Today's news

September 3, 2004

Student offers 'should recognise easy A levels'
Top grades in some A-level subjects are easier to achieve than in others and universities should take this into account when making offers to students, a study has concluded. Research by Peter Tymms and Robert Coe at the University of Durham found that A levels were graded more severely in mathematics, the sciences and modern languages than in the arts and humanities. Professor Tymms is due to present his findings next week at a conference in London.
Times, Times Higher - Read the full story: Study calls for grading reform

Colleges need more power for vocational degree expansion
Further education colleges should be given more funding and power in the government's drive to expand its programme of vocational degree courses, an independent review group has recommended. The Association of Colleges welcomed the findings but said the reliance on funding through universities had held up development of courses in industrial and technical subjects where colleges held the expertise.
Financial Times

Evans book reveals the turmoil that is modern Cambridge
In a book out this week which represents the latest twist in a long-running feud with the leadership of Cambridge, Gillian Evans attacks the university's internal power struggles and "oligarchic" management. Behind its bland title, Inside the University of Cambridge in the Modern World , her book lays bare the anger and tensions seething within the ancient university.

Scottish Executive chief backs universities
Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell has promised to ensure that Scottish universities maintain and preferably improve their position internationally. He has also said there would be a significant increase in the higher education budget when the Scottish Executive unveils its spending plans in the next few weeks.
Scotsman ( Edinburgh Evening News  September 2) 

White men shy away from life as doctors
Tomorrow's doctors will be overwhelmingly female or from minority ethnic groups - or both. Only a quarter of the current crop of medical students are white men, a huge change from a generation ago, a study by the UK Medical Careers Research Group at Oxford University has found. Nobody currently knows why young white men are shunning the profession they once dominated. But the facts are clear: in 2002, white men comprised 43.5 per cent of the population of Britain but only 26 per cent of the medical students.
Times, Independent

MRSA 'super-weapon' waste of money
A leading scientist who helped to develop a disinfectant that NHS Scotland officials hope will provide a groundbreaking weapon against MRSA has claimed the product is little different to common household cleaners found in supermarkets. Dr Larry Weiss, a widely respected US expert on infection control and the scientist who oversaw the original clinical trials of the cleaning agent, labelled its sale in Scotland as the medical equivalent of exporting "coals to Newcastle".

Scientists spin ultra-strong fibre
A fibre that rivals the extraordinary strength of spider silk has been spun using nanotechnology. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston, Texas have spun a fibre by extruding nanotubes suspended in acid through a hypodermic needle. Details are published today in the journal Science .

A glass or two could avert dementia
Occasional drinkers run the lowest risk of developing dementia in old age, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm reports in the British Medical Journal . Those who drink frequently, or do not drink at all, are twice as likely to show mental impairment or suffer from dementia as those who drink infrequently.

Stem-cells offer hope to bald mice and men
Balding men may eventually be able to grow hair using stem cells harvested from their skin, new research shows. Scientists at the Rockefeller University in New York have grown hair on "nude" mice. Details of the findings are published today in the journal Cell .

Spiteful genes show their nature
After the selfish gene, popularised by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, comes the spiteful gene. Researchers at Edinburgh University are building a framework of theory and observation to show that spite occurs much more frequently in nature than most biologists realised. The research is published today in Science and the Journal of Evolutionary Biology .
Financial Times, Guardian

Tweaking the beak of Darwin's finches
Two US research teams, at Harvard Medical School and the University of Southern California, show in the journal Science that a bone-growth protein called BMP4 is responsible for the shape of beaks in Darwin's finches and other birds - one of the great symbols of evolutionary biology.
Financial Times

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