News in brief

November 1, 2012

EU funding

Don't cut here, say award-winners

An open letter from 42 Nobel laureates and five Fields medallists has warned governments in the European Union against cutting the organisation's future research budget. The letter, addressed to heads of government and presidents of EU institutions, was published by several European newspapers, including the Financial Times in the UK. It says it is essential to support the EU's "extraordinary wealth of research and innovation potential" while warning that "Europe can ill afford to lose its best researchers and teachers". The appeal comes ahead of a summit on 22 and 23 November, where leaders will decide the overall EU budget for 2014-20. Researchers across Europe echoed the letter's sentiments by launching a petition that gained tens of thousands of signatures within hours.

Society of Biology

Efficient reproductive system

A degree accreditation programme run by the Society of Biology has secured more than £1 million in funding from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). The support from the UKCES Growth and Innovation Fund will enable expansion of the scheme across the biosciences, a society spokesman said, and give UK universities the opportunity to apply for accreditation over a two-year period at a substantially lower cost. Elizabeth Lakin, chair of the society's accreditation working group and a member of its council, said: "This is a tremendous boost not only for the Society of Biology but also for the biosciences generally, ensuring that the programme of accreditation can be developed and expanded in a sustainable and proficient way. It is an initiative we should all feel proud to be involved with."

Student accommodation

Rooms with a profitable view

Investment in student accommodation has soared to a record £2 billion since the start of the year despite a decline in student numbers. Research published on 25 October by CBRE, a property advisory firm, shows that investment in student accommodation increased by 145 per cent in the first nine months of 2012 compared with the same period last year. In the past 15 months, there have been five accommodation deals in the sector of more than £100 million: before the third quarter of 2011, no single transaction had exceeded £85 million. Earlier this year, Dutch pension fund manager PGGM bought from Barclays a 60 per cent stake in the UK's second-largest student housing operator, University Partnerships Programme, a deal worth about £840 million. Analysts said the market also brought returns of 9.6 per cent in the year to September 2012 compared with 5.4 per cent for office space and 2.2 per cent for retail premises.

Select committees

Right eyes on BIS

Two recruits are set to join the committee of MPs that scrutinises the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Conservative MPs Caroline Dinenage and Robin Walker have been nominated to join the committee after elections among Tory MPs last week. The announcement follows the proposed departure from the committee of Conservatives Margot James and Simon Kirby as a result of their taking on roles in the Conservative Party and the government, respectively. Ms Dinenage, a graduate of Swansea University, is MP for Gosport, while Mr Walker, a graduate of the University of Oxford, is MP for Worcester. The committee is chaired by Labour MP Adrian Bailey.

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Last week's story on a journal paper predicting the future for UK higher education attracted several responses. A "mid-career academic" said the story was "great knockabout stuff" but "completely tosh", and that predictions on the number of private and research-intensive institutions were "speculative". Meanwhile, "Mike" took a more satirical tack. "Research will be focused in orally taken thought drugs by 2525 as the human race becomes increasingly techno-dependent...experts have predicted," he wrote.

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