News in Brief

July 21, 2011

Research councils

Schools connection to end

The UK's research councils are to close their long-running researchers-in-residence scheme. The programme, which has been in existence for 17 years, sponsors academics to go into schools to talk about their research. A statement by Research Councils UK says that although the scheme has been "of value to researchers and schools alike", it was no longer able to deliver value for money in its current form and would be wound down before closing completely by January 2012. Applications have already closed. "New ways of supporting researchers to connect with schools will be explored throughout 2011 to identify the most effective models of delivery," the statement says.

Open-access publishing

Biomedical journal names editor

A cell biologist at the University of California, Berkeley has been named as the first editor of a top-tier, open-access biomedical journal to be launched next year by the Wellcome Trust, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Max Planck Society. Randy Schekman, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator as well as professor of cell and developmental biology at Berkeley, is currently editor of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The new journal is being launched to address funders' concerns over the lack of academic editors and open-access options at existing top journals, as well as the length of their review processes. "The scientific journals that are now at the high end are doing some things right, but I think there is room at the top for an alternative approach," Professor Schekman said.

Fellowships

UCL to fund blue-skies academic

University College London is to offer another of its unique fellowships that enable academics to pursue potentially groundbreaking ideas. The Provost's Venture Research Fellowship is run by Don Braben, an honorary professor in earth sciences, who ran a similar scheme in the 1980s with funding from the oil firm BP. Academics apply with a proposal of no more than 500 words, and Professor Braben makes his judgements without using a peer-review panel. Successful applicants receive a reader's salary for three years while working to demonstrate the validity of their hypothesis. The first Fellow, selected in 2009, is Nick Lane, who is investigating why complex life evolved. Malcolm Grant, UCL provost, has agreed to fund another fellowship beginning in 2012. Professor Braben praised Professor Grant for backing the scheme. "The provost's imaginative and visionary decision should set an example for all university leaders. It provides a modest alternative to the well-trodden routes of national relevance and 'pathways to impact'," he said.

Wales

Institution mergers proposed

The Welsh funding council has reaffirmed the case for mergers, with plans to cut the number of higher education institutions in Wales from 10 to six. The Welsh education minister, Leighton Andrews, welcomed the publication last week of a report by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which he said made a "persuasive case for change". Mr Andrews said that he accepted the "broad thrust" of the recommendations, which include the suggestion that the University of Glamorgan, the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff and the University of Wales, Newport should merge. The University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University will also come together, possibly also merging into the federal University of Wales. Aberystwyth and Bangor universities have also been told to "develop a longer-term plan for merger".

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Last week's story on the changing role of the professor provoked lively debate.

A reader writes: "An interesting question might also be whether the role of 'the classic, all-round professor who combines teaching and research with service as head of department' is now humanly achievable, given what each of those elements now requires of us."

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