News in brief

June 14, 2012

Open-access publishing

White House petition hits target

A petition asking the Obama administration to implement an open-access mandate for all publicly funded research has reached the required number of signatories to trigger an official response. The petition has garnered more than 26,000 signatures since it was launched on the White House website on 20 May. The administration has pledged to respond to any petition that is signed by more than 25,000 people. The petition calls on the administration to extend the public-access mandate imposed by the National Institutes of Health to all federal funders of research. Its organisers, a group of advocates under the banner "Access2Research", say on their website that they hope to blow the 25,000 target "out of the water" to demonstrate to the White House that "this issue matters to people, not just a few publishers".

Student loans

Word on monetisation awaited

Details on whether and how the government will sell off the student loan book are expected later this year, according to a House of Commons briefing note. In 2010, the coalition appointed investment bank Rothschild to oversee the sale of the student loan book. A note published by the Commons library on 6 June, titled "Student loan statistics", says: "More details on whether and how they [the government] will proceed with the 'monetisation' of student loans are due to be published later this year." A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that the timing of the announcement was "to be confirmed" and that she could not provide further details.

University accreditation

US call to weigh student 'outputs'

Accreditation of US universities should depend less on "input" measures, such as the number of an institution's lecturers holding PhDs, and more on measures of outputs such as student loan default rates. This is one of the recommendations of a report, College 2.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Reforming Higher Education, which contains papers given at a conference hosted in December by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which lobbies for "economic independence" and entrepreneurship. Contributors included higher education academics, representatives of alumni groups, several online universities and the private for-profit provider Kaplan. "Seat time", the requirement for students to spend a certain number of hours in class, should be scrapped, the report concludes, and online learning should be "largely deregulated".

House of Lords reform

Loss of science expertise feared

At least 30 per cent of the membership of a reformed House of Lords should be independently appointed if scientific expertise is not to be lost, a lobby group has claimed. The Campaign for Science and Engineering says in a policy document that the move to a fully or mostly elected upper house would almost certainly result in a reduction in its capacity to hold proposed legislation up to scientific scrutiny. The report, House of Lords Reform and Expertise, points out that many current Lords with scientific expertise were appointed as independent crossbenchers by the house's Appointments Commission. It also says that all new members of both houses should be required to attend an introductory session on science and technology issues conducted by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.

ONLINE NOW

Online readers responded to last week's story on the merits of providing work placements for PhD students. Recentgrad said: "Anyone who spends a day or two researching postgraduate study with the hopes of one day becoming a lecturer will quickly realise that the abundance of PhD studentships is necessary to teach all the undergrads at a very cheap rate. There are very, very few academic jobs around and they're all highly competitive." This means universities "should do more to prepare their doctoral grads with at least some commercial or NGO experience".

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