Policy watch

February 14, 2008

INVESTMENT FOR SPIN-OFFS

£2m available from collaboration

University spin-off companies are to benefit from a new co-investment programme aimed at innovative firms and entrepreneurs. The collaboration is between the Bank of Scotland Corporate's Growth Equity team and Oxford Investment Opportunity Network, which has a record of assisting successful technology spin-offs by introducing them to investors. Under the co-investor programme the bank will make £2 million available in 2008, with typical investments ranging from £25,000 to £250,000 per deal. Don McLaverty, director of Oion, said: "Our co-investment model with the bank, which enables it to act as a 'super angel investor' alongside our angels, can only be good news for the innovative companies."

ELQ FUNDING CUTS

Disabled students exempted

Disabled students are to be made exempt from cuts to public funding for "second chance" students. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has decided that students receiving the Disabled Students Allowance will not be affected by the policy to cut £100 million in funding for students taking equivalent or lower qualifications (ELQs) to those they already hold. Hefce said the exemption "should reduce the extent to which the ELQ policy provides a barrier to their participation" and would help to secure a publicly funded route for students who develop a disability after their first qualification and who may need to retrain for a new career. A petition against the cuts on the Downing Street website has now gathered more than 20,000 signatures.

SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY REVIEW

BBSRC prepares advice

A forthcoming review of synthetic biology, which looks at the possible risks and regulatory frameworks for research in the field in the UK, will be a useful tool for research funders and for those seeking to shape public debate in the area, according to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. The independent review, commissioned by the council and undertaken by the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham, is expected to be published in a journal in the next few months. But it has already been presented to a BBSRC subpanel, which is to make recommendations and advise the council on the issues raised. Synthetic biology is an emerging discipline that has been controversial because it aims to build life forms from scratch. The council said that it funds a small number of projects in the general area, but none of them directly concerned with constructing new biological systems.

BACK-OFFICE SERVICES

Joint centre for research councils

The UK's seven research councils have agreed a £40 million contract to develop a new "shared service centre" to integrate services such as human resources, finance, payroll, procurement and IT that each currently performs separately. Fujitsu Services, a European company, will develop the IT infrastructure to be used by the centre, which is to be based in Swindon, employ about 600 people and support about 12,000 research council employees and 30,000 academic researchers. It will start to provide services from April 2008 and will be fully operational by the end of 2009.

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