Today's news

June 29, 2006

Students allowed to set their own exam
A lecturer who wants to engender trust and respect in his students has let them set their own final-year exam. They were also allowed to take notes into the exam hall in case they could not answer their own questions. The move is part of a growing shift from "sudden death" exams to "assessment for learning" in which students play a part in judging their performance. But critics say the practice has more to do with the general dumbing down of standards. Mike Reddy, a senior lecturer in computing and engineering at the University of Wales, Newport, defended his action in The Times Higher Education Supplement today, saying it was better than "the common practice" of recycling old exam papers or giving "strong hints" about content.
The Daily Telegraph, The Times Higher Education Supplement (June 30)

Cambridge chief coach assaulted teenage boy
The chief coach of Cambridge University Boat Club has been cautioned by police for assaulting a teenage boy. A university spokesman said that David Holland was arrested and held overnight recently by Cambridgeshire police following a complaint. "Mr Holland had discovered three youths apparently breaking into his car, which was parked outside his house," the spokesman said. "He went outside to remonstrate with them and in the ensuing altercation, Mr Holland struck one of the youths. He accepts the official police caution for actual bodily harm and considers the matter closed."
The Guardian

New firm to support new ideas
Sloane Robinson, one of London's largest and best-known hedge funds, has formed a private equity firm to commercialise promising Oxford University engineering ideas. The vehicle's first deal, which could be worth up to £20 million in the first few years of development, was led by Sloane Robinson founder George Robinson, a Keble College engineering graduate, and Heidi Hsueh, a former consultant to the hedge fund group. Mr Robinson said an initial payment of £12 million would be used to help fund a new £50 million building in Oxford's Medical Research Campus and additional staff for the university's planned Institute of Biomedical Engineering.
The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, The Times Higher Education Supplement (June 30)

Date set to elect lecturers' union leader
The new leader of the University and College Union will be decided in March after the date for the election of the general secretary was set this week. Voting will begin in early February and close early in March, the UCU confirmed today. Sally Hunt, the UCU joint general secretary and former general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, has indicated she will run for the top job. Roger Kline, formerly head of higher education at lecturers' union Natfhe and now the UCU's head of equality and employment, has also put up his hand for the position of UCU general secretary.
The Guardian

Slump in number of Scots studying chemistry and physics
The number of Scottish school-leavers studying chemistry at university has dropped by a third in the past decade, official figures have shown. Enrolments for degree-level courses in physics and electrical and electronic engineering have also slumped. Earlier this year it was revealed that the number of Scots chemistry graduates had fallen by almost a quarter in five years. Pupils in nearly a quarter of state schools had been unable to study the subject because of a lack of qualified teachers.
The Scotsman

Boost for free internet access to public funded research
The push for open access to publicly funded academic research was boosted yesterday as an umbrella body supported placing subscription journals' articles on the internet for free. But the body, Research Councils UK, whose eight members grant to academics an annual £2.5 billion of public money, appears to have watered down its initial support for open access. The body's preliminary proposal, outlined a year ago, suggested making it a condition of the grants that researchers put work into freely available online archives as soon as possible. Yesterday the body backtracked, saying it was up to the eight councils themselves to decide whether or not to demand researchers got involved in open access.
The Guardian

Oracle boss drops £65m Harvard gift
Larry Ellison, the multibillionaire boss of the software firm Oracle, has pulled out of a pledge to give $115 million (£65 million) to Harvard University, largely because of the departure of the university's former president, Lawrence Summers. The donation, for which no formal agreement was ever signed, was to have funded a centre to study the comparative effectiveness of health programmes around the world. But uncertainty over its future became public earlier this month when three senior officials hired by the centre in anticipation of the Ellison endowment were let go.
The Independent

Gene test to limit bowel cancer risk
A test to identify patients who develop bowel cancer because they have a particular gene fault is unveiled today. The test will help ensure these patients get the best treatment and will help identify relatives with the same mutation who have a greatly increased cancer risk. About 20,000 people in the general population are thought to have this particular class of genetic defect, associated with a very high cancer risk. The challenge is to identify these people before they develop cancer so that preventative measures can be put in place or the disease can be caught early, when the chance of success is much higher.
The Daily Telegraph

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