News in brief

September 15, 2011

Economic competitiveness

Ecosystem of exploitation

A business thinktank led by Lancaster University has published its first report. The Big Innovation Centre's Making the UK a Global Innovation Hub calls for an "innovation and investment ecosystem" to allow the UK to exploit technological advances produced by its universities over the next 15 years. The centre will bring together businesses, trusts, universities and public bodies to research and propose practical reforms to make the UK economy more competitive. It is run in partnership with The Work Foundation, a London-based employment thinktank that was bought by Lancaster in October 2010.

Tuition fees

Cheaper by the dozen?

Around a dozen universities in England are considering lowering their tuition fees for 2012-13 in light of government proposals, unveiled in the higher education White Paper, to open 20,000 student places to competition among institutions charging under £7,500. The universities, which have not been named, made inquiries to the Office for Fair Access about how to revise their agreements on fees and the financial measures they propose to help poor students. Most of the universities had existing charges - after fee waivers had been taken into account - of between £7,500 and £8,500, but two had proposed charging £9,000.

Early-career researchers

Fellowship is the thing

The University of Birmingham has received almost 1,400 applications for around 25 fellowships it is offering to early-career researchers with the virtual guarantee of jobs at the end of them. Applications for the five-year fellowships were invited in all disciplines, although 24 areas of existing strength for Birmingham were prioritised. Among the applicants' most common subject areas are music, mathematics, high-energy physics and theology. The university plans to award 25 fellowships this year and 25 next year, but a Birmingham spokeswoman said that more might be offered this year if the calibre of applications was particularly high.

Enterprise and innovation

Summon entrepreneurial spirit

There is not enough support for university entrepreneurs, a conference in London has heard. Higher Education and Enterprise, held on 8 September and organised by the thinktank Reform, was addressed by Nigel Culkin, director of the Centre for Innovation and Enterprise at the University of Hertfordshire. Speaking about the UK academy in general, he said there were "a lot of metrics around spin-offs, knowledge transfer and commercial income". However, there was not enough support for university entrepreneurs, "individually, but far more importantly in teams".

Public engagement

Cash catalyst for culture change

Universities can benefit from a share of £300,000 to support public engagement with research. Research Councils UK said that following its Beacons for Public Engagement programme, scheduled to end in December, further support was needed. It said the new funding was meant to act as a "catalyst for culture change" within universities to help them "embed public engagement with research within their policies, procedures and practices". This will encourage researchers to engage with the public, it added. Funding of up to £300,000 will be provided over a three-year period. The deadline for applications is 17 November.


There was puzzled reaction from online readers to the news that a publicly funded research project is urging universities to promote their "distinctiveness".

Mike Simpson said that "viewed from the outside, most universities are not distinctive, they're much of a muchness...There are no Happy Shopper unis saying: 'We're a bit crap but at least we're cheap.'"

He added that it is "surely in the details of department and course that distinctiveness lies".

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