Today's news

September 1, 2004

London lecturers reject new contracts
Lecturers at London Metropolitan University will today demonstrate against contracts that unions claim compromise academic freedom and threaten the jobs of almost 400 staff. Yesterday the university's vice chancellor, Brian Roper, accused the lecturers of living in "la-la land" in claiming that jobs would be lost. The dispute marks a new low in relations at the university, created by the merger of two parent institutions two years ago. Lecturers will today burn copies of the contract outside university buildings. They say its terms require them to be in their offices from nine to five, affecting their research freedom, and to answer to "line managers" for teaching.

Universities prepare for new academic year
Fourteen universities and higher education institutions start the academic year under new leaders today. Meanwhile, the start of another academic cycle sees two new universities in existence, a merger to produce a Manchester super-university - and a day of picketing by lecturers involved in a bitter dispute with London Metropolitan University. On the horizon is the Schwartz report on the vexed subject of university admissions and behind the scenes higher education administrators are frantically doing their sums before tuition fees of up to £3,000 are introduced.

Think-tank calls for nanotechnology debate
An urgent public debate on nanotechnology is needed to prevent another anti-science backlash, according to Demos, the independent think-tank. Companies developing nanotechnology should be far more open about its implications, Demos says. For example, companies using nanoparticles in cosmetics such as sunscreens have declined to put the testing data in the public domain.
Financial Times

Kosovan refugee can take up Oxford place
A Kosovan refugee has won her battle to be allowed to study medicine at Oxford University less than 24 hours before the deadline runs out for her to confirm her place. Vildane Berani learnt from The Times yesterday that her application to the Home Office for indefinite leave to remain in Britain had been granted. A fortnight ago she gained six straight As at A level in biology, chemistry, English language, maths, psychology and general studies, and a place to study medicine at Merton College.

Planet hunters find Earth's 'big brothers'
Astronomers have detected the smallest planets so far seen orbiting other stars, and brings them a step closer to finding whether humans are alone in the universe. The Nasa announcement yesterday shows that rival American and European teams are poised to find Earth-like planets, so called "Goldilocks" planets that are not too hot and not too cold but at the right distance from their neighbourhood star for life to exist. Both planets stick close to their parent stars. The first circles a small star called Gliese 436, located in our galactic backyard, 30 light years away in the constellation Leo.
Daily Telegraph, Times, Independent

The mummy returns
Scientists in Italy have reconstructed the face of an Egyptian mummy without even unwrapping it using the latest scanning techniques. The method was accurate enough to show a mole on the man's left temple and enabled them to estimate that he was about 45 when he died between 945 and 715BC.

- Hamish McRae says that we should celebrate our universities. Instead, the Government starves them of cash, bullies them over access and controls their fees at a level far below costs. Independent
- Letter: the increasing number of students living away from home is placing great pressure on the nation's contracting housing stock, either for sale or rent. Times

- Fred Whipple, the astronomer who came up with the "dirty snowball" theory of how comets form, died on August 30, aged 97. Daily Telegraph
- Donald Justice, the Pulitzer prize-winning American poet, critic and academic, died on August 6, aged 79. Guardian
- Peter Posnette, the plant pathologist whose research preserved the West African cocoa crop and helped to make chocolate an affordable commodity, died on July 17, aged 90. Times

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