News in brief

February 10, 2011


Cumbria names new chief

The University of Cumbria has appointed a new vice-chancellor, following a period of turmoil in its leadership and finances. Cumbria has hired Peter Strike, who is currently deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at the University of Sunderland with responsibility for research, knowledge exchange and business engagement. He will assume his new role on 1 August, taking over from Graham Upton, interim vice-chancellor since May 2010. Professor Upton's appointment came after the sudden departure of the previous vice-chancellor, Peter McCaffery. He left after less than a year in post, amid suggestions that he was not told of the full extent of its financial problems.

Academic unions

Groundhog Day hits strike ballots

Ballots for national strikes in higher education were delayed, following typographical errors in the formal notices sent to universities. The University and College Union was due to open two parallel ballots for industrial action over job security and pay and pensions on 2 February. But the union asked universities to "disregard" the notices of intention to ballot it sent out. The original notices referred to the launch of the ballots on 2 February 2010, rather than 2011, and to the fact that the union had generated its lists of members to be balloted on 24 January 2010. The UCU said new notices would be sent out, but with the original ballot closing date of 2 March unchanged.

Government inquiry

Why did Pfizer lose its fizz?

The Commons Science and Technology Committee is to hold an inquiry into the closure of pharmaceutical company Pfizer's research and development facility in Kent. The US company said the closure was part of a global reorganisation, but others claim it reflects a lack of international confidence in British science. Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, described the closure as a "shocking wake-up call". David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said he hoped another use could be found for the facilities, which employ 2,400 people. One suggestion is that the University of Kent could use the site to house a Technology and Innovation Centre.

Tuition fees

Repayment terms for part-timers

Part-time students who take out loans to pay for tuition fees from 2012-13 will be charged an interest rate of 3 per cent above inflation for up to three-and-a-half years. Setting out the terms of the new deal for part-time learners, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said they would also be required to start repaying the loans after this time if they are earning more than £21,000 - even if they are still studying. However, interest on the loans will revert back to inflation at this time if they are earning less than the threshold.

CIPR Awards

Gongs for THE and TES

Phil Baty, deputy editor of Times Higher Education, has won the Ted Wragg Award for Sustained Contribution to Education Journalism 2010. Mr Baty, also editor of Times Higher Education World University Rankings, was named the winner at a ceremony organised by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in London on 7 February. William Stewart of The Times Educational Supplement, THE's sister paper, was named Education Journalist of the Year. Last year's winner in the category was Matthew Reisz, of THE.


Our story last week on the Economic and Social Research Council's decision to restrict PhD funding to 45 institutions (most of them 1994 and Russell Group members) spurred debate. One reader writes: "The ESRC has really shot itself in the foot with this one. It seems to be saying that around half the institutions that were good enough to host ESRC-funded PhD students are no longer good enough to do so, regardless of whether they can afford to give them any money or not. This isn't just research concentration but an admission that social science is in a real decline in the UK."


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