The week in higher education

September 10, 2009

Giant sunshades, forests of artificial trees and other space-age technologies mooted as potential solutions to a "climate catastrophe" all have serious drawbacks, according to the Royal Society. A report into "geoengineering" technologies to combat global warming warns that the ideas are "dangerous and unproven", it was reported on 3 September. John Shepherd, chair of the study group and professorial research fellow in earth system science at the University of Southampton, said: "We are not advocating geoengineering. It's not an alternative to emission reductions."

A fragment of the world's oldest Bible has been uncovered by a British-based PhD student in the binding of a monastic book. The previously unseen section of the Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from AD350, was discovered in the library of St Catherine's Monastery, Egypt. The piece of ancient manuscript was found by Nikolas Sarris, a student at the University of the Arts London, and was probably recycled by monks to make the book's binding in the 18th century, it emerged on 3 September.

As the dust settles on the annual furore over standards following the A-level results, the head of the independent examinations watchdog has said she has no plans to make it harder to achieve an A grade. Speaking on 3 September, Kathleen Tattersall, chair of Ofqual, said: "What we're looking for is consistency in standards, not something which becomes tougher or, God forbid, easier." Her comments follow calls by Jerry Jarvis, managing director of the Edexcel exam board, to revamp A levels after results improved for the th year in a row.

About one in four of the Class of 2005 were not in full-time work more than three years after graduating, figures suggest. The snapshot survey by the Higher Education Statistics Agency also suggests that those with postgraduate degrees are most likely to be in employment - and in higher-paid positions. Responding to the poll on 4 September, Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, said the key statistic was that just 2.6 per cent of graduates were unemployed three-and-a-half years after leaving university, compared with a national rate of 6.3 per cent.

A neuroscientist who was accused of forging a second marker's signature on exam papers has resigned just weeks after denying any wrongdoing. Annmarie Surprenant, professor of neuroscience at the University of Manchester, was also alleged to have failed to mark 80 undergraduate life science final papers properly. After her resignation on 4 September, Manchester told Times Higher Education that it was satisfied "that no student has been advantaged or disadvantaged" by the case.

The Centre for New Zealand Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, is to close, despite a £100,000 donation from the New Zealand Government last year. As reported on the Times Higher Education website on 4 September, Birkbeck said the centre had failed to raise sufficient endowment money to be sustainable. The closure comes despite the intervention of John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who requested a "high-level meeting" with Birkbeck to try and secure the centre's future.

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The playing field has been levelled for businesses and charities interested in sponsoring academies after the Government scrapped the £2 million fee it previously charged for involvement. Universities have not had to pay the fee since 2007. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said the change marked a "new phase" in the programme, but teaching unions said it was indicative of ministers' "desperation" to keep the controversial scheme going.

The expansion of university places may have been reined in this year, but an international report released on 8 September suggests that a return to growth could provide a way out of the recession. The report, Education at a Glance, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says the benefits of higher education "outweigh the costs in every country".

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