News in brief

May 3, 2012

National Union of Students

Burns can stay, Willetts should go

Liam Burns was re-elected president of the National Union of Students, while the union also voted to call for the resignation of universities and science minister David Willetts. Mr Burns won a ballot of delegates at the NUS national conference in Sheffield on 25 April. "When successive governments seek to sell off our education and cut in all the wrong places, it's time we paint a very different picture of what education could look like," Mr Burns said in his manifesto. Rachel Wenstone, a University of Leeds graduate, was elected vice-president for higher education. In addition, a heated discussion about the NUS' position on the reforms proposed in the government's White Paper led to a vote in favour of calling for the resignation of Mr Willetts. The conference delegates also voted to hold a national demonstration against the government's higher education reforms in the first term of the 2012-13 academic year.

Open-access publishing

Harvard decries publishers' profits

A committee of senior Harvard academics has urged the university's staff to publish in open-access journals amid concerns that the cost of scholarly journal subscriptions is becoming "untenable". In an email sent to all Harvard faculty, Harvard's Faculty Advisory Council on the Library complained that "many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive". Although specific academic publishers are not mentioned by name, those companies that the committee has in mind are likely to include Elsevier, which attracted controversy earlier this year by initially backing a US Congress bill that would have outlawed open-access mandates by funding bodies. More than 10,000 academics have since signed a petition criticising the publisher and refusing to edit or referee for Elsevier journals and/or publish in them. "Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35 per cent and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles," the advisory council's email says.

Public-private partnerships

Tony Blair: up the 'revolution'

UK universities must adapt to reform, including public-private partnerships, or be "left behind", former prime minister Tony Blair has warned. Speaking in an interview with his former education secretary David Blunkett for the website of the private London School of Business and Finance, where Mr Blunkett is a visiting lecturer, Mr Blair said that "your education system, if it's done properly, becomes a major part of your economy; it doesn't just serve your economy, it's a major part of your economy". Asked about public-private partnerships, Mr Blair replied: "If you look at the world today, the one thing which is absolutely clear is there is a permanent revolution going on of change...It offers enormous opportunity, but only for people who are prepared constantly to reassess, to re-evaluate and to adjust. And that is as true in higher education as it is if you're in the financial sector or manufacturing. Anyone who stands still gets left behind."


A range of online views greeted the news that the University of Aberdeen is considering founding a chair in anthroposophical medicine - which has been dubbed "pure quackery" by one expert - funded by a holistic clinic. David Colquhoun said: "It seems beyond belief that a university like Aberdeen would be tempted for a moment to accept money from sources like these. It would be debasement of academic standards on a scale unprecedented in the UK if they were to establish this chair." However, Kaye Hayes said in reference to one anthroposophical treatment for cancer: "Iscador (mistletoe treatment) is gentler on the body than chemotherapy or radiation therapy...Talk about a bunch of close-minded people, not only in this article, but those responding."

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