Overseas briefing

April 9, 2009


High-risk projects 'need support'

A Nobel laureate in medicine has warned that scientific research in Australia is being hamstrung by a systemic failure to support high-risk projects and ideas. Barry Marshall, professor of microbiology at the University of Melbourne, has called for more funding and a simplified peer-review selection process, The Australian reported. The current low success rate for grant applications - just 20 to 30 per cent - can lock researchers into "masochistic" cycles in which they waste too much time writing up bids, he said. A recent review of research funding called for an A$2.2 billion (£1.1 billion) annual boost in the amount of public money for research. The Government is due to respond to the review in the near future.


Investment value drops by a third

The University of Toronto has lost C$1.3 billion (£712 million) on its investments in the past year. The value of its pension and endowment funds has fallen by nearly 30 per cent - far more than the 18 per cent benchmark decline for large Canadian investment funds. Toronto, which boasts the country's largest endowment fund, was a pioneer of US-style investment management in Canada, but George Luste, president of its faculty association, said that the approach was not always best.


Salaries outpace those in UK

Irish university professors are paid almost twice the amount received by their British counterparts. According to figures obtained by the Irish Independent, professors in Ireland earned an average of EUR136,000 (£124,000) in 2007-08, compared with EUR75,495 in Britain. Similarly, senior lecturers earned an average of about EUR82,000, compared with EUR50,000 in Britain, and lecturers earned an average of EUR67,500 and EUR41,150, respectively. The average basic salary paid to university presidents was EUR230,193 in Ireland, compared with EUR209,487, including benefits, for British vice-chancellors, the newspaper said.


Foreign students boost economy

The value of education as an export industry has grown by almost half in Australia in the past three years. A study by the Australian Council for Private Education and Training found that the lucrative market for international students now earns the country more than A$26.7 billion (£12.9 billion) a year. In total, it contributes about 1 per cent of the total gross domestic product in Australia, and accounts for more than 126,000 jobs, The Australian newspaper said. The report confirmed that the education sector is now the nation's third-biggest export earner behind coal and iron ore - both of which are likely to be threatened as a result of the economic downturn, which is expected to boost the education sector further.


Research without borders

Nationalism is in danger of defeating co-operation within Europe to develop a collective research infrastructure, the European Commissioner for Science and Research has warned. Speaking at a conference in Prague, Janez Potoznik said that the growing European Research Area must be defended from research protectionism. "The size of these projects, costing hundreds of millions of euros for construction and several tens of millions of euros every year for operation, means that we have to combine our efforts between member states and across Europe," he said. Concerns have also been raised that Europe may be wasting money on research that has already been carried out in other countries.

United States

Medics call to limit sponsor deals

Leading medics have called for an end to industry financing of conferences and other activities organised by professional medical associations in the US. In a joint statement to the Journal of the American Medical Association, past and present leaders of medical representative groups warned that sponsorship from drug companies and others was damaging the reputation of the healthcare professions. They said: "Professional medical associations have such an important role to play in speaking for medicine - they cannot allow relationships with industry to diminish the public's trust."

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