Today's news

December 11, 2003

Blair wrong-footed over student funding radio ad
At prime minister's question time yesterday, Tory leader Michael Howard asked the government whether it had broken its own rules on political advertising by using taxpayers' money to pay for a radio ad on tuition fees before legislation had passed the Commons. Yesterday's unexpected question certainly succeeded in throwing Mr Blair. He did not know the answer, and refused to address it. Instead of answering, he kept turning his reply into a knockabout attack on Tory policy on top-up fees.
( Times, Guardian )

Oxbridge sheds some of its 'Brideshead' image
Oxford and Cambridge have been almost entirely responsible for narrowing the divide between state and independent schools at Britain's leading universities, according to the latest Higher Education Funding Council for England performance figures published yesterday. The proportion of students from state schools admitted to the 19 universities in the elite Russell Group has risen by 5 percent overall. But the combined increase was only one point at the other 17 universities in the Russell Group. Oxford and Cambridge each saw a two percentage point increase in their state school entry, to 55 per cent in 2001-02.
( Times, Independent, Financial Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph )

  • Read the full report in this week's edition of The THES .

63,000 students join drop-out army
One university student in five is dropping out mid-course even before the introduction of top-up fees. Figures published yesterday show that some moved to other institutions or switched courses, but 16.4 per cent dropped out altogether. Institutions with the most working-class students had the biggest drop-out rates. Those who quit cost the taxpayer £300 million in tuition fees and subsidised student loans.
( Daily Mail )

Physicist recommends covering breasts in foil
Peter Barham, a physicist at Bristol University, has applied thermodynamic theory to help cook the perfect Christmas turkey. He says that his formula accounts for every relevant variable, including the difference in temperature between fridge and oven, the ratio of the specific heat of the turkey to the specific heat of the air, and the radius, girth and precise physical geometry of the bird. He says that using cooking times based on weight is likely to result in birds part undercooked and part overcooked or even burnt. "The best method is to split the bird into separate pieces and cook the breast, legs and wings separately", he maintains. But for those cooking the bird whole, he recommends covering the breast with aluminium foil to keep it cooler than the legs and wings.
( Times, Daily Mail )

Artificial sperm signal end to male infertility
Synthetic sperm capable of fertilising an egg have been created in the laboratory for the first time in an experiment that could bring an end to male infertility. Scientists from Boston in the US have successfully coaxed embryonic stem cells from mice to mature into primitive sperm that were then injected into eggs to form normal embryos. The team now plans to take the experiment a step further by implanting embryos made with artificial sperm into female mice, to see how they develop. The results are published today in the journal Nature .
( Times, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph )

Robotic assistant to help brain surgeons
Scientists are developing a robot designed to carry out intricate brain surgery a thousand times more accurately than doctors. Engineers at the University of Calgary, Canada, have adapted Nasa technology used on the international space station to create the robot, which can make cuts accurate to one thousandth of a millimetre. Most surgeons have an accuracy of around a millimetre, relying on sight alone to make incisions. Because the robot can work inside an MRI scanner it means that surgeons can operate using real-time images to guide them to the tissue to be removed.
( Times )

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