News in brief

January 26, 2012

Online learning

Apple, not open, access

Technology giant Apple has unveiled a "new textbook experience" and free online courses for students - as long as they own Apple products. In a much-hyped announcement last week, Apple said the courses from institutions including Stanford University and Yale University would be made available through a new iTunesU app. The company will also work with publishers Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to "reinvent" the textbook, beginning with the US secondary school sector. Textbooks will be available as a category on the iBookstore. Plans are also under way to release an app, iBook Author, to allow academics to create interactive digital textbooks. Critics have noted that the plans will benefit only those with access to Apple products.

University workforce

Fewer scholars, more marketers

The number of academics working in UK higher education has fallen slightly in the past two years, while staffing levels have increased in a number of other areas. According to data published last week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the total number of staff fell by 2 per cent. Junior administrative staff were the hardest hit (down 14 per cent), while the number of academic staff declined by 1 per cent in the period, although there was a slight 0.3 per cent rise in 2010-11. By contrast, the numbers working in customer services and retail roles in the sector increased by 38 per cent, and student welfare and human resources numbers rose 14 per cent. There was also a 5 per cent increase in public relations and marketing staff.

Widening participation

Summer school attainment

Young people who attend summer schools are significantly more likely to go to university, according to the Sutton Trust. Researchers at the University of Bristol looked at the destination of 1,750 students who attended one-week summer schools sponsored by the educational charity at the universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham, Oxford and St Andrews. They compared their university application and acceptance rates with 240,000 other students, discovering that 76 per cent of the summer school attendees went on to Russell Group or 1994 Group universities, compared with just 55 per cent of students with similar academic and social profiles who did not attend.

Humanities and social science research

Big sum for small grants

The British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust have announced a major investment in the humanities and social sciences through the former's small research grants scheme. The grants are worth up to £10,000 and are open to all UK researchers, including independent scholars. Now the Leverhulme Trust has put up £1.5 million over three years to support the scheme.

BSA appointment

President set for 'testing times'

A professor who co-founded the Campaign for the Public University has been appointed president of the British Sociological Association. John Holmwood, who is based at the University of Nottingham, will begin his three-year term of office in June, succeeding University of Aberdeen scholar John Brewer. Professor Holmwood said that universities, along with many other social institutions, faced "very testing times". "This calls for engaged social science," he added.


The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales announced last week that from 2013-14, more than half of student places will be allocated to universities charging below £7,500 or with activities matching state priorities. A reader responds: "So Hefcw has set up a massive game of prisoner's dilemma - provided nobody blinks and drops their fees, the places still have to be allocated to those universities...The university that looks stuck in the middle here is Swansea - not 'research' enough to meet the top criteria, probably too proud to drop its prices to £7,500."

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