Today's news

April 8, 2004


Ofsted brands three colleges as costly failures
Three of the biggest further education colleges in England, together enrolling more than 90,000 students, were condemned yesterday by Ofsted for wasting money and failing customers. Reading, West Herts and Oaklands were all found to be giving poor value for money, and the quality of their leadership and management was judged unsatisfactory or worse. All the colleges were criticised for their "dull and uninspiring" teaching, leading to high levels of absenteeism, high drop-out rates and a failure rate on some courses of 60 per cent or more.
( Daily Telegraph ) 

Fur flies at the Natural History Museum
Scientists at the Natural History Museum have accused two directors of improper behaviour, wasting public money and creating a "culture of fear". Twenty-five keepers, professors and senior managers have written to the museum's trustees saying there has been a "breakdown of trust at all levels" caused by the suspension and reinstatement of three members of staff. The letter says that the three members of staff were "publicly humiliated by a suspension process that involved them being physically escorted under guard from the museum's premises". A subsequent internal disciplinary hearing is understood to have found no evidence of fraudulent activity or gross misconduct. The cost of an external inquiry by the consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers into the handling of outside contractors may cost as much as £500,000.
( Daily Telegraph )

Charities and universities 'investing in arms trade'
Many public bodies, including NHS trusts, churches, local authorities, universities, trade unions and charities, continue to invest in the arms trade, despite their commitment to beneficial and ethical goals, according to a report published yesterday by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. 
Details: www.caat.org.uk .
( Guardian )

Small business fears negative effects of top-up fees
A Venture Finance survey of 25,000 senior decision makers in the UK’s small and medium-sized enterprises shows that 64 per cent believe the system of variable university tuition fees will have a negative effect on the country’s skilled workforce. The results follow hot on the heels of the recent government decision enabling universities to charge students up to £3,000 per year from 2006.
( Times )

Greenland's ice disappearing fast, scientists warn
Greenland's icy mountains and the island's entire ice cap could disappear in the next 1,000 years because of global warming, European scientists warn today. Jonathan Gregory, of the Hadley Centre for climate prediction at the University of Reading, and colleagues from Brussels and Bremerhaven, report in the journal Nature that an average annual warming in the region of 2.7C (37F) would mean that the rate of melting would outpace the annual snowfall.
( Guardian, Independent, Times )

Dark days ahead for the cosmos
Astronomers have discovered that the universe reached a climax in the numbers of stars born five billion years ago, billions of years earlier than previously thought. Star formation has drastically dropped off since then and, as new stars are not being created faster than old stars are dying, this will lead to the gradual dimming of the cosmos. The discovery by Raul Jimenez of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues there and at the University of Edinburgh is reported today in the journal Nature .
( Daily Telegraph, Times )

The mini-car that runs on natural gas
Engineers at Bath University yesterday unveiled a project to build a three-wheeled, tilting micro-vehicle which is only a metre wide, has a top speed of 50mph, and runs on compressed natural gas. The Clever (Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport) car, still at a research stage, is being funded chiefly by the EU, which has committed £1.5 million to the project. Work is also being carried out by German, French and Austrian scientists.
( Guardian )

Russian scientists gets 15 years' hard labour
Human rights activists were shocked yesterday, as Igor Sutyagin, 39, the Russian scientist convicted of espionage, was sentenced to 15 years' hard labour. Mr Sutyagin, a nuclear weapons expert, had been carrying out research for a British firm that the prosecutors allege was being used as a front for the CIA.
( Daily Telegraph )

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