News in brief

January 6, 2011

Freedom of Information

Jisc plots a way through the jungle

Researchers are being offered new advice on how to handle Freedom of Information requests for data. The Joint Information Systems Committee, which advises universities on digital technology and other issues, has produced a guidance document that also covers requests for research data under Environmental Information Regulation laws. The issue has been in the spotlight since the "Climategate" affair at the University of East Anglia.

http://bit.ly/facwXE

Quality Assurance Agency

Standards set for an overhaul

The Quality Assurance Agency has published plans to revamp the "toolkit" universities use to set academic standards. The "Academic Infrastructure" is the name given to the reference points that institutions use to set, explain and assure the quality of their courses, but the term has been criticised as being "obscure and misleading". The QAA has proposed renaming it the "UK Code of Practice for Standards, Quality and Enhancement in Higher Education". It would have two parts, one dealing with academic standards and the other with quality and enhancement. It would incorporate all existing elements of the Academic Infrastructure but would add new sections on learning and teaching, student support and student representation. The deadline for responses is 1 March.

http://bit.ly/eIu1Cv

Student Loans Company

Lester takes the reins for good

The Student Loans Company has appointed its interim chief executive to fill the post permanently. Ed Lester has been in the post since last May, when he replaced the previous chief executive in the wake of blunders that left thousands of students without loans at the start of the 2009-10 academic year. Ed Smith, the SLC's chairman, said Mr Lester had overseen a "significant improvement" in the company's performance.

Welsh restructure

Six will suffice

There should be no more than six universities in Wales by 2013, the Welsh funding council has said. In The Future Shape of Higher Education in Wales, a briefing published last month, funding chiefs also say that there should be no more than two per region, with both research-led and access-focused provision available to all. In addition, no more than two Welsh institutions should have an income below the UK median, and neither of these should be in the south east, the document says. At the moment, Wales has 11 universities, with a merger planned between Swansea Metropolitan University and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Universities Superannuation Scheme

Staff reject employers' plans

More than 80 per cent of staff who participated in pensions ballots at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge rejected the employers' plans to cut benefits in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. Staff at the universities forced full ballots on plans for changes to the £30 billion USS, after claims that the official consultation was too one-sided. With 6,388 ballot papers circulated to staff at Cambridge, 802 voted to back plans tabled by the University and College Union (81 per cent of votes cast), while 186 supported the employers (19 per cent). At Oxford, of the 6,151 ballot papers distributed, 753 voted for the UCU's plans (81 per cent of votes cast), 101 backed employers (11 per cent), and 63 voted to say they were not in favour of either set of proposals (7 per cent). The UCU's plans have already been defeated by the USS' decision-making committee.

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Columnist Tara Brabazon, professor of media studies at the University of Brighton, argues that universities must embrace "Generation X" not only in their student body, but within their workforce, too: "The challenge for both popular culture and our universities remains welcoming diversity beyond the stories of white men mooching towards social irrelevance and/or death," she writes. "Popular culture matters. It matters politically and it matters to politicians."

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