The week in higher education

October 8, 2009

He has demonstrated a fondness for luxury in the past - not least on summer holidays in Corfu - but now it has emerged that Lord Mandelson also has very expensive taste in watches. The First Secretary, responsible for higher education, was pictured on 30 September sporting a £21,500 Patek Philippe number on his wrist. The watch takes a year to make and is said by the Daily Mail to "drip with gold".

A cluster of cancer deaths among former workers at the laboratory once used by nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford were a "coincidence", an inquiry has concluded. The investigation, led by David Coggon, professor of occupational epidemiology at the University of Southampton, investigated the deaths of six people who worked in the University of Manchester lab. Professor Coggon said on 30 September that he was "pretty confident" there were only small health risks linked to the building, where radioactive material was used between 1907 and 1919.

The effect on a cow's milk yield of naming it Daisy, whether it is better to be hit over the head with a full beer bottle or an empty one, and a bra that doubles as two gas masks were among the research projects honoured at the Ig Nobel awards at Harvard University. The winners were awarded their gongs on 1 October at the annual event, which celebrates research that "cannot, or should not, be repeated".

Drug testing of students during exam periods is "inevitable" in the future, an academic has claimed. Vince Cakic, a psychologist at the University of Sydney, warned that "academic doping" is likely to become as routine as drugs cheating in sport, it was reported on 1 October. In the Journal of Medical Ethics, he writes that one in four students at some US universities are reported to have taken stimulants to improve their academic performance. "As laughable as it may seem, it is possible that (urine testing of students) could very well come to fruition in the future," he writes.

All research involving the controversial creation of animal-human "hybrid" embryos has been refused funding in Britain, it has emerged. In addition, one of just three scientists licensed to carry out the work has left the country for Australia, it was reported on 5 October. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, responded to the news by insisting funders were not making a "moral" judgment on such research.

Paul Ramsden, chief executive of the Higher Education Academy, is to retire at the end of the year, it was announced on 5 October. Professor Ramsden has led the national body since it was set up to improve the "student learning experience" in 2004. The current deputy chief executive, Sean Mackney, will become acting chief executive on 1 January 2010.

Six areas are to receive cash to develop new centres of higher education, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has announced. The areas to win funding through the University Challenge scheme are: Somerset, Crawley, Milton Keynes, Swindon, Thurrock and the Wirral. Hefce rejected 17 other proposals, and funding will not be finalised until the 2011-14 spending review period.

You heard it here first: the 2009 Nobel Prize for medicine has been awarded to three US-based researchers tipped for the award in Times Higher Education last month. The winners were named on 5 October as Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak, who discovered how the body protects the chromosomes housing genetic code. The trio were included in a list of predicted winners compiled by academic data provider Thomson Reuters, published on 24 September. The 2009 Nobel Prize for physics was shared by three scientists: Charles Kao, Willard Boyle and George Smith.

As Times Higher Education went to press, members of Unison voted to accept this year's national higher education pay offer of 0.5 per cent. The offer has previously been rejected by Unite, with the University and College Union yet to declare its position.

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