The week in higher education

April 1, 2010

An elite group of technology and innovation centres is to be created to commercialise the UK's research output. The plan was announced by Lord Mandelson on 25 March following recommendations in a report by technology entrepreneur Hermann Hauser, who compared Britain's innovation networks with those in other countries. The centres will be themed around areas of applied science that are considered most likely to drive economic growth, and will take new discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace. The First Secretary said that the UK "too often" let others reap the rewards of its research. The Technology Strategy Board is developing the idea and will report later in the year.

A master of "savage" and "brooding" verse is in line to become the University of Oxford's new poetry professor, after a scandal led Ruth Padel to resign from the post last year. Professor Padel quit after being accused of smearing her main rival for the role, Derek Walcott. Geoffrey Hill, who taught at the University of Leeds for nearly 30 years, was nominated for the vacant post by Oxford dons last week. Further candidates are expected to emerge, it was reported on 25 March.

The death of Daphne Park, a former MI6 operative and later principal of Somerville College, Oxford, prompted Mary Warnock to reminisce about "how different things were for those of us whose careers started in the late 1940s". "Life in universities, at any rate, is vastly less enjoyable now than it was then," said Baroness Warnock on 28 March. "It is regimented, ill-paid, constantly assessed and it carries with it an obligation to produce a string of publications, often a joyless business. And no one can assume that she will not be sacked or her department closed around her."

A member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs quit on 28 March over the decision to include a requirement that independent scientific advisers must not "undermine mutual trust" with the government in a set of principles governing the relationship between the two parties. Polly Taylor told the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, that she was "surprised and dismayed" by the inclusion of the phrase in the final principles. Her resignation follows the departure of several other members of the ACMD after David Nutt was sacked as chair of the council last year.

A 13-year-old prodigy studying at a US university has threatened to sue his alma mater unless it allows him to go on a field trip to the wilds of Africa. Colin Carlson, who is in the second year of a degree in environmental biology at the University of Connecticut, applied to take part in the trip this summer, it was reported on 29 March. When he was rejected, he hired a lawyer. "I'm losing valuable time in my four-year plan for college," he said. "They are upsetting the framework for one of my majors. It's important to have a very wide world view."

A professor who paid for bondage sex parties with money stolen from the NHS has been jailed for three years. Charles Butler, a former visiting professor at the University of Reading, fraudulently claimed £150,000 for a locum to cover for him at his pharmacy business on days when he said he was advising the government. In fact, the 64-year-old had sold the business years earlier. Police investigating the fraud found a cache of illegal drugs and "sado-masochistic sexual apparatus" in his flat in East London, it was reported on 30 March. A source quoted by the Daily Mail said: "He made Caligula look like the Pope."

Celebrity mathematician Carol Vorderman is to be made minister for numbers if Labour wins the forthcoming general election, it was announced this week. The former Countdown co-host will be charged with tackling everything from the row over student numbers to the very large numbers on her fellow ministers' expenses claims. She will also be asked to conduct an official audit of Lord Mandelson's titles, which are estimated to number 132. Her planned appointment was announced on 1 April.

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