Today's news

June 13, 2006

Statistics to dominate research assessment
Radical changes to the way British academic research is assessed and funded were announced today by Bill Rammell, the higher education minister. The elaborate research assessment exercise, in which the work of every active researcher in British universities is assessed by 67 different subject panels ranging from astrophysics to art history, will be carried out for the last time in 2008. After that, the quality of research - and hence the amount of funding universities receive from the Government - will be judged largely on the basis of statistics such as grant income and contracts. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers under the new system, Mr Rammell warned.
The Guardian

Judge bans animal rights protest at builders' digs
Animal rights activists have been banned from demonstrating in a Cotswold village where construction workers from Oxford University's new research laboratory are being accommodated. The activists' demonstrations were already restricted at the building site by an injunction granted to the university. Now a High Court judge has extended that order to cover Moreton-in-Marsh Fire Service College, where the workers are living. The activists will be allowed to hold a lawful demonstration outside the college only on a Wednesday afternoon, provided there are fewer than 50 people.
The Daily Telegraph

Student cheats hire ghostwriters
Students from Britain's top universities are cheating on coursework by hiring researchers over the internet to complete it, a study suggests. Undergraduates and graduates are paying between $5 (£2.70) and $200 (£108) to freelance academics, often based overseas, to write dissertations. An estimated 1,000 British students have used websites such as rentacoder.com to find people to do coursework. Contract cheating is harder to detect than conventional plagiarism because the work produced is original. Thomas Lancaster, the author of the research, said that it was not illegal, but "it is unethical".
The Times, The Scotsman, The Daily Telegraph

Princess Royal unveils £37m new college for vets
The Princess Royal was on hand yesterday to unveil plans for a new £37 million vet school at Edinburgh University. She revealed the first artist's impressions of a multi-million pound facility for the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. The new teaching facilities, to be built at Easter Bush, Midlothian, will be paid for from a £350 million fundraising campaign due to be launched by the university in October. The veterinary school was founded in 1823 by William Dick, and is currently based at Summerhall, off South Clerk Street, and at Easter Bush.
The Scotsman

Diabetic blamed for death crash
A diabetic driver killed a student when his car ploughed into her at a pedestrian crossing after he ignored warning signs of his illness, a court was told yesterday. Shaun Handley veered off a dual carriageway while travelling at almost twice the speed limit before colliding with Beth Gale, 20, as she waited to cross a road, York Crown Court heard. Miss Gale, from Ilkley, West Yorks, who was studying biochemistry at York University, was thrown 30ft in the air and died instantly from multiple injuries. Her boyfriend, Tom Asquith, suffered leg injuries.
The Daily Telegraph

Healthy £4m boost to help Capital stem cell centre
A new centre for stem cell research being built at Edinburgh University has received a £4 million funding boost that will allow it to attract more researchers. The Centre for Regenerative Medicine, to be based at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary at Little France, will include the most advanced technologies now available in stem cell research, development and manufacture. The university and the Scottish Funding Council have chipped in £2 million each. SFC chief executive Roger McClure said: "There is a critical mass of world-class stem cell researchers at the University of Edinburgh".
The Scotsman

Britain leads charge to Mars
British scientists will take part in an ambitious European project to dig for life under the surface of Mars using a laboratory on wheels. The European Space Agency has earmarked about €600 million (£410 million) to build the ExoMars spacecraft and its six-wheeled roving robot and a further €175 million to launch it in 2011. A unique feature of the robotic laboratory is a probe that will enable it to drill up to 6ft under the Martian ground to test for signs of life with a device that has been likened to a pregnancy-testing kit. The device - called a life marker chip - will contain biological molecules that can readily bind to other organic molecules once they come into contact.
The Independent, The Times, The Guardian, New Scientist

Climate change may have helped evolution
Climate change may not all be bad news. According to a study published today, a dramatic change in climate in Africa more than 70,000 years ago could have been the engine for the evolution and dispersal of the human race to Asia and Europe. Professor Paul Mellars of Cambridge University points out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that at around the same time as humans migrated out of Africa, there were changes in climate which decreased temperatures and humidity and boosted the size of the Kalahari and Sahara deserts.
The Daily Telegraph

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