News in Brief

February 17, 2011

Science select committee

Tory member cedes his seat

A member of the Commons Science and Technology Committee is to stand down just months after being selected. Alok Sharma, Conservative MP for Reading West, was chosen last September to be the parliamentary private secretary for Mark Hoban, financial secretary to the Treasury. Mr Sharma said that as parliamentary convention prevented PPSs from sitting on select committees, he had attended only a few hearings. His replacement is Stephen McPartland, Conservative MP for Stevenage, who has a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Liverpool and an MSc in technology management from Liverpool John Moores University.

Academy school partnerships

Withdrawal blamed on cuts

Higher education cuts have been blamed for scuppering a university's involvement in a new academy school, to which it had pledged £2 million in funding. Durham University pulled out as main sponsor of a proposed academy in Consett last week. A university spokesman cited "major changes across higher education and the academies programme since the university first agreed to become the lead sponsor. The university feels these changes have reduced its ability to provide the focused energy and resources necessary."

Journal publishing

At SAGE, reviews mean rewards

An academic publisher has introduced rewards for peer reviewers. SAGE's scheme will give academic reviewers free access to more than 600 journals for 30 days and a discount on SAGE books. Tessa Picknett, associate director of STM Journals, said: "We rely on (peer reviewers') expertise and judgement in refereeing submitted papers, providing feedback and giving helpful suggestions that ensure our journals publish the highest quality content."

Europe 2020

Aim higher, students tell ministers

European education ministers must set tougher targets for educational attainment if the "Europe 2020" strategy for economic growth is to succeed. The call was made by the European Students' Union to coincide with a meeting of ministers in Brussels this week. The union said the first progress report on the European Commission's growth strategy suggests that the national education targets are not ambitious enough. It added that targets had been set by all European Union countries except the UK and the Netherlands, and said that these countries in particular had to "step up a gear". Among the targets included in the strategy is that by 2020 at least 40 per cent of EU citizens aged 30-34 should have completed tertiary education or equivalent.

Biotechnology research

Online eye on who's in the lab

Details of research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council are more accessible thanks to a new web search tool. The BBSRC "portfolio analyser" outlines current and complete research grants, projects, fellowships, studentships and training grants. Users can find out who is doing research, where it is being done and how much BBSRC funding it has received.


The government's threat of legal intervention if too many universities set undergraduate tuition fees at £9,000 a year spurred debate. A reader writes: "Can someone help me (and ministers) with our basic arithmetic? Take the actual cost per student, take away the cut in teaching grant and make up for it by adding on the loss of income to the current fee level. You now may be already above £6,000 (at this point students are paying double what they were and there has been zero increase in your department's teaching resources). Take away the amount you need to discount fees for your widening participation students...Oh dear, I seem to be making a rather large loss. My only way of funding the shortfall is to hike the fees for non-discounted students to - well, near £9,000."


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