News in brief

August 11, 2011

Intellectual property

Beware of blunt instruments

Changes in copyright law to allow unfettered data mining are an "unwarranted blunt instrument which will undermine UK publishing", it has been claimed. The Publishers Association said the decision to exempt data mining from intellectual property laws, announced by Vince Cable last week, was based on false assumptions. The business secretary cited medical researchers unable to use databases because certain authors were unknown and therefore impossible to contact. The changes follow a review last year by Ian Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University, which recommended freer access to research papers. But Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said the vast majority of research-focused requests were already granted. "Content mining is due to increase exponentially, and is something that is actually embraced by publishers - contrary to the Hargreaves report's assertions," he said.

Technology for research

Innovation grants on offer

Grants of £15,000 are being offered to help develop new software or technology that can support scientific research. The Catalyst Prize awards are intended to support the development of ideas from concept to prototype over a six-month period. The funder, Digital Science, a division of Macmillan Publishers, will not claim any intellectual property rights. The company's managing director, Timo Hannay, said: "We know from talking with researchers and entrepreneurs from around the world that many innovative ideas for making use of technology in science are still locked up inside people's heads."


Singapore alert

Five institutions audited by the quality watchdog over their partnerships with providers in Singapore have been advised to ensure that their agreements are "fit for purpose". The audits by the Quality Assurance Agency, which looked at relationships between 10 UK universities and Singaporean providers, found "many examples of good practice" but said that action needed to be taken in some areas. The QAA also advised three institutions to take action on how they selected and approved partners, while five were told to consider their arrangements for monitoring provision. One of the partnerships involved the University of Wales, which has already been criticised for its collaboration with providers in the country.


Reading the runes

The use of academic libraries is at a record level, new figures suggest. According to data released by Research Libraries UK, there were more than 35 million visits to the organisation's 23 university library members in 2009-10. This was a 10 per cent increase on the previous year, and some of RLUK's members saw usage increase by 20 per cent year on year. The organisation said the figures showed that "the library retains its place as a keystone in any 21st-century university's strategy for success in research and teaching". Longer opening hours, better use of space and increased access to a wider range of resources had all contributed to the increased usage. RLUK also claimed that the rise in the number of visits corresponded with an increase in the number of loans and renewals of the library catalogue.


A government plan to allow colleges with more than 1,000 higher education students to gain university status provoked debate online.

A reader writes: "The more everything is a university the less anything is. It's a more complex issue than 'thresholds', 'histories stretching back hundreds of years' or being 'well respected'.

"And the fact someone would grasp the title in order, primarily, to 'build' is exactly the problem; it's very, very far from being the solution."

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