News in brief

November 4, 2010

Redundancies

Lancaster loses pay-off appeal

Lancaster University has lost an appeal to overturn a ruling that it pay 60 days' salary to a group of employees whose fixed-term contracts were not renewed. The staff, made redundant between March and June 2009, were awarded the money by a tribunal in April. It ruled that Lancaster breached labour-relations laws requiring employers to consult with employee representatives when they propose to dismiss 20 or more workers. An employment appeal tribunal last week upheld the ruling. The University and College Union, which brought the action, said the victory was "important for the thousands of university staff on fixed-term contracts".

Discrimination

MPs protest at Italian 'unfairness'

Concerns have been raised about the unfair treatment of British lecturers by Italian universities in a parliamentary early-day motion. Three lecturers won a 15-year legal battle against the University of Verona last month, successfully claiming they had not been promoted because they were British. In the motion, MPs note that "despite seven judgments in their favour in the European Court of Justice, scores of British and other non-Italian staff in Italian universities are still denied parity of treatment". The motion calls on the British government "to express its grave concern and to raise this matter as a matter of urgency at the next appropriate meeting of the Council of Ministers".

Research independence

Willetts all ears on Haldane

David Willetts has pledged to consult senior figures in science and research before releasing a "robust" reformulation of the Haldane principle later this year. In a written statement, the universities and science minister describes the principle as "an important cornerstone for the protection of scientific independence and excellence", but adds that there has always been "some uncertainty" over its interpretation. He plans to clarify the principle in a statement coinciding with the allocation of the research councils' budgets, and will consult to make sure it has "the consent of the research community". He says ministers will not stipulate how councils should spend their allocations.

Parliamentary oversight

New watchers clock on

Five replacement members of the parliamentary committee that scrutinises higher education policy have been named. Labour MPs Paul Blomfield, Katy Clark, Gregg McClymont and Ian Murray and Conservative MP Simon Kirby will join the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. The four previous Labour members are all joining Ed Miliband's frontbench team, including Chi Onwurah, who takes on the science brief. Nicky Morgan, the committee's former Tory member, has been made parliamentary private secretary to David Willetts.

Foundation provision

No more fuel for Degree Forward

A national body set up to promote and support the development of foundation degrees is to lose its funding. The Higher Education Funding Council for England made the announcement about Foundation Degree Forward last week. David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at Hefce, said the funding was being axed because the programme had achieved its aims. Mainstream funding will cease by July 2011, although transitional funding will be available until October that year.

ONLINE NOW

Last week, James Tooley, professor of education policy at Newcastle University, hailed the Browne Review as "an official report to get excited about", arguing that its recommendations could "dramatically improve higher education in England".

A reader responds online: "What tosh! What has been proposed by Browne is a barbarous attack on the universities, based on a barbaric 'free-market- and-consumerism' dogma. 'Glorious independence'? Forget it!"

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