Forty-five per cent and counting
The government has edged closer towards its 50 per cent target for participation in higher education. Statistics published last week show that in 2008-09, 45 per cent of young people aged 17 to 30 were attending or had attended university, up from 43 per cent the previous year. The proportion was considerably higher among women (51 per cent) than men (40 per cent). David Lammy, minister for higher education, welcomed the figures, which he said showed that the government was "not complacent". "We remain determined to further open up university education to people from all backgrounds," he added.
Science and technology
Diamond Light to shine on
Funding for the third-phase development of the Diamond Light Source synchrotron and the replacement for an environmental research ship has been unveiled. The two projects will receive nearly £150 million from the Large Facilities Capital Fund programme, it was announced last week. The Science and Technology Facilities Council will be allocated £97.4 million for the development of the Diamond Light Source at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, while the Natural Environment Research Council will receive £48 million towards the replacement for the RRS Discovery. Other projects being considered for funding include an upgrade of the ISIS neutron and muon facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. A total of £250 million was allocated last month to fund the Medical Research Council's contribution to the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation, a super-lab being built in St Pancras, London.
Peers point to oversight gap
The government lacks the oversight over research spending needed to enable it to make coherent and well-founded decisions about public investment. This is one of the conclusions of a report published last week by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. Setting Priorities for Publicly Funded Research recommends that the government's chief scientific adviser publish annual figures, broken down by subject area, on all public spending in support of research. It also says that "specific mechanisms" must be identified to predict the major research themes of the future. Meanwhile, MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee issued a report stating that MPs in the next Parliament must be given the opportunity to maintain proper oversight of the government's use of science. The recommendation is made in the committee's final "legacy" report before the forthcoming general election. Phil Willis MP, the committee's outgoing chair, said: "It is crucial that there is an effective science committee in the new Parliament that ensures MPs properly scrutinise the government's use of science."
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The Going Global conference in London heard that the dominance of Anglo-American universities is ending as Asia comes to the fore. Commenting online, reader Mark says: "China's research, apart from a few exceptions, is a joke. Scientific journals are facing a problem with a flood of very poor-quality submissions." Dr Hectic responds: "In the past we used to laugh at items made in China and Hong Kong as substandard and poorly made compared with British items. Now we do not make anything here. That has happened in only 30 to 40 years."
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