seeking a minimum 4 per cent pay rise for 2010-11 sparked plenty of comment online. One reader writes: "Do these guys visit our planet often? I work hard in the private sector, have very little - if any - job security and haven't had a pay rise for three years."

Another responds: "I imagine you are not in a union and have not fought to defend your and your colleagues' living standards. Unions are there to protect their members' jobs, conditions and pay. They can hardly be criticised when they do precisely that."

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