News in brief

April 26, 2012

Undergraduate retention

Let them know they're not alone

Creating "a culture of belonging" within universities is the key to improving student retention, a study has indicated. The recommendation was made in a report on the What Works? student retention and success programme, which assessed retention schemes at 22 higher education institutions between 2008 and 2011. Funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, a charity whose focuses include education and learning, the programme found that up to 42 per cent of students had considered dropping out of higher education at some point, although only 8 per cent of them left study in their first year. Academic problems, concerns over future careers and feelings of isolation were key considerations for those who were unsure about higher education, the report found. Interventions in the academic sphere were effective in cutting dropout rates by up to 10 percentage points, it said. Fostering student engagement with their studies and the wider university through supportive peer relations, as well as support from staff, was crucial, it concluded.

UK-India research partnership

Funding fillip for the future of IT

A £10 million boost for the largest-ever India-UK ICT research collaboration, which employs 200 scientists in both countries, was unveiled by universities and science minister David Willetts. The announcement followed a meeting in London with Vilasrao Deshmukh, the Indian science and technology minister. The investment will support the second phase of research into next generation telecommunications networks - state-of-the-art platforms and applications that will carry voice, video and data in the internet of the future. This is a key part of the work of the India-UK Advanced Technology Centre, a collaborative programme funded by the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, India's Department of Science and Technology and industrial partners in both countries. Mr Willetts said that the funding would help to "bring together leading universities and institutes from both countries to develop technological solutions to a range of important issues, from rural health to disaster response".

Engineering

'Radical' students welcome

Innovation must be at the centre of UK universities' engineering curricula, according to a report from the Royal Academy of Engineering. Educating Engineers to Drive the Innovation Economy recommends two strategies for equipping students to achieve step changes: by encouraging them to address real-life issues such as energy, water security and the ageing population; and by encouraging them to exploit technological breakthroughs (such as hydrogen fuel cells or new applications for microwaves). The report calls for the Westminster and devolved governments to continue to offer additional support to engineering as a strategically important subject. David Grant, vice-president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, said that to "transform the UK economy we need more radical innovation - the kind of change that creates a new 'state of the art'. Much of this capability rests on the way our future innovators are being taught."

ONLINE NOW

Last week's story about the selection of academics for redundancy at Queen Mary, University of London - partly on the basis of metrics on their research performance - prompted online discussion of how the research excellence framework will change life in universities. Carl said: "The logic across the sector seems to be moving away from teaching and research being linked. Government is only willing to pay for the very best research, which is difficult if not impossible to sustain alongside mass higher education. No doubt in future teaching will come to be more highly valued, but much of it is likely to be done by different people than those being entered and expected to perform at the upper reaches of the REF."

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