News in Brief

April 7, 2011

Wakeham review

RCUK's 5 per cent solution

Universities and institutes with the least efficient research will be required to reduce their indirect costs by 5 per cent. The Research Councils UK report Efficiency 2011-15: Ensuring Excellence with Impact sets out how RCUK intends to implement the recommendations of last year's Wakeham review of full economic costing. The council intends to make an annual assessment of institutional efficiency, defined by absolute indirect costs and relative changes compared with the previous year. The most efficient institutions will not be required to make further savings, while the least efficient will be "subject to increasing scrutiny and pressure to reduce their indirect cost rates". Any savings made will be recycled within the ring-fenced research budget. Rick Rylance, chair-elect of RCUK, said the changes "mirror some of the significant challenges in funding that we are facing as research councils and even as a nation".

Research funding

Applications consultation begins

The Economic and Social Research Council has launched a formal consultation on how it should manage demand for its funding. It has been launched after a controversially brief and informal consultation earlier this year identified no consensus among respondents. The options under consideration include fixed institutional quotas for applications, sanctions on researchers or institutions with low success rates, and application charges. Such measures will be adopted only if a 15-month period of "improved self-regulation" plus changes to peer-review and submission policies do not lead to "fewer, higher-quality applications". The success rate for grant applications to the ESRC fell to just 17 per cent in 2009-10. The consultation deadline is 16 June.

Industrial action

UCU points finger over strike

Union members at Liverpool Hope University are due to strike on 8 April over job losses. The University and College Union accused the university of ignoring the advice of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and refusing a request to extend the timetable during which staff could strike, which it said would have allowed more time for negotiation. The UCU said that more than 90 jobs are at risk. The university responded: "No university can give a guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies. This is the basis of the UCU's dispute, and that will not change in the next four weeks."

Space research

Agency's orbit established

The UK Space Agency has been formally established as an executive agency of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The agency, which was set up a year ago, takes over responsibility for most of the UK's space science and exploration commitments. Universities and science minister David Willetts said the agency would provide a "focal point" for efforts to advance space science and satellite technology. "The UK space industry is worth an estimated £7.5 billion and is an important driver for economic growth. This is why we earmarked £10 million in (last month's) Budget to start a national space technology programme and committed to reducing the regulatory burden on industry," Mr Willetts said. The agency's strategy for 2011-15, which is out for consultation, emphasises its role in "supporting science as an enabler for growth".


A report published last week by the Higher Education Policy Institute and penned by Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University, argues that university governance should be overhauled, with greater responsibility given to alumni.

A reader writes: "Alumni may indeed be passionate about protecting the reputation of universities, but this may prove to create a new difficulty for governance as they will have every incentive to conceal wrongdoing...Perhaps an old boys' club is not the answer."


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