News in Brief

December 9, 2010

Scientific advice

Plan to drop expert requirements

The government plans to remove the legal requirement for there to be scientists on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs. The proposal follows last year's sacking of adviser David Nutt, which prompted the resignations of seven other committee members amid complaints that politicians were disregarding scientific evidence in formulating policy. The Campaign for Science and Engineering said the government was "trying to take us back to the time of 'minister knows best'". Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said the committee "could become filled with 'yes men'."

Student fees

The degrees that pay

The main determinant of the returns to students from investing in higher education is not higher tuition fees but the subject students choose and the amount of work they put in. These are the conclusions of new research by Ian Walker, professor of economics at Lancaster University Management School, reported in Research in Public Policy. The study says there are significant differences in wage growth across degree subjects and degree results. Among its findings are that under the current fees system lifetime net income for men doubles with a good degree in law, economics or management, and that the returns are significantly higher than those in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Professor Walker said that if the fee cap was raised to £9,000 the returns to students would reduce, "but not by very much".

Sexual harassment

'Fruitbatgate' verdict upheld

The Irish High Court has upheld findings of an investigation by University College Cork into the academic at the centre of the "fruitbatgate" affair. Dylan Evans was accused of sexual harassment after showing a female colleague a research paper on oral sex among fruit bats. An investigation by Cork concluded that the lecturer in behavioural science was guilty of sexual harassment under the university's "right to dignity" policy. After a judicial review, the High Court last week ruled that both the investigation and its conclusions stood and should not be revisited. However, it quashed the "disproportionate" sanctions imposed on Dr Evans, including a two-year period of monitoring and counselling, and awarded costs to the lecturer.

Royal Society

New president takes over

Sir Paul Nurse has taken over as president of the Royal Society. The Nobel laureate was also recently appointed the first chief executive of the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation. Lord Rees, the outgoing president, marked the end of the Royal Society's 350th year with a speech calling for British higher education to be remodelled along US lines, with a "blurring" of the boundary with further education and credit for students who only complete two years at university.

European Science Foundation

Maths 'magnet for excellence'

Europe needs a "Cern for mathematics", according to the European Science Foundation. The organisation wants a new Institute of Industrial Mathematics to tighten the link between maths and industry, bring together a "fragmented" community and act as a "magnet for excellence" in the same way as the Cern laboratory. The call is made in a report, Mathematics and Industry.


As England awaits the parliamentary vote on tuition fees on 9 December, readers continue to debate the virtues of the Browne Review. One writes: "The most worrying conceit of the Browne Review is that it all 'hangs together' - and that we must take it or leave it as a whole...I find plenty of space (outside Browne) for discussion of just what we ought to teach in universities, who ought to teach it and indeed who ought to study it. So, throwing the teaching subsidy to the winds is just irresponsible."

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