The week in higher education

July 23, 2009

Britain faces a decade-long squeeze on public funding as it repairs the damage done to its public finances by the economic crisis, Lord Mandelson has said. The First Secretary, speaking on 14 July, refused to say where the cuts would hit hardest, but named several sectors that would be protected. Worryingly, he made no mention of higher education, which is now part of his remit.

"Heinously complicated" layers of bureaucracy have been blamed for the "catastrophic mismanagement" of a huge capital investment programme for colleges. A report by MPs says that hundreds of millions of pounds were wasted by the Learning and Skills Council on projects that had to be abandoned when the money ran out. The recently scrapped Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was also criticised in the report, published on 16 July, which says that a study warning about the cash crisis was "shunted about committees and policy groups" but not acted upon.

"Toddler-to-graduate" education under one roof has been mooted in plans to combine primary, secondary and tertiary education in a single institution. There are already plans for 20 "all-through" academies, educating children from age three to 19, which would be largely free from local authority control, it was reported on 18 July. A toddler-to-graduate institution being planned on the Isle of Portland in Dorset is the first example of the concept being extended to higher education.

In an announcement timed to exploit public interest in space exploration, Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, used the 40th anniversary of the first Moon landing to announce a consultation on whether the UK should have its own space agency. The views of academics and industrialists are being sought in the 12-week exercise. Responding to the announcement on 20 July, Phil Willis MP, chairman of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, said that when MPs considered the idea in 2007, they concluded that an agency could be set up, but not without more money.

The number of people in the UK on bogus and fraudulently obtained student visas could be in the tens of thousands, a report by MPs said on 21 July. The analysis by the Home Affairs Committee expresses concern that it found "no evidence that the Home Office has made adequate preparations to deal with the issue". It says that "insufficient quality-assurance procedures" on the part of the former DIUS had "allowed bogus colleges to bring foreign nationals into the UK on fraudulently obtained visas".

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A Scottish politician has landed himself in hot water over derisory comments about one of Glasgow's universities. David Kerr, the Scottish National Party's candidate for Glasgow North East, may have upset a portion of the city's constituents when he said that Glasgow Caledonian University "does not have a reputation to tarnish". He made the comment during a talk at his alma mater, the University of St Andrews, in 2007, a recording of which has now been made public. Vince Mills, president of the University and College Union at Glasgow Caledonian, said on 20 July: "Rather than denigrating the contribution of some universities, he should be fighting for the resources they need to flourish."

As Times Higher Education went to press, a report was set to be published by MPs, Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government. The report by the IUSS Committee, due out on 23 July, suggests that the Government has reduced science to a political bargaining chip. It says the failure to find a stable home for the Government Office for Science has made science and engineering advice a peripheral policy concern at best. The committee calls on the Prime Minister to bring GO-Science into the Cabinet Office and urges the creation of Chief Engineer and Chief Scientist posts. It also says that if the Government is to return to "picking winners" in research, it must come clean about which areas will get less money.

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