News in brief

May 10, 2012

Patent protection

European plan threatens spin-offs

High-tech spin-offs may find it more expensive to protect their inventions if proposals to create a single European patent go ahead, MPs have said. The House of Commons European scrutiny committee concluded on 3 May that although applying for patents across Europe may become cheaper, under current proposals small businesses would find it harder to enforce their patents at a future European Patent Court. In its report, The Unified Patent Court: Help or Hindrance?, MPs said the proposals had been rushed and called for the government to adopt a "strong position" in negotiations with the European Parliament, and to lobby for the court to be based in London.

Overseas students

Immigration status 'won't change'

A Home Office minister has repeatedly rejected calls from peers to exclude university-sponsored overseas students from the net migration count - a move that universities have urged the government to take. Following the Conservative Party's manifesto pledge to cut net migration to the "tens of thousands", the government has tightened the rules for non-EU students seeking to enter the UK. With universities warning that the measures are deterring students, Lib Dem, Labour and crossbench peers all pushed for the move in House of Lords questions on 30 April. But Lord Henley, a Home Office minister, said: "It is right that students intending to stay for that period should be counted because during their stay they are part of the resident population and contribute to pressure on public services infrastructure." He added: "There would be considerable criticism of me if I suggested that we should fix those figures for our own purposes."

Student fees

'Overcomplex' support schemes

The different means-tested bursary and fee waiver schemes introduced by universities to mitigate the impact of higher fees on poorer students will bring further complexity, including "cliff edges" where support disappears at particular income levels. That is the conclusion of a study of means-tested support schemes at 52 UK universities, authored by John Hills and Ben Richards of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, and published last week. The systems on offer "vary in many different ways" between universities, they argue, not just in their differing treatment of different levels of parental income, but according to aspects such as what kind of school the applicant attended. "This makes comparison more complex than just looking at single prices," the authors write. Also, they argue: "Given the 'cliff edges' at particular income levels, precise levels of parental income can make a difference worth thousands of pounds."

Course funding

Cross-subsidisation 'not a concern'

A survey of 750 students and 250 prospective students has suggested there may be only limited hostility to the cross-subsidisation of courses despite the rise in maximum tuition fees to £9,000. The poll, carried out online a month ago for software company Adobe, found that respondents thought that their fees not being used to pay for resources on other courses was the second least important of seven priorities. Only 8 per cent thought a block on cross-subsidisation was "very important", while 17.2 per cent rated it "not important at all". The top concern was good support facilities such as libraries and laboratories, closely followed by good administration.


Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl's comments that the coalition's social mobility strategy was in "disarray" - reported last week - elicited expressions of support on our website. "What we have is a series of political fudges that have created an unwieldy, confused and unstable system," said one reader. "The only way to keep it going is to introduce...further fudges which increase complexity and enhance confusion. All these...increase the consequences of the ultimate denouement. I believe it's called failing upwards or the ratchet effect."

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