Today's news

February 11, 2004

Research funding shakeup planned
A shakeup of the complex procedure used to determine how more than £8 billion over six years from 2009 will be allocated to universities by assessing the quality of their research is announced by the four UK funding councils today. The next Research Assessment Exercise, planned for 2008, will simplify the current 18-year-old system by moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and reducing bureaucracy for universities. The results of the exercise will be expressed as quality profiles of research in each department, rather than using the current seven-point grading system. There had been concerns that the rating scale could no longer provide the degree of discrimination needed for a continuing policy of selective funding.
( Guardian, Independent, Financial Times )

MP attacks whips for 'gagging' him on top-up fees
Government whips faced fury yesterday for "gagging" Labour backbencher Stephen Hesford, Wirral West, by denying him a place on the committee debating the proposals on university top-up fees. Mr Hesford decided to back the bill 15 minutes before last month's crucial Commons vote after face-to-face talks with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. He said he was promised a place on the 25-strong committee after the knife-edge vote, but the offer was withdrawn a week later when he refused to give a "cast-iron guarantee" that he would back the government in every vote.
( Independent, Guardian, Daily Mail )

Charles Clarke turns on 'shark' lawyers
The education secretary, Charles Clarke, yesterday likened lawyers to sharks and condemned the trend towards a "litigious society" in Britain as dangerous and destructive. Mr Clarke was speaking in support of an essay competition organised by the parliamentary press gallery to mark its bicentenary. He was responding to Jennifer Smith, an 18-year-old from Worcester, who asked if the threat of litigation against teachers made it harder to maintain discipline in the classroom. The education secretary took the opportunity to complain that his alleged attacks on classics and medieval history as unsuitable for modern universities had been misreported. He also admitted that more students were opposed to his plans for variable tuition fees than supported them.
( Guardian, Times )

Northern dialects saved from Estuary English
The biggest compilation of authentic northern speech ever compiled has been posted on the internet by the British Library, drawing from thousands of hours of recordings going back to 19th-century cylinder dictaphones. Samples of football fans in Burnley, bakers in North Yorkshire and farmers slaughtering pigs in Northumberland are included in an 11-hour sampler to test the world's taste for northern idiom. "Regional accents are back in fashion and spoken with pride," said Jonathan Robinson, curator of English accents and dialects at the British Library Sound Archive, even as Ant and Dec's jungle Geordie faded from the country's TV screens. The north was chosen for a pilot project for what will eventually be an enormous audio record of Britain's many voices, because of the "particularly rich" assortment of accents.
( Guardian )

Top Oxford don tipped for BBC chairmanship
Anthony Smith, president of Magdalen College, Oxford, and founding father of Channel 4, is being hotly tipped to take over from Gavyn Davies, who resigned from the BBC in the wake of the Hutton report.
( Evening Standard )

Conference call
Universities are potentially good news for anyone looking for a conference venue. With an eye to topping up their own fees, they are increasingly opening their doors to corporate business. A consortium of ten universities and colleges in the east of England is offering a free online "brokering" service. You can submit requests via the Ask i10 service at   which are then circulated to all members, with a response guaranteed within a certain time, or use the online database of available facilities.
( Times )

Gay bishop at Oxford Union
Gene Robinson, the American gay bishop at the heart of the row in the Anglican communion, is to speak in an Oxford Union debate on March 11 on the motion that a gay lifestyle should be no bar to becoming a bishop.
( Guardian )

Sir Robert Boyd , the scientist who established the Mullard Laboratory and made Britain one of the world leaders in space studies, died on February 5, 2004, aged 81. ( Times )
Glynne Wickham ,The first professor of drama in the UK, South African-born Glynne Wickham, and emeritus professor of Bristol University and president of the Society for Theatre Research died on January , 2004, aged 81. ( Independent )

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