News in brief

August 18, 2011

Engineering and physical sciences

Mechanical failure

Mechanical engineers need to be more involved in solving societal grand challenges such as renewable energy, a report has concluded. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Review of Mechanical Engineering 2011 says the discipline underpins many other subjects and could, therefore, make a "marked impact" on "almost all of the biggest challenges facing society". The trick, it says, will be "to articulate what the emerging technological requirements are related to these challenges, and to generate innovative solutions". It adds that current work is "disappointingly conservative" and urges the EPSRC to seek "greater diversity in (funding) applications". The report also highlights "serious concerns" over universities' difficulties in recruiting UK-trained mechanical engineers.

Modern languages

Money talks in many tongues

A project to increase the number of students studying languages at university has been awarded an extra £1.2 million. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has allocated the cash to the Routes into Languages project, which sends student ambassadors into schools to encourage children to study modern languages beyond the age of 14. The programme, led by the University of Southampton's Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies, is run through nine regional university consortia. The funding, which follows grants worth £2 million over the past two years, will cover the period to July 2012.

Publication rates

Success can't be bought

Cash rewards to researchers who publish in top journals increase submission levels but not publication rates, a study has found. The practice is common in some countries that want to improve their research performance, such as China and Turkey. A paper in the journal Science analyses submission and publication rates in the journal between 2000 and 2009. Cash incentives increased authors' submission rates by 46 per cent but had a small negative impact on acceptances. "Changing Incentives to Publish" also found that linking publication success to departmental funding via mechanisms such as the research assessment exercise boosted submission rates by 24 per cent, but had a negligible effect on publications. Rewarding successes with pay increases and promotions increased submission rates by a lower amount - 12 per cent - but increased acceptance rates slightly.

Graduate debt

Students face double trouble

Student debt is set to double when higher fees are introduced, according to a survey. The findings, published last week by the student guide Push, suggest that the average debt faced by UK graduates could rise from £26,100 to £53,400 under the new regime. The survey is based on the responses of more than 2,800 students from 115 institutions. It also found that students currently owe 25 per cent of their debt to sources other than the Student Loans Company, including banks, credit card companies and family.


Last week, we reported on the threat of job cuts at Cardiff University's chemistry department. We have been asked to make clear that although all 107 jobs in the department are included in the consultation, only a small number will be affected.


Last week, THE reported on a warning to staff from the head of philosophy at the University of Birmingham that they could not afford to be "very choosy" when assessing postgraduate applications.

A reader writes: "I think everyone agrees that there is some bare minimum standard for a PhD or a master's degree. I think most people probably suspect that Birmingham's standards are generally above that bare minimum. The question here, then, is whether departments were asked to move closer to the minimum, or to drop below it."

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