News in brief

March 29, 2012

Dementia research

Double down on UK expertise

Overall funding for dementia research will more than double to £66 million by 2015 to try to make the UK a world leader in the field. The announcement was made by the prime minister on 26 March as part of the launch of a "National Dementia Challenge" to tackle the disease. Earlier this year, a report from Alzheimer's Research UK suggested that the UK punches well above its weight in the study of dementia even though it has relatively few researchers working in the field compared with other countries. The report, Defeating Dementia 2012: Building Capacity to Capitalise on the UK's Research Strengths, contains research from Thomson Reuters showing that the UK publishes more research papers on dementia than any other country except the US and is behind only Sweden in the impact of its papers, measured by the average number of citations they attract. However, relatively few UK researchers work on dementia compared with other major diseases when the economic costs of the illnesses are considered.

• See http://bit.ly/xrz5DK

Contact time

Is that all there is?

Almost a quarter of students in the UK receive less lecture time than they anticipated before they started university, a report has revealed. The finding is one of the results from a National Union of Students survey of more than 5,000 people commissioned by the Quality Assurance Agency. According to the research on independent learning and contact hours, students spent an average of 19.5 hours a week on independent study. Meanwhile 84 per cent said that contact time with lecturers directly improved the quality of their learning. But although 68 per cent of students said they were happy with the amount of lecture time on their course, 23.5 per cent received less than they had expected.

Research partnerships

Budget boost to aid investment

The chancellor of the exchequer used his Budget statement last week to announce funding of £100 million for universities to encourage private-sector investment in research. The government hopes that the funding will allow universities to "leverage" £200 million more from the private sector and charities to support long-term research partnerships. George Osborne said he wanted to "turn Britain into Europe's technology centre", and claimed that creating facilities such as the Francis Crick Institute, in St Pancras - a medical research centre due to open in central London in 2015 - would help to achieve that goal.

Science and Technology Committee

Don't undermine Lords' oversight

Four learned societies have written to the prime minister to protest against plans to reduce the resources of the Lords Science and Technology Committee. The committee, chaired by Lord Krebs, principal of Jesus College, Oxford, could see its ability to mount inquiries cut by half under the proposals by the Lords Liaison Committee for it to be "retrenched". The freed-up money would be used to mount ad hoc committees in other areas. But the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences wrote a joint letter to David Cameron arguing against any cuts to the committee. The letter describes the committee as an "essential forum" for the scrutiny of government policy and says it also plays a vital role in identifying areas of potential concern to MPs and officials and in driving evidence-based policymaking.

ONLINE NOW

Last week's story about the suspension of Teesside University's licence for sponsoring international students provoked lively comments online. One reader said the government and universities should share the blame for problems within the student-visa system. "Both parties are equally guilty...Universities will kill themselves to get overseas students...For [the UK Border Agency], students and universities are an easy target [to cut immigration numbers]. Much easier than failed asylum seekers who need to be chased, detained and deported."

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