The Week in Higher Education

October 14, 2010

The glory associated with winning a Nobel prize may be undiminished, but the financial rewards are lower than they have been for a decade, it was reported on 5 October. In straitened times, the £937,000 prize may seem more than generous, but that did not stop the Financial Times pointing out that the award is at its lowest real-terms level (when given in Swedish krona) since 1999. The value of Alfred Nobel's endowment plummeted 22.3 per cent during the 2008 financial crisis.

In a list of the 100 most powerful figures in British science, published by The Times on 7 October, Sir Paul Nurse, president-elect of the Royal Society, came top; Wellcome Trust director Mark Walport second; and Stephen Hawking, the world-famous physicist, third. So far, so predictable. But there was also a rather surprising finding. The list rated Prince Charles as the 94th most powerful player in the field, and as the fourth most influential person in determining government science policy.

David Willetts gets it, but the truth about the damage that will be done to the economic recovery by a cut to the science budget has failed to get through to the Treasury, according to Sir Paul Nurse. The Royal Society's president-elect said on 8 October that while the universities and science minister was on the side of the angels, "I do not think the Treasury even begins to get it." Admitting to being "worried" about next week's Comprehensive Spending Review, Sir Paul said that if the budget were cut by 15 per cent, success rates for grant applications would fall to 10 per cent, turning funding into a "lottery".

Some will see him as an old friend, others as a familiar foe: John Denham has returned to the sector after being named Labour's shadow business secretary on 8 October. The former universities secretary will shadow Vince Cable and lead a team of six shadow ministers, with Gareth Thomas, MP for Harrow West, named as the new shadow universities minister. David Lammy, the former shadow universities minister, has disappeared from Labour's frontbench team after backing the wrong horse in its leadership race.

Three lecturers have won a 15-year legal battle against an Italian university after successfully claiming that they had not been promoted because they were British. The lecturers challenged the University of Verona in 1995 after being told they were not entitled to apply for senior posts teaching English because they lacked Italian qualifications. Speaking on 9 October, the trio warned that the same system still operated in a number of Italian universities.

With the Liberal Democrats in a pickle over their pre- election pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees, Stephen Williams, the party's former universities spokesman, is putting his faith in others providing him with a get-out-of-jail-free card on the issue. In an interview on 11 October, Mr Williams was asked how he could square his promise on fees with the realities of office. "We'll have to wait and see what Vince Cable and David Willetts - two of the most intelligent men in politics - come up with," he replied. Convincing every Lib Dem MP to follow Mr Cable in bowing to higher fees may prove to be beyond the powers of even Mr Willetts and his fabled "two brains".

It was a case of another day, another Nobel laurel for the UK on 11 October, when Christopher Pissarides, Norman Sosnow chair at the London School of Economics, was among the winners of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Professor Pissarides shared the prize with American economists Peter Diamond and Dale Mortensen for their work on employment and the labour market. His success followed wins in the medicine and physics categories by other UK-based scholars - food for thought for the government on the eve of next week's Comprehensive Spending Review.

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