News in brief

April 19, 2012

Biomedical research

Catalyst set to bring ideas to life

A £180 million scheme aimed at translating biomedical research into healthcare breakthroughs will open for applications at the end of this month. The Biomedical Catalyst, open to small- and medium-sized enterprises and academics, will be overseen by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board, and is part of the coalition's Strategy for Life Sciences. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the government hoped to offer a way out for researchers caught in the "valley of death...between the moment that a bright new idea is developed in the laboratory and the point when a new drug or technology can be invested in by the market". The Biomedical Catalyst will bring "benefits for patients and the economy", he added.

Higher education workforce

Dropping the ball on diversity

People from ethnic minorities working in universities are at a "significant disadvantage", a conference has heard. Speaking at the British Sociological Association's annual conference, this year held in Leeds on 13 April, Andrew Pilkington, professor of sociology at the University of Northampton, said initiatives under the Labour government to promote racial equality in academic recruitment had been "short-lived" and outweighed by efforts to ensure gender equality. Professor Pilkington, author of Institutional Racism in the Academy: A Case Study (2011), also noted "failures in data gathering and target setting, [which] suggest that many universities have not taken equal opportunities policies seriously".

UK-Malaysia links

Friends with educational benefits

The UK and Malaysia signed an education partnership agreement during a recent visit by Prime Minister David Cameron to the Asian nation. The signing ceremony coincided with announcements of two scholarship initiatives. Support from BAE Systems will allow the Chevening Scholarships programme, which supports study by Malaysian students at UK universities, to double to 28 places; and Dyson and the Lloyd's Register Educational Trust are helping to fund 19 new engineering scholarships at the University of Southampton's campus in Malaysia. More than 14,000 Malaysian students are now enrolled at UK universities, with 58,000 studying for British higher qualifications in their own country.

British Antarctic Survey

Frozen cash 'generous', says Nerc

Reports that funding constraints could jeopardise the British Antarctic Survey's mission are "misinformed", according to its chief funder, the Natural Environment Research Council. It had been reported that Nicholas Owens, the BAS director, was on special leave after alerting the Foreign Office to funding concerns. A Nerc spokeswoman said it was providing the BAS with "a flat-cash settlement" of £42 million a year until 2015, the amount it received in 2011. She called this "generous", but noted that Nerc has "concerns that continuing pressures on its funding, and the impact of external factors such as the price of fuel, may cause problems for the BAS in maintaining the logistics it depends upon". However, discussions with the government on these issues had been positive, she added.

Clarification

In "Surplus value" (12 April), the surplus/deficit figures for university finances in 2010-11 did not include minority interests. This was a change from the 2009-10 figures, which did.

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There was intense debate over news that up to 300 applicants are chasing each junior researcher post. "DrGrumbles" said "universities, using public money, have manufactured a glut in the potential labour force...and are now ruthlessly taking advantage of it". "yetanothertyke" argued that the phenomenon was "an Oxbridge one", adding: "Where I would agree is in the doublethink that a PhD can be viewed as an entry ticket even in better economic times than these...This raises the question of whether too many PhD students are allowed to proceed beyond year one."

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