News in Brief

May 5, 2011

Research spending

No government target to be set

David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has ruled out setting a target for the proportion of the UK's gross domestic product that is spent on research and development. In answer to a parliamentary question, Mr Willetts noted that the European Union's member states had reaffirmed their commitment to spending 3 per cent of their GDP on R&D last summer. But he added: "Consistent with our Public Sector Transparency Framework, the (UK) government does not intend to adopt national targets." The UK's current spend is about 1.8 per cent of GDP.

European Science Foundation

Guidelines for peer reviewers

The European Science Foundation has published international guidelines for peer-reviewing research grants. The 82-page document contains principles of fair and credible peer-reviewing agreed by more than 30 national research funders from 23 European countries, as well as the European Research Council and the European Commission. Marc Heppener, the ESF's director of science and strategy development, said he hoped the document would become a "central reference" for research funders around the world.

Equality legislation

ECU warning over changes

The UK's higher education equality body has warned that changes to legislation will create more work and less certainty for universities, and could hinder equality. The government withdrew the draft specific duties of the public-sector equality duty underpinning the Equality Act 2010 less than three weeks before they were due to come into force. Gary Loke, head of policy at the Equality Challenge Unit, said much of the work that institutions had undertaken "will have to be revisited".

Institutional income

Capital has the big earners

Higher education institutions in London accounted for more than a fifth of the total income pulled in by UK universities in the past academic year. Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that institutions in the capital had total income of £5.5 billion in 2009-10, while those in the South East of England collected £3.1 billion out of a UK total of £26.8 billion. Overall, universities in England accounted for £22.2 billion.


A story last week about a study showing that most students in the US pay more in tuition fees than their universities spend on educating them provoked debate.

A reader writes: "There's no way of deciding what is and isn't really educational expenditure. If you imagine reading Plato in a Nissen hut, with a bucket to catch the rain dripping through the roof as the baseline, every step up from that will cost money. My guess is that the present cost is driven by parents who want their children well looked after."

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