News in Brief

October 7, 2010

Funding

Change of business model needed

Universities have been urged to "fundamentally reinvent" their business model, and turn from "cost-driven spending machines" into "mission-driven social enterprises". The case is made in a report published on 7 October by PA Consulting, which argues that with growing competition, including from private providers, universities are in danger of "confusing competition with emulation and seeking to become more like the very different players they come up against". The report, Universities Through the Looking Glass, says that the steady rise of public funding in recent years has left a "legacy of entitlement funding and fixed cost operations".

Employment tribunal

Manager wins finance case

The University of Gloucestershire has lost a tribunal case brought by a manager who claimed she was sidelined after blowing the whistle on the state of the institution's finances. Jan Merrigan, a business development manager, said she suffered professionally after drawing attention to financial problems at the university. Gloucestershire disputed any evidence of unlawful practice. The tribunal panel last week upheld the claim lodged by Ms Merrigan, who still works at the university, and ordered Gloucestershire to pay compensation of £6,000. The university said it was considering appealing, adding that the tribunal had "cost the public purse £150,000 at a time of severe cuts to public spending".

Scotland

Reprieve for four-year degrees

Scottish education minister Michael Russell has stated his commitment to four-year undergraduate degrees as the "cornerstone" of the Scottish higher education system. Mr Russell was understood to have discussed the potential for shortening degrees at some universities in private meetings with principals. The statement, made in the Scottish Parliament during a debate on the future of universities in the country, was welcomed by the University and College Union. During the debate, the Scottish Conservatives proposed a motion claiming a political consensus on the need for a graduate contribution in Scotland. The other parties rejected the motion.

IT systems

Standardisation to 'save money'

Use of a common data standard to manage research information could save the sector millions of pounds, according to a report by the Joint Information Systems Committee. The body overseeing the use of IT in UK higher education says administrative information about researchers, projects, outputs and funding is currently fragmented and often stored in incompatible formats. Use of the Common European Research Information Format would reduce the costs of sharing this information internally and externally by up to 30 per cent, the report says.

http://tinyurl.com/24oyvhz

European Union

Grant application simplification

The European Parliament has adopted a number of proposals to simplify and accelerate the application process for European Union research funding. The proposals include permitting applicants to submit financial information using their own national accounting standards and introducing a two-tier selection process whereby only those who passed the first selection round would need to submit full bids.

ONLINE NOW

The suggestion, reported last week, that research council grants should be allocated via a lottery rather than the current grading system provoked lively debate online.

Marcus writes: "Why should the distribution of resources be 'fair', other than in some daft socialist Utopia? Grant capture is about convincing people to invest in your ideas. If you can't handle the competition, then find yourself another career."

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