News in brief

August 9, 2012

Olympic legacy

From no dope to medical hope

The anti-doping facilities serving the London 2012 Games will become a research centre for personalised medicine. The MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre will rapidly analyse large numbers of blood and urine samples to search for biomarkers linking certain sub-populations with susceptibility to specific diseases. It will be available to academics as well as to pharmaceutical companies interested in developing safer and more targeted treatments. The centre will inherit the equipment and expertise of the London Games' anti-doping facilities, based at GlaxoSmithKline's research and development facility in Harlow, Essex, and operated by King's College London. King's will be one of a number of academic and commercial partners in the centre, which will be led by Imperial College London.

Quality assurance

A mark of assurance

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has launched a quality mark. Universities and colleges that subscribe to the higher education regulator will be able to display the QAA logo if they achieve positive outcomes in their institutional-level reviews. For past audits, this means that they have been awarded a "confidence" judgement in all the areas assessed by the QAA, or that they have taken the necessary action after receiving a "limited confidence" judgement. The quality mark comprises the QAA logo together with the year in which the institution was last reviewed. The QAA previously limited the use of its logo, which is a registered trademark.

Mathematics education

Dearth of skills and lack of will

Many students struggle with the mathematical content of their university courses, a study has found. The research, carried out by academics from the universities of Manchester and Nottingham and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that the pressure on schools to improve exam results meant that they neglected to teach students how to apply maths in practice. Nor were students exposed at school to the kind of autonomous learning required at university. Using various methods, including a survey of 1,600 students, the researchers found that many students were not fully aware of the importance of the mathematical content of their university courses and lacked the motivation to engage with it. The findings echo some of the conclusions in a Lords Science and Technology Committee report, published last month, on the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in higher education.

Women in science

Rare sighting of golden SWAN

The University of Edinburgh's department of chemistry has become only the second department to win the UK's top accolade for addressing the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine. The Athena SWAN Charter Awards, funded by the Equality Challenge Unit, recognise three levels of achievement - gold, silver and bronze. Another 19 departments and four universities have received awards in the latest round. The only other department to hold a gold award is that of chemistry at the University of York. Awards coordinator Sarah Dickinson said: "Gold departments are beacons of achievement in gender equality, and they champion and promote good practice to the wider community."


Last week's report on the ageing academic workforce sparked debate. One reader warned that 10 years from now there may be very few young people feeding into the system. "Most of the younger academics I know in social sciences spent lengthy periods when they were basically unemployed, churning out publications and earning pennies in bars or call centres," he writes. "That might be viable for a generation with relatively low levels of undergraduate debt, but are those who will be accumulating £9,000 per annum as undergraduates, and who will accrue interest on this from Day 1, really going to put up with that?"

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