News in brief

November 3, 2011

Borderless research

ESRC chief leads Science Europe

The chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council, Paul Boyle, has been elected the first president of a new body to represent researchers at European level. Professor Boyle will head Science Europe, which replaces the European Heads of Research Councils and will gradually take on the roles of the European Science Foundation. Science Europe's membership consists of around 50 research performing and funding organisations, and one of its aims is to boost the implementation of the borderless European Research Area. Professor Boyle said: "Science Europe will allow us to work together to address major challenges by providing a strong, single voice for research funding and performing organisations in Europe."

Institutional inspections

QAA names its fearless 552

The Quality Assurance Agency has published a list of the academics and students who undertake university inspections. The database includes the details of 552 reviewers who decide whether an institution has sufficient policies to guarantee standards. "One of our main principles is to be an independent voice in UK higher education, basing our work on expert, objective scrutiny," said Anthony McClaran, the QAA's chief executive. "By employing experts from within the sector to look at the way comparable institutions provide teaching, learning and assessment, we can guarantee our reviews are independent and impartial."

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Tuition fee loans

More time before part-timers pay

Part-time students are to be given an extra year of grace before they must start to repay their tuition fee loans. There had been concerns that many would face repayments while still studying, under proposals for part-timers to start payments three and a half years after starting their course, provided they were earning £21,000 or more. However, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said last week that the period would be extended to around four and a half years, subject to parliamentary approval. The change follows the intervention of Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords and representations by institutions specialising in part-time provision. "We have listened carefully to the sector...because we are determined to provide the best possible regime for part-time students," Mr Willetts said.

European-level funding

Peers pick over support package

A cross-party committee of peers is to investigate how the European Union can help higher education to boost jobs, growth and innovation. The House of Lords Social Policies and Consumer Protection EU Sub-Committee will look at proposals for the future funding of universities at the European level, as well as how the movement of students could be increased and made more diverse. It comes in the wake of measures put forward by the European Commission aimed at helping the university sector, including the launch of a new ranking tool for profiling institutions and proposals for supporting study abroad at master's level. The Lords committee, chaired by Baroness Young of Hornsey, said that it wished "to establish whether the initiatives outlined are the most appropriate...or whether there are other ways the EU might add value".

Correction

Last week we said the research councils' Shared Services Centre had been expected to save nearly £400 million in its first 10 months. The projected figure related to its first 10 years.

ONLINE NOW

Last week we reported on tension between the higher education unions and private colleges over union recognition in the burgeoning private sector. A reader writes: "I had never imagined that I would find myself agreeing so wholeheartedly with a college CEO, but Aldwyn Cooper (chief executive of Regent's College) has hit the nail on the head when he says that union branches can be 'great' where they act for members, but that the unions have 'become such a political operation, particularly the University and College Union'. Precisely."

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