News in Brief

September 30, 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review

Mass rally over 'destructive' cuts

Scientists are planning a public protest and mass lobby of MPs ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, to protest against "destructive levels of cuts" to the science budget. The action is being coordinated by Science is Vital, a new group set up by University College London cell biologist Jennifer Rohn. As well as academics, its organising committee includes figures from the Campaign for Science and Engineering and former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris. The rally is set to take place in London on 9 October and the mass lobby on 12 October. The spending review will be presented to Parliament on 20 October. Supporters are also being asked to sign a petition and write to their MPs.

International students

UK attracts record numbers

The number of international students attending British universities has jumped 24 per cent in the past five years, according to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Dating from 2008-09 and published last week, they show that the number of non-UK students, including those from the European Union, increased by 22 per cent for undergraduate students and by per cent for postgraduates since 2004-05. The total number of students at UK institutions grew by 7 per cent during the same period - from 2.2 million to 2.4 million - while the number of staff employed went up by 11 per cent, with the biggest increase (17 per cent) in managerial, professional and technical staff. The figures also show that 29 institutions were running deficits in 2008-09, the largest being that of the University of Cumbria.

Collaboration and mergers

United they stand

Mergers "may be the only viable route" for some universities, according to a report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, In the Eye of the Storm: Moving from Collaboration to Consolidation. It says increased collaboration and mergers could reduce operating costs for universities by up to 25 per cent in some areas. John Berriman, partner and head of the higher education practice at PwC, said: "Successful mergers can substantially cut costs of IT, procurement, finance and marketing. Universities are currently exploring changes to their business models, including the potential impact of uncapping tuition fees. The sharing of costs and brand offer a viable strategic alternative or addition to this. Mergers may be the only viable route to strengthen the financial prospects and sustainability of some universities."

Equality assessments

Losing jobs and being fair

A new briefing from higher education's equality body deals with the topical issue of redundancy procedures. The briefing from the Equality Challenge Unit considers when equality impact assessments are required, who needs to be included in the process and how to proceed when negative impacts are identified. The unit said the briefing was a response to "requests from the sector for help and advice". It added: "In the current financial environment it has become even more important for higher education institutions to ensure that any restructuring or redundancies comply with anti-discrimination legislation. Without full consideration and assessment, financial decisions may have unintended consequences that not only impact on equality for staff and students, but also run the risk of failing to meet the institution's legal responsibilities."


Online readers had some strong views on a private higher education firm's claim that open resources and online learning will transform the sector, reported in last week's Times Higher Education.

One asks whether "distance learning, two-year degrees, private universities stacking them high and selling them cheap" will be "merely a cheaper and weaker alternative to which poorer students will eventually be largely consigned".


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