News in brief

June 2, 2011

Business engagement

Spin-offs up by a quarter

The number of spin-off companies set up by universities rose by a quarter in 2009-10, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. The HE Business and Community Interaction Survey, published by Hesa last week, shows that 3 spin-off companies were launched in the year, compared with 215 in 2008-09. A further 2,422 start-up companies were set up by university staff and recent graduates, which collectively employed more than 6,500 people and had a turnover in excess of £2 billion. The report was published as John Denham, the shadow business secretary, used a speech in Newcastle to criticise the government for distracting universities from their work with businesses. Speaking on 26 May, Mr Denham said: "One of the tragic side effects of the bungled reform of higher education finance is that so many vice-chancellors have been diverted from forging the business links and knowledge transfers that are so vital to growth, to trying to work out how to survive."

International collaboration

Special academic relationship

David Cameron and Barack Obama have released a joint statement pledging to strengthen collaboration between the US and UK in science and higher education. The British prime minister and US president say in the statement released during a state visit by Mr Obama to the UK last week that these are the "foundation stones" of the two countries' economies, and that they have a duty to show "global leadership" in the fields. They express particular support for cooperation in areas that will "create jobs and generate new economic opportunities". Fields of research singled out for special mention include space science, climate science and food security. The statement also pledges support for more postgraduates and researcher-exchange programmes.

Student-governance relations

Don't press 'reply all'...oh dear

The chair of governors at London Metropolitan University was forced to apologise to a student representative after advising the vice-chancellor to "kill her with information and kindness" in an email that he accidentally copied to the student concerned. Claire Locke, president-elect of London Metropolitan Students' Union, received the email last week from Clive Jones, a former chairman of GMTV. The memo was a response to an open letter Ms Locke had written to Malcolm Gillies, London Met's vice-chancellor, expressing concern about the institution's handling of a recent protest against course closures. Ms Locke said the email had left her in "complete shock". Mr Jones said: "I have apologised unreservedly."

Medical research

Capital case 'not overwhelming'

Questions have been raised about the case for locating the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation in central London. The Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report into the centre last week, which accepts its scientific case but describes the rationale for building it near St Pancras station as "not overwhelming". It acknowledges the benefits of good transport links and proximity to universities and teaching hospitals, but warns of high construction costs and restrictions on expansion. It also suggests that it might have been better to build it outside the South-East. Meanwhile, it was announced that the centre is to be renamed the Francis Crick Institute, after the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.


Rob Behrens, head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, revealed last week that he would be naming and shaming two institutions that had refused to comply with a ruling by the student complaints watchdog.

A reader writes: "The OIA exists to adjudicate when a university cannot resolve a student complaint via its own internal procedures. What is the point if a university can choose not to comply? You cannot charge £8,000-£9,000 a year for a three- to four-year course and still expect not to be accountable. The law needs changing now!"

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