News in brief

November 25, 2010

BIS appointment

Scientist given expanded role

The government's director general for science and research, Adrian Smith, has been appointed to a new expanded role with a remit including higher education and innovation. Scientists had expressed concern that the new post within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - formed by the amalgamation of three existing positions - could see responsibility for allocating the research budget pass into the hands of a career civil servant with no experience of academia or science. The chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Lord Krebs, wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron last week urging him to appoint a senior scientist to the role. Professor Smith, former principal of Queen Mary, University of London, is widely credited with having played a key role in sealing a flat-cash settlement for research in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review.

Education policy

Plea to not rush White Paper

The government has been accused of "railroading" through policy on higher education without giving Parliament a chance to properly scrutinise what is being proposed. In a letter sent to business secretary Vince Cable last week, John Denham, his Labour shadow, called on the coalition to rethink its plan to publish a White Paper on higher education after the vote on tuition fees, which is due to take place before Christmas. Mr Denham said the impact of higher fees would depend "crucially" on uncertainties that had yet to be resolved. "It would be wrong to ask Parliament to vote to raise the fee cap until all the details of government policy have been determined and Parliament can vote on the whole package of measures," Mr Denham wrote.

Browne Review

FoI request reveals cost of report

The Browne Review of higher education funding and student finance cost taxpayers more than £100,000, it has emerged. A Freedom of Information request to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that the review cost £120,000 in "general administration and programme expenditure" during the 11 months of its work. It was also supported by seven full-time civil servants seconded from the government for the length of the review, although Lord Browne himself was unpaid.

Government inquiry

Medical centre under investigation

The Commons Science and Technology Committee has announced a new inquiry into the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. The Medical Research Council's £220 million investment in the landmark project was protected in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review and earlier this month an agreement was signed with the centre's other funders, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and University College London, to establish the UKCMRI as a charitable foundation. The inquiry will follow a 2008 report into the UKCMRI, which supported the project but raised concerns about management and costs.

Correction

The current vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Melbourne is Glyn Davis, and not as stated in our feature on international university leaders' pay in the 11 November 2010 issue of Times Higher Education.

ONLINE NOW

The news that the Higher Education Academy is to scrap its subject centres prompted dozens of readers to comment online.

One says: "I didn't think much of the idea when they were set up but, against my expectations, I have found the English centre very useful in terms of sharing knowledge on teaching. I've attended a few (too few) conferences and always come back with good ideas. I was particularly glad of a means of sharing ideas, tips and strategies with colleagues at other institutions."

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