News in brief

September 23, 2010

Royal Institution

Sir Richard Sykes named chair

Former Imperial College London rector Sir Richard Sykes has been named the new chair of the Royal Institution. Sir Richard, who is also a former chairman of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, succeeds Adrian de Ferranti, who earlier this year oversaw the controversial dismissal of Baroness Susan Greenfield as director. Sir Richard will be responsible for strategic development, governance and fundraising at the institution, which is currently around £2 million in debt.

Stem-cell research

Funding freeze thawed on appeal

A US court has overturned a freeze on the federal funding of research involving human embryonic stem cells, but the legal wrangling looks set to continue. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia suspended an injunction on federal funding imposed last month by the District Court in Washington DC. However, the injunction may be reinstated when the appeals court has finished considering an appeal by the federal government. The National Institutes of Health responded to the suspension by rushing to disburse affected research grants. But the two appellants, who work with adult stem cells, have submitted a response to the court arguing that unless the injunction is restored they will be caused "irreparable harm" by a "flight of federal dollars into human embryonic stem cell research".

Government studies

US donor funds new Oxford school

An American industrialist has donated £75 million to fund a school of government at the University of Oxford. It will support more than 40 academic posts and is aimed at "training outstanding graduates from across the world in the skills and responsibilities of government", with its first master's students beginning their studies in 2010. The school is being established with a £75 million donation from philanthropist Leonard Blavatnik, plus a £26 million investment by Oxford.

Climate science

Public concerns tackled online

A website explaining climate science to the general public has been launched by Sir John Beddington, the government's chief scientific adviser. The site has been launched in response to recent issues such as the "Climategate" controversy at the University of East Anglia and sets out where the evidence is well established and where uncertainties still exist. Sir John said: "The fact that uncertainty exists in climate science, as it does in other fields, does not detract from the value of the evidence. But an appreciation of the nature and degree of uncertainty is critical if the science is to properly inform decision-making."

Quality assurance

Watchdog gives nod to Brunel

A university whose social work degrees were deemed "at risk" of failing to meet expectations has been given a clean bill of health by the industry's watchdog. Brunel University was one of two higher education institutions earmarked for investigation by the General Social Care Council in July. In a letter to Brunel, the GSCC says the university's social-work degree courses are "fully meeting requirements". Thames Valley University - now the University of West London - is still awaiting results from the GSCC.


Last week's report in Times Higher Education on the modern relevance of Cardinal John Henry Newman's ideas about the role of the university prompted lively debate.

A reader writes: "Newman's understanding of education, and of universities in particular, is so far removed from the government's that we are simply not talking about the same thing. If Newman is right, then present-day university policy is an undivided, unmitigated disaster. For David Willetts (the universities and science minister) to invoke the name of Newman - except as a deadly enemy of his own strategy - is what we might, in present-day economicspeak, call 'priceless'."


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