Today's news

October 29, 2002

London strike to hit 120,000 students 
A strike by university and college staff from professors to porters is set to hit an estimated 120,000 students in greater London next month in a dispute over London weighting. It could present one of the first challenges for new education secretary Charles Clarke. Thursday will see the results of a ballot of lecturers, and unions are confident there will be a clear majority for a one-day strike on November 14.

Amartya Sen leaves Trinity for Harvard
The "brain drain" has just dealt another nasty blow to British academia. Amartya Sen, perhaps the best-known Oxbridge don of all, has announced his resignation as master of Trinity College, Cambridge, to take up "a post he couldn't refuse" in America. The Nobel prize-winning economist has accepted an invitation from Harvard to return to his old job as Lamont University Professor in January 2004. Sen's departure is already leading to high-level academics forming an orderly queue for the post, which, as a Crown appointment, will be chosen by Tony Blair. The runners and riders so far include Lord Runciman and Dr Anil Seal, both Trinity fellows.
(Daily Telegraph)

Exam boards want independent regulator
The heads of the three exam boards yesterday told MPs that the exams regulator should be made independent of government to restore confidence following the A-levels crisis. They said the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should be accountable to parliament, rather than the Department for Education and Skills - a position backed by the Conservatives and the Labour-dominated Commons education committee. The heads also called for a cut in the number of external exams students sit, a figure that has increased sharply since Labour came to power in 1997. They also called on the QCA to pull out of course design and other activities to concentrate on regulation.
(Financial Times)

A-level fiasco 'may recur next year'
Half a million students could face a repeat of this summer's chaos over A-level grading, the head of the government’s examinations watchdog told MPs last night. Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, admitted that AS and A-level exams could hit fresh trouble because standards expected of students remained unclear and there was a growing shortage of markers. Teenagers are due to start sitting exams for next year's results in January. Dr Boston told members of the Commons Education Select Committee: "I certainly don’t have a magic wand and I am not at all sure that the path to the exams in January and June will be smooth. There are some major problems and some major risks ahead of us."
(Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Guardian)

Pioneer lands London schools job
The man who transformed Birmingham's education system is to be appointed as London's first US-style commissioner of schools, it is to be announced this week. Professor Tim Brighouse, 62, has got the job after quitting as chief education officer of Birmingham, where regulators recently lavished praise on his work.
(Financial Times)

Breakthrough in DNA fingerprinting
An invisible dusting of dandruff or a sweaty palm could be enough to identify criminals, by using a revolutionary DNA technique developed by an Australian researcher. Dr Ian Findlay, of the Australian genome research facility at the University of Queensland has managed to take DNA fingerprints from single cells with an accuracy of 10 billion to one. The technology, which is to be outlined at a science conference in Sydney today, could allow investigators to pick up DNA identities from pieces of plastic and even build up a complete history of the people who have handled a paper document.

Paracetamol linked to wheezing infants
Women who take paracetamol frequently in late pregnancy are twice as likely to have a child that suffers from persistent wheezing at the age of three, compared with those who never take the drug  during pregnancy. The authors of the study of 9,000 pregnant mothers at King's College London, published in the journal Thorax yesterday, said animal research had suggested very high levels of paracetamol could damage airway linings. (Independent, Times)

Hands up if you can spot a star
Our fingers may point the way to understanding more about our own characters and skills, if new research is to be believed. Scientists at Liverpool University have suggested that men whose index and ring fingers are the same length are likely to be good communicators with verbal dexterity but poor sporting skills. Meanwhile, men whose ring fingers are longer are said to be fertile, sporty types who are not so good at communicating. They also suggest that women with even index and ring fingers are prone to worrying and have poor assertiveness, while those with a longer ring finger are assertive risk-takers likely to have small families.
(Daily Mail)

Natural justice for Napoleon as scientists debunk poisonous tale
Just when many eminent historians were coming around to the view that Napoleon was poisoned on St Helena, a team of French scientists has concluded he died a natural death. The French magazine Science et Vie devoted part of its November issue to what it calls a "40-year-old detective story". It asked three top French scientists to examine evidence that Napoleon died of arsenic poisoning, as concluded by laboratories in France and the United States two years ago.

Bath students reach FA Cup first round
Team Bath became the first student side in 122 years to reach the first round proper of the FA Cup when they beat Horsham in a penalty shoot-out in their fourth qualifying round replay last night. Bath will now meet Second Division Mansfield.
(Guardian, Daily Telegraph)

Arizona student kills professors
Four people died after a student at a university nursing school in Tucson, Arizona, killed two female professors and a bystander before shooting himself. One witness said that he opened fire after being stopped from taking exams
(Times/AFP, Independent)

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