News in brief

September 22, 2011

Francis Crick Institute

Yen for the Great Wen defended

The government has dismissed concerns over the decision to base the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation in central London. In May, the Commons Science and Technology Committee published a report on the centre, which will be known as the Francis Crick Institute, that said the rationale for building it in the St Pancras area was "not overwhelming". It said it might have been better to build the centre elsewhere owing to the London site's high construction costs and limited scope for expansion. In its response, published last week, the coalition says the additional costs will be outweighed by the benefits of it being part of "a cluster of centres of scientific and clinical excellence, a deliberate choice to enable interactions".

E-learning

Nothing like the real thing

Universities have been warned not to assume that "digital-native" students will embrace all e-learning initiatives or prefer them to traditional forms. A report by the Canadian consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates argues that calls for curricula to be "radically overhauled" may sometimes be based on "alarmingly thin" evidence. Researchers asked nearly 1,300 students for their views on e-learning and found that a mix of traditional and high-tech learning is still seen as second best. About half of respondents say that the quality of education is higher when courses are delivered entirely by lecturers in person; more than two-thirds say that the quality of instructors is highest on courses delivered in person.

Institutional partnerships

Look North to prosperity

The N8 group, a partnership between the North of England's eight research-intensive universities, has entered a new phase that aims to combine their capabilities for mutual gain. The N8 Research Partnership, launched last week by universities and science minister David Willetts, links the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York. The group has established centres focusing on areas of future economic growth, and last week's launch marks a £1 million investment in a three-year programme to support collaborative work.

Cross-Channel move

'Gallic LSE' signs former LSE chief

The London School of Economics director who resigned in March following protests over the institution's links to Colonel Gaddafi's Libya is to teach at a French university. Sir Howard Davies will be a guest professor at Sciences Po, where he will teach a class at the Paris School of International Affairs titled Global Financial Markets and Their Regulations After the Crisis. Seen as the LSE's French equivalent, Sciences Po counts many Gallic politicians among its alumni.

Research councils

Encore for a voice of experience

Sir Alan Wilson has been reappointed chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a second four-year term. Sir Alan will remain in the post until November 2015 and was described by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, as "a successful chair whose wide experience of research, government and academia will continue to be of great value". The coalition has also said that Phil Smith, chief executive of Cisco UK and Ireland, is its preferred candidate to become chair of the Technology Strategy Board's governing board.

ONLINE NOW

Debate has been sparked by the news that academic Satoshi Kanazawa has been disciplined for bringing the London School of Economics into disrepute with a blog in which he claimed that data showed that black women were less attractive than others.

A reader writes: "Of course people must be free to speculate and to be iconoclastic. But scholars must contemplate the implications of their speculation. For example...I would expect people to describe methods for suicide in very careful terms. Freedom of speech should not be unqualified, even for people in ivory towers."

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