Today's news

December 13, 2005

Research reveals public support for university fees
Ministers welcomed new research today which found that more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of the British population think that students should contribute to the cost of their university education. The British Social Attitudes survey, the annual gauge of the country's opinions, found that the majority of people from all social backgrounds believe that students should pay something towards going to university. But the research also showed strong disapproval of plans to vary fees between institutions, with 65 per cent of respondents arguing that there should be a fixed price for all degrees. Top-up fees will allow universities to charge up to £3,000 a year from next September, though in reality the overwhelming majority of courses at higher education institutions will charge the full £3,000.
The Guardian

Cambridge approves IP reform plans
Academics at Cambridge University today approved a controversial package of intellectual property reforms that will give the university more control over their money-making inventions. Academics will have to work with the university to exploit their inventions in the future and the university will retain the intellectual property rights over the new discoveries in a change to the existing liberal policy which granted most rights to the academic. But academics will retain the copyright for their written work under the new policy - a move which one academic claimed pitted the arts faculties against those in the science and technology departments.
The Guardian

Universities and hospitals face massive tax bill
Hospitals and universities are facing multimillion-pound tax bills that threaten the future of academics in medicine after a decision by Customs to put VAT on all shared use of staff. A longstanding arrangement that allows university-employed clinicians to be hired out to the NHS has been thrown into jeopardy after a tribunal decision that it should be taxed. Senior academics and accountants have indicated that the ruling sets a punitive tax precedent for all university medical schools hiring out to the NHS, with serious ramifications for hospital budgets and the quality of clinical tuition in the UK. The annual tax bill, which would have to be shouldered by both institutions, would likely exceed £50 million a year, averaging £2 million per research university.
The Times

Dyslexia professorship unveiled
Motor racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart has launched Britain's first professorship in dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Sir Jackie, who is dyslexic, was at Aberdeen University with Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell to announce the post. The role, known as the chair of inclusive studies, will help educate student teachers on how to understand and help children with learning difficulties. It is being funded by £1.4 million from the Scottish Executive and will include posts for a senior lecturer and researcher as well as a professorship.
The Scotsman, The Guardian, The Times

Stem cell pioneer back at work, only to face inquiry
The South Korean stem cell pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk left hospital yesterday and made a tearful return to work after being treated for stress brought on by an ethics scandal over his research. Meanwhile, Seoul National University launched an investigation into a controversy over the veracity of his work. Professor Hwang, who gained international renown for cloning the world's first human embryos and extracting stem cells from them, had been in hospital since last Wednesday. "I am sorry for causing anxiety to the public," he told reporters, vowing to continue with his stem cell research.
The Guardian

'Fresh' apples that could be a year old
Apples are being sold in supermarkets up to a year after harvesting. The "freshly-picked" fruit is treated with a chemical gas that stops it ripening during storage. Agrofresh, the US firm behind the SmartFresh chemical as it is known, says it locks the taste in the apples, preserving the quality. Vicki Hirst, of Friends of the Earth, said: "Good food needs no artificial chemicals. There should be investment in local and regional seasonal products." Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London's City University, described SmartFresh as a "brilliant but surreal use of science". He said: "They are using technology to play around with the seasons. The food may look fresh but it isn't."
The Daily Mail

Hopes fade for troubled Japanese asteroid probe
Hope that Japan's Hayabusa spacecraft will return to Earth is fading as mission controllers remain unable to regain complete control of its orientation. The spacecraft was designed to bring the first-ever asteroid samples back to Earth for analysis. But recent data suggest that, during a landing attempt on 26 November, it did not fire metal pellets into the 600-metre-long asteroid Itokawa to draw up material for collection. Now mission controllers have little hope the spacecraft will be able to get back to Earth - even without its quarry - because of continuing problems with its fuel thrusters.
New Scientist

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