Policy watch

January 10, 2008

Degree standards: More top marks expected
The traditional system of degree classifications was due to come under further pressure this week with the publication of the latest data on degree results. Figures for those graduating in the 2006-07 academic year were due to be released after Times Higher Education went to press and were expected to show a further increase in the proportion of students gaining first-class and upper second-class degrees. Last year, for the first time, the proportion reached 60 per cent of all graduates, compared with 48 per cent in 1995-96. The Burgess Group concluded last year that the classification system was not fit for purpose, but it stopped short of recommending a new system.

See www.hesa.ac.uk

Intellectual property: Copyright laws may be extended
Current laws on copying works for private study and research could be updated to include all forms of content, including sound and film, under a consultation on the UK's copyright laws released this week by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The changes follow the 2006 Gowers Review, which found that existing laws are inconsistent because they do not apply to sound and film recordings. The consultation advises changes to permit universities to exploit digital technologies and facilitate distance learning.

See www.dius.gov.uk

English-language provision: Denham retargets funding
Public funding for courses in English for speakers of other languages should be targeted where it will have the biggest impact on integration, John Denham, the Universities Secretary, said this week. Announcing a public consultation on the future of Esol funding, Focusing English for Speakers of Other Languages on Community Cohesion, he said funds should be "retargeted" on "those who have made a long-term commitment to live in Britain". Mr Denham said: "We must make sure that Esol makes the biggest possible contribution to improving community cohesion. Recent reforms are already ensuring that those who can afford to pay for English classes do so, and are encouraging employers to take more responsibility."

See www.esolconsultation.org.uk

Quality Assurance Agency: Welsh complaints process
A consultation on the procedures that should be followed when "causes for concern" emerge at Welsh higher and further education institutions is to be launched by the Quality Assurance Agency. The principles underpinning the procedure are that the power to declare a cause for concern should be limited to professional, statutory and regulatory bodies and that a QAA response should be phased, beginning with an informal inquiry, proceeding to a formal investigation only where considered necessary.

See www.qaa.ac.uk/news/circularLetters/CL1307.asp

Medical Research Council: Strategy board to oversee grants
The Medical Research Council has announced changes to its research board structure to foster interdisciplinary research and boost applied research. The Public Health Research Board is being disbanded and a new "strategy board" will oversee four grant-awarding research boards. The council will establish four "thematic overview groups" that will cover population sciences, global health, translational research and training and careers.

Third-sector research: Centre to focus on charity sector
A new £10.25 million multidisciplinary research centre is to look at issues facing the third, or charity, sector. It will focus on scale, dynamics and effectiveness, long-term trends and the impact of policies. The funding, which will run over five years, will also support three "capacity-building" clusters of researchers. The project is led by the Economic and Social Research Council; partners include Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office and the Barrow Cadbury Trust. Proposals for the centre and clusters are sought by March.

See www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/opportunities/current_funding_....

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