News in brief

October 13, 2011

Open-access publishing

CORE melds UK repositories

A search engine that allows researchers to search all of the papers held in the UK's 142 open-access repositories has been developed by The Open University. Over the past decade, many institutions have set up their own open-access repositories, but until now there was no way to search all 142 of them simultaneously. The Jisc-funded application, known as the Connecting Repositories tool, or CORE, also give users the opportunity to search the text of the entire article, rather than just the abstract. Andrew McGregor, Jisc programme manager for digital infrastructure, said: "UK repositories contain a wealth of high-quality research papers. This service should help to make it easier for researchers to discover and explore this content."

Private providers

Talking down the competition

Universities have a tendency towards "dangerous hubris" by downplaying and denigrating the "quality and worth" of privately funded and other non-traditional higher education providers, according to a report that analyses forces influencing the sector's future. The study by PA Consulting Group, Degrees of Freedom: The Tectonic Forces Shaping the Future of Universities, claims that such providers are "often meeting the needs of market sectors and learner groups that have been neglected by mainstream universities". It also says that the public-private divide in the sector is already so blurred that higher education is now "firmly established as predominantly a customer-funded market" with government acting either as the purchaser of services or as the subsidiser of key players, such as students.

Research-intensive institutions

Should prestige begin at home?

A report from the World Bank suggests that low- and middle-income countries should resist the temptation to try to establish world-class universities as a way of courting global prestige until they have educated their own citizens to high tertiary standards. The Road to Academic Excellence: The Making of World-class Research Universities charts the experience of 11 leading research universities in nine countries. "Looking at the research and grant money cascading out of world-class universities, you can understand why countries might think that a top-flight research institution is all that stands in their way of reducing poverty (and) leaping forward in their national development," said Jamil Salmi, the bank's higher education coordinator and co-author of the report. "But this decision cannot be simply tactical. It must be a long-term strategic decision that aspiring countries take, weighing all the facts, while banishing any notion of fast results."

Science budget

Say it with cash, please

The government should commit to increasing the science budget as soon as economic circumstances allow, according to the president of the Institute of Physics. Speaking at the IoP's annual awards in London last week, Sir Peter Knight welcomed the flat-cash science budget announced in last year's Comprehensive Spending Review. "But if the government shares our view that research excellence can restore Britain's economic vibrancy, why not make a firm commitment for the future to renew investment in the science base?" asked Sir Peter. "What a strong, positive signal that would send to our young scientists and engineers about their future prospects in the UK."

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Last week's interview with Philip Campbell, the editor-in-chief of Nature, reflected on the power wielded by the influential journal's 25 professional editors.

A reader responds: "Nature is ultimately a journal of whim, not excellence. No doubt everyone who has had a paper rejected feels this way, but it's not just sour grapes. Nature has been imbued with an inordinate amount of power over people's careers, and wielding that power comes down to the personal opinions of ex-postdocs."

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