News in brief

June 3, 2010

Academic boycott

UCU votes on shunning of Sussex

The University and College Union has called a ballot on what it calls the "ultimate sanction" against a university where job cuts are planned. Union members at the University of Sussex are to vote on an academic boycott of the institution. If it is implemented, a boycott would urge the wider academic community to shun Sussex by not applying for jobs, not giving lectures there and refusing to write for journals edited at the university. Only one institution, London Metropolitan University, has previously been the subject of a UCU boycott. Sussex's council has approved plans to make 107 staff redundant in a bid to save about £5 million a year. Since its decision, about 50 staff have accepted voluntary severance packages. The result of the ballot is expected in a week.

Science and technology

Select Committee to re-form

The Science and Technology Select Committee is to be re-formed for the new Parliament, it was announced last week. MPs have voted to confirm that the new chair of the committee will be selected from the Labour Party, replacing Phil Willis, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough who stood down from Parliament at the election. MPs also voted to confirm that the new chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee will also be chosen from the Labour ranks, meaning that neither committee's chair will be a member of the coalition government. A secret ballot will be held on 9 June to elect the committee chairs. Overall, MPs agreed to divide the chairs of 23 committees between 12 Conservative MPs, nine Labour MPs and two Liberal Democrats.

Learning and teaching

Exam howler season is upon us

With the arrival of marking season comes the annual call for entries to the Times Higher Education exam howlers competition. Last year's winner was Leo Enticknap, lecturer in cinema at the University of Leeds, who was told by a student that a documentary was made using undercover filming "to draw attention to human rights abuses in the Best Wank and Gaza". Other entries included a biology student who spent an entire paper telling Kevin Reiling, of the Faculty of Sciences at Staffordshire University, about the science of gnomes, and another student's commentary on a medieval French poem that "all of the sentences end in a coma". The academic who submits the winning entry in our 2010 exam howlers competition will receive a magnum of champagne.

Send entries to


Rise in lecturer posts commended

The number of clinical lecturers in UK medical schools increased by 20 per cent between 2006 and 2009, a survey of staffing levels has shown.

The annual study by the Medical Schools Council, published last week, also showed that the total number of teaching staff, including professors and lecturers, had risen year on year to a total of 3,087 in 2009, up 1 per cent on 2008. The council said that while this increase was encouraging, it was still concerned that total staffing levels remain 12 per cent lower than a decade ago. It added that despite the number of women lecturers increasing last year, they remain under-represented, accounting for just 25 per cent of lecturers and 14 per cent of professors. It also flagged up the ageing population of clinical academics, stating that 62 per cent are now aged over 46, compared with 53 per cent in 2004.

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