News in brief

December 6, 2012

Science writing

The best of the blogosphere

A PhD student and a professor of pharmacology have been named joint winners of a national competition to honour the country's best science bloggers. University of Bristol doctoral candidate Suzi Gage, who is researching possible links between recreational drug use and mental health problems in teenagers, shared the 2012 UK Science Blog accolade with David Colquhoun, emeritus professor of pharmacology at University College London. Organised by the Good Thinking Society in association with Soho Skeptics, the inaugural award received more than 100 submissions from bloggers. The winner was chosen by a panel of prominent scientists and science writers including Bad Science author Ben Goldacre and Mark Henderson, former science editor at The Times.

Doctoral training

Long-range health check

Research Councils UK has launched a study to examine the long-term economic impact of doctoral training by tracking the careers of PhD graduates from 2004-05. The study aims to build up evidence of how doctoral students contribute to innovation and competitiveness, as well as to inform improvements to careers advice to current doctoral students. A report, to be based on online and telephone interviews, will be published by the end of 2013. Rick Rylance, chair of RCUK, said: "Existing studies look only at the career paths of doctoral graduates after three years, but this study will take this much further to provide more evidence that is vital to inform decisions on future investment in doctoral training."

UK Border Agency

'Illegal' students reports ignored

More than 150,000 students who may have been staying in the UK illegally were not investigated by the UK Border Agency, according to an official report. There was a "significant failure" by the agency to act on notifications by institutions that overseas students had not enrolled or had stopped attending classes, according to John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration. His report, An Inspection of Tier 4 of the Points Based System (Students), says the UKBA had no targets for responding to notifications from institutions. "As a result, notifications of changes to circumstances of students, details of students failing to enrol or attend classes, or curtailment of sponsorship were not being acted upon," it says. However, by May this year the UKBA had reviewed all notifications and was trying to remove students who had overstayed their visas, the report adds.

Student Loans Company

Ringing £2.6bn worth of changes

Students have borrowed £2.6 billion in tuition-fee loans from the government under the new fee system introduced this year. Data released by the Student Loans Company show that by late November, 936,200 applicants had been awarded £4.6 billion worth of tuition-fee loans for study in 2012-13 - an amount 51 per cent higher than at the same point in the 2011-12 academic year. Of that total, 324,400 awards were for applicants planning to enter higher education under the new 2012 tuition-fee arrangements. Those applicants were awarded a total of £2.6 billion in tuition-fee loans, at an average of £8,050.

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There were conflicting views from readers over the government's decision to give university status to 10 small specialist colleges. Sadtobelondonmet said: "So, in its determination to destroy the post-92s, this government will apparently stop at nothing, even creating new new-universities to consolidate the damage its other policies are already inflicting ..." But A Useless Bod responded: "We are not taking students away from other post-1992s. Students who come to us often don't want to go to a big local post-1992, and indeed would be at a disadvantage there. Quite a lot of them get decent degrees, and not because we are undemanding, but because we can give excellent support and have a genuine sense of community."

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