Today's news

November 5, 2004

Where are you placed in the World University Ranking?
The Times Higher presents the first comprehensive global university ranking today.
The World University Ranking 2004, compiled by QS, is the first to use peer review to establish a global pecking order. In addition to a poll of 1,300 academics in 88 countries, the ranking takes account of staffing levels and research citations. The 16-page supplement to this week's edition is available at

Scots universities must put quality above quantity
Katie Grant comments on the world league tables published by the Times Higher Education Supplement : "The best performing Scottish university is Edinburgh, which comes in at only 48th, with St Andrews at 70th and Glasgow at 112th. Scotland's rather dismal rating is astonishing when you think how old its universities are." The Scots seem to have missed something, but at least they did better than Spain, Portugal and Greece, which were not able to muster a single top 50 institution between them.

Professor creates storm in a pesto jar
A bitter row has broken out in Italy over the alleged toxicity of one of the nation's favourite foods: pesto. The Genovese sauce prepared for centuries in Ligurian kitchens contains a carcinogenic ingredient, Francesco Sala of the Umberto Veronesi Foundation warns. The problem ingredient, called methyl-eugenol, is found to be present in the leaves of young basil plants. According to Professor Sala, in a plate of spaghetti with pesto made from young basil leaves "there is a concentration of methyl-eugenol 600 times higher than the accepted safety limit. Which is not to say that it produces tumours, but that it increases the probability of having them." The risk is eliminated using adult basil.

Scientists find nicotine gene
A single gene could be responsible for determining how easily people become addicted to smoking, according to a report published today. By tweaking a gene in the brains of mice, researchers at the California Institute of Technology in the US were able to create a hypersensitive breed that becomes hooked at a nicotine level 50 times lower than that found in a typical smoker's blood. Once addicted, the mice show the classic signs of nicotine dependence. Details are reported in the journal Science .

Pupils jump at chance to drop French and German
the learning of foreign languages has slumped since the Government allowed secondary schools to make them optional for students over 14, according to a study released yesterday. Three-quarters of comprehensives no longer require pupils to take a language at GCSE. Of these, 72 per cent report a decline in the numbers studying French and 70 per cent in German. Only Spanish bucked the trend, with 44 per cent of schools noting an increase in take-up and 44 per cent reporting a decline.
Times, Independent

The miracle of our educational progress
Letter from Alex Arthur of Aberdeen University Business School commenting on the report for Universities UK on the degree classification system by Robert Burgess, vice-chancellor of the University of Leicester.
Financial Times

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