Today's news

November 4, 2003


VAT windfall for universities
Universities may save millions of pounds on value added tax following clarification of the rules regarding tax on new research buildings. The University of East Anglia has won VAT relief amounting to several millions on its new biomedical research building. The government has confirmed that all universities will benefit from the concession applied in this case. Because universities are officially regarded as charities they can claim zero VAT-rating on research buildings, providing any business use of the building is less than 10 per cent. Customs and excise officers argued unsuccessfully that the education of postgraduate researchers in those buildings counted as a business activity.
( Guardian )

College turns pub profits into PhD awards
Faced with drastic cuts in government funding, an Oxford college has started using beer money to pay for degrees. Dons at St John's launched the Lamb and Flag scholarships when they took over the bar's licence after decades of leasing it to a local brewery for a minimal return. They boast that the pub scholarships, worth up to £12,000 a year, for graduates completing PhDs, "reach the places other awards cannot reach".
( Independent )

Stirling effort to help return heaviest birds
The Great Bustard ( Otis tarda ), the heaviest flying bird in the world, is to be reintroduced to Britain after an absence of 200 years. About 50 chicks will be brought from Russia next June and released on Salisbury Plain under the supervision of scientists from the University of Stirling.
( Times, Independent, Daily Mail, Financial Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph )

St Andrew's doctor to teach seals how to talk
St Andrew's University has acquired its very own Dr Dolittle, with the arrival of a Harvard academic on a mission to teach seals to talk. Tecumseh Fitch, a specialist in language evolution, plans to recruit undergraduates to "hang out" with young seals in the university's Gatty marine laboratory in the hope that the seals will pick up human speech patterns. Seals share the rare ability to imitate sounds with humans and birds.
( Guardian )

Icelandic DNA study reveals key osteoporosis gene
A study of Icelandic families has identified a gene that could play a decisive role in osteoporosis, the bone-wasting disease that affects an increasing number of elderly women. People who inherit a variation of the gene are three times more likely to develop osteoporosis, that is characterised by brittle bones which fracture easily. Details were published in the online journal, The Public Library of Science .
( Independent )

Shell implants 'burn out' cancer cells
American scientists have found a new way to "burn" cancer tumours but leave healthy tissue unhurt. The technique harnesses nanotechnology to reach cancers beyond the surgeon's knife. So far, the technique has been tested only on laboratory mice. Researchers at Rice University in Houston report today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they started with nanoshells, tiny molecules of silica coated with gold, that could absorb infrared light, causing irreversible damage to tumour cells.
( Guardian )

Foul gas may have killed 95% of life
The biggest-ever mass extinction of life on Earth 251 million years ago may have been caused by foul-smelling hydrogen sulphide, geologists said yesterday. Lee Kump of Penn State University told the Geological Society of America, meeting in Seattle, that as levels of oxygen in the atmosphere fell, the levels of hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide in the oceans would have begun to poison sea and air. He is looking for evidence in the form of photosynthetic sulphur bacteria in the end-Permian rocks.
( Guardian )

Oil breakthrough brings home the bacon
Report on a student's award-winning design for a 'pig' - a device that cleans, checks and unclogs pipelines - that may lead to huge savings for the oil and gas industry.
( Financial Times )

Universities need networking stimulus
Peter Scott, vice-chancellor of Kingston University, writes that higher education badly needs more good examples of institutional networking.
( Guardian )

Homo ludens infiltrates degree offerings
Traditionalists may scream 'Mickey Mouse' but degrees in computer games are booming, plus students are queuing up to study sports reporting at Brighton's Chelsea School.
( Guardian )

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