News in brief

October 27, 2011

Journal subscriptions

Slightly more bijou 'big deal'

Research libraries have reached a three-year "big deal" agreement with journal publisher Wiley-Blackwell that "takes into account the financial challenges facing the library community". Earlier this year, Research Libraries UK said it would not renew existing agreements with Wiley-Blackwell or Elsevier without price reductions. Details were scant at the time of going to press, but a spokesman for Wiley-Blackwell said the deal was agreed on "mutually beneficial terms". In future, libraries may license only a subset of the publisher's 1,500 journals, whereas previous "big deals" were for entire collections only. Lorraine Estelle, chief executive of Jisc Collections, which negotiates with publishers on behalf of UK higher education, said negotiations "were conducted against a backdrop of financial uncertainty...and Wiley listened to us and took this on board". Negotiations with Elsevier are continuing.

Research integrity

'Not minded' to increase minders

Suggestions that the UK needs a specific body to police research integrity have been rejected by the government and the research councils. The idea was floated by the Commons Science and Technology Committee in its report on peer review, published in July. But in its response to the report, published last week, the government says it is "not minded" to set up such a body. Instead it expresses support for the "concordat" on research integrity due to be published in November by research funders and Universities UK. "There are already a number of regulatory and licensing bodies in key areas of research, and any new regulatory body would increase the regulatory burden on employers," it adds.

Ministerial science advisers

Many chiefs, not enough influence

The status and influence of chief scientific advisers varies wildly across government, with many lacking sufficient independence, oversight or ministerial access. The claim was made by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, which ranked government departments according to their treatment of their chief scientific advisers. Based on departments' responses to parliamentary questions, CaSE produced a scorecard rating departments according to six factors. These include their chief scientific adviser's academic experience, frequency of meetings with ministers and level of managerial and budgetary control. Of the 15 departments surveyed, only six performed well in at least half of the measured criteria.

Research council services

A problem shared is expensive

The research councils may never recoup the money they have spent on the troubled Shared Services Centre, the National Audit Office has said. Its report, Shared Services in the Research Councils, recounts a litany of failings in the project's design, governance and oversight. These culminated in the centre being delivered 15 months late and 65 per cent over budget. It was commissioned in 2006 to merge the research councils' human resources, finance, ICT, procurement and grant-allocation systems. It was estimated that the centre would save the councils nearly £400 million in its first 10 years. But the report says that complex governance arrangements led to a lack of clarity about specifications and a falling-out with IT contractor Fujitsu: terminating its contract alone cost £13 million in additional costs. The centre was due to be delivered by December 2009 but was not finished until March 2011 at a cost of £130 million.

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With a consultation set to open on plans for post-qualification applications, readers suggested some alternative systems. One writes: "Perhaps the simplest solution is a universal gap year: students could apply for admission once they have their A-level results, with a view to starting courses a year later. Some would find a job they enjoy in the interim, and decide HE is not for them, but is that such a terrible thing? We would also get slightly more mature students who have had a chance to develop a work ethic and made a more informed decision about their studies."

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