The week in higher education

November 13, 2008

A senior academic was put on the spot by the Queen when she departed from the usual small talk of royal visits at the London School of Economics. The monarch asked Luis Garicano, director of research at the LSE's department of management, why no one saw the credit crunch coming. Writing in the Daily Mail on 7 November, columnist Tom Utley said: "There he stood, all primed to tell the queen 'No, ma'am, I haven't had very far to come today.' Yet here she was asking him the $3 trillion question that we all want answered. The professor's answer seems thoroughly inadequate to me. According to his own account, he told the queen 'at every stage someone was relying on somebody else and everyone thought they were doing the right thing'."

"Never mind academia, to understand the world read a novel," The Daily Telegraph said on 7 November. According to a study, fiction should be taken just as seriously as fact-based research when seeking insight into issues such as migration and poverty. Dennis Rodgers, a researcher at the University of Manchester, said novelists did "as good a job - if not a better one - at representing and communicating the realities of international development".

As the Government, universities and industry strive to improve take-up of science subjects, a survey of 1,000 16- to 18-year-olds has found that two thirds do not believe science qualifications will help them into desirable careers, The Daily Telegraph said on 7 November. In addition, only 28 per cent see the sciences as "relevant" to their lives, the poll commissioned by the Science Council found.

Pig hearts, lungs and livers will be used for human transplants within a decade, a high-profile scientist has said. Robert Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London, said that humanised organs from genetically modified pigs could solve transplant shortages. However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals told the Daily Mail on 7 November that "the obstacles to success in this research are colossal, the risk to humans is incalculable and the cost in animal suffering is enormous".

The Observer hailed government plans for a "radical overhaul" of the way universities do business, but its interview with John Denham failed to deliver many surprises. Among the topics set out by the Universities Secretary on 9 November were more students studying part time, employers co-funding degrees and students who drop out of courses being allowed to use earned credits if they pick up their education at a later date. Was it the "degree revolution" the newspaper's headline writers wanted us to believe? It sounded suspiciously like old news dressed up as new.

The election of Barack Obama as the next US president has been hailed as a "fresh start" for science. Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse, writing in The Daily Telegraph on 11 November, said that, since the millennium, the US had suffered a "scientific recession" under George W. Bush. Mr Obama, he said, had pledged to increase funding for science and engineering, invest in science education in schools, pump money into plans for a green economy, re-energise the space programme and engage with genetic research.

After two years of delays caused by animal rights protests, the University of Oxford confirmed this week that it has started moving its research animals into its controversial new £18 million biomedical sciences building. As Times Higher Education went to press, Oxford said it had begun "a long process of moving animals into the completed facility". The transfer of thousands of animals (98 per cent of which were mice) from 130 projects will take place in phases over the coming months, with the building expected to be fully operational in mid-2009.

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