News in brief

May 31, 2012

Exam howlers

Explanation for the Lehman

As academics start to see the light at the end of their tunnels of marking, Times Higher Education is making its annual call for entries to its "exam howlers" competition, in which lecturers are invited to share their favourite mistakes and misunderstandings. Last year's winning entry, submitted by Ann Wood of the department of biochemistry at King's College London, involved a food science and technology student who advised a "genital mixing action". A close second was the student who simplified a subject by writing about it "in Lehman's terms", which baffled Iain Woodhouse, senior lecturer in the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh. The academic who submits the winning entry this year will receive a magnum of champagne.

• Send entries to by 30 June.

Lords science committee

Social club

The government has been urged to follow advice from peers and restore the post of chief social scientific adviser. The Campaign for Social Science lobby group made the case last year for bringing back the role - removed in 2010 - to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. The peers then called in a report for it to be reinstated. However, the government said only that it would consider the idea "alongside a range of different options". While acknowledging that all positions had to be cost-justified, a spokesman for the campaign argued that "social science affects so much policy and practice relating to how we live our lives that the benefits case should be straightforward and compelling". He added that the opportunity to restore the role should not be lost for what he said would be only a very marginal saving.

HEA doctoral programme awards

Never too late

An academic who left school at the age of 15 was one of the winners of the Higher Education Academy's doctoral programme awards, announced on 23 May. Sue Jackson, professor of lifelong learning and gender at Birkbeck, University of London, took her first A level at a further education college after her first child was born. She later took a degree at The Open University, followed by a master's in women's studies and a PhD in education. Professor Jackson is now pro vice-master for learning and teaching at Birkbeck after teaching in adult education centres, further education colleges and universities. Her work into the impact of retention programmes on mature students was one of 15 studies recognised in the HEA awards, which enable supervisors to take on doctoral students to explore key areas of pedagogic research.


The land of the cited

China could soon become the second largest source of highly cited papers, the editor of Nature's Chinese edition has predicted. The Nature Publishing Index 2011 China shows that Chinese authors featured in 6.6 per cent of papers published last year in Nature journals, compared with 5.3 per cent in 2010. Analysis of Thomson Reuters' Web of Knowledge database included in the supplement suggests that China also increased its share of the top 1 per cent of highly cited scientific articles, from 1.85 per cent in 2001 to 11.3 per cent in 2011. It now ranks fourth globally for highly cited papers, but Felix Cheung, editor of Nature China, predicted that it could surpass the UK and Germany - currently second and third respectively - as soon as 2014.


Last week's story that the government is set to go ahead with plans to lower the qualifying threshold for university title from 4,000 to 1,000 students led to much discussion online. One reader said the current threshold was "a proxy measure for a place with a decent amount of demand and breadth" and with "sufficient staff to make a critical mass". The proposed new limit missed such proxy measures, the reader added. "If the government is happy that the QAA [Quality Assurance Agency] has ways of assessing the long-term viability of a university without these proxy measures - then fine."

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