News in Brief

December 16, 2010


Spanning the globe by degrees

More than 1,600 organisations around the world offer UK higher education awards, a study has found. While 157 universities and other institutions in the UK have the power to award degrees, many more organisations offer awards on their behalf. About a third of the institutions delivering UK higher education are outside Britain. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills commissioned the Quality Assurance Agency to carry out the research. Mandy Nelson, head of the QAA's Information Unit, said: "The results are fascinating. From Trinidad to Thailand, we found collaborative working between UK universities and local colleges, businesses and other specialist providers."

Legal judgment

'Common sense' win for Queen's

A former Queen's University Belfast student has failed in his legal bid to have his degree classification overturned. Andrew Croskery graduated from Queen's this summer with a 2:2 in electrical engineering, but argued that with adequate tuition he would have achieved a 2:1. He applied for a judicial review of the university's refusal to reconsider his grade, claiming that the institution's decision had breached his human rights. Delivering his judgment at the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr Justice Treacy said university assessments of students' work were "plainly a matter of academic specialised judgement". Adam Brett, partner at law firm McGrigors, which advised Queen's, called the outcome "a victory for common sense". Queen's welcomed the decision, saying it "clearly and unequivocally" indicated that academic judgement was not subject to judicial scrutiny.

Public engagement

'Licence to operate' and educate

UK research funders have signed up to an agreement that aims to promote public engagement by academics. The Concordat for Engaging the Public with Research states that public engagement should be included in institutional strategies. Researchers should be offered appropriate training and recognised and rewarded for public engagement, it adds. Signatories including Research Councils UK and the national academies also agree to carry out regular reviews of their progress in fostering public engagement. The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement is also urging universities to sign up to a manifesto on the subject. Sir Keith O'Nions, rector of Imperial College London, said: "Public engagement is an essential way for today's universities to connect with society and earn their 'licence to operate'."

Student complaints

OIA plans for more transparency

The student-complaints body is pressing ahead with plans to publish more details about the cases it handles, despite universities' concerns. At the moment, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator publishes regular summaries of its cases, but the identity of both complainants and universities is withheld. Now, the OIA wants to name the institutions involved. It argues that this would bring it into line with other ombudsman schemes and increase transparency. A consultation document published this week sets out a number of options relating to the proposals. The deadline for responses is 14 February 2011.


Sir Stephen Wall, chair of University College London's council, courted controversy when he said UCL may use future tuition-fee income to subsidise research. But not all agreed this would leave students short-changed. A reader writes: "I'm an undergraduate at UCL, and I don't find this unreasonable. Generally, students choose to attend universities such as UCL because they want to be somewhere where there is a focus on research. In my limited experience, those lecturers who are noted for the quality of their research are also the best teachers."

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