Today's news

July 20, 2006

Fewer students from poor families at top universities
The proportion of state school pupils and those from low-income families at university has dropped to its lowest level in three years, despite government pressure to increase their numbers. And, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency figures released today, the worst performer is Oxford. The agency said that 320 fewer state-educated pupils went to university in 2004-05, down 0.1 of a percentage point from 86.8 per cent the previous year. The percentage of students from low-income families dropped from 28.6 per cent to 28.2 per cent.
The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph

Lecturers 'told to give extra marks to overseas students'
A university has launched an investigation into claims that lecturers were told to add marks to the scores of overseas students in order to raise their grades. A leaked e-mail exchange between a course director and a tutor suggested that special allowances should be made for students from abroad who paid the full fees. The London College of Fashion, part of the University of the Arts, said it was taking the allegations "very seriously". "We are undertaking an investigation to get to the bottom of this matter. The college will be in a better position to provide a considered response once the investigation is concluded," said a spokesman.
The Daily Telegraph, The Times Higher Education Supplement (July 21)

UCU launches independent research funding consultation
The University and College Union is urging all academic and academic-related staff to give their input into the future of research funding assessment in the UK. The UCU, frustrated by the government's attempt to pre-empt debate on alternatives to the research assessment exercise, is today launching its own consultation exercise. Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, has confirmed that the elaborate RAE will cease to be the basis for funding university research after 2008, following the surprise announcement by the chancellor in this year's budget.
The Guardian

Women win 55% of university places
A widening gender gap is opening up at universities, with 55 per cent of higher education places going to women. The number of female students has increased each year since they overtook men a decade ago. The findings, from the University and Colleges Admission Service, are in a report to be published today. They show that 50,477 more women than men have university places confirmed this autumn, compared with 48,239 at the same time last year. Professor Miriam David of the Institute of Education at the University of London said: "The main reasons for this trend are the expansion of universities and the inclusion of new subjects."
The London Evening Standard

Maverick medic reveals details of baby cloning experiment
A maverick fertility expert has revealed hard evidence of a controversial attempt to produce the world's first cloned human baby. Panos Zavos, a reproductive scientist, created a storm in 2004 when he called a press conference in London to announce he had cloned a human embryo from the skin cells of an infertile man and transferred it to the uterus of the man's wife. He later said the transfer had failed and the woman did not become pregnant, but many scientists doubted whether he had performed the experiment at all.
The Guardian

£150m from Gates for research to fight AIDS
Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder, yesterday announced more than £150 million in grants to help find an AIDS vaccine. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will use $287 (£155 million) to create an international network of 16 laboratories to try new approaches to making a vaccine against AIDS. The foundation says it wants the programme to transform the so-far unsuccessful AIDS vaccine effort by rewarding individual labs that come up with innovative ideas and helping them develop those ideas. Recipients include Robin Weiss and his colleagues at University College London who will use £13.7 million to look for antibodies in humans and animals that might help stop HIV.
The Scotsman

Bush vetoes stem cell funding
George Bush has used his presidential veto for the first time to defeat a bill that would have greatly expanded government funding for stem cell research. The proposed law, he said in Washington yesterday, would have supported "the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a real moral boundary that our society needs to respect." The Senate passed the bill by 63 votes to 37 on Tuesday. Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, said history would liken Mr Bush to those who had imprisoned Galileo and scoffed at the idea of electricity, and who look "absolutely ridiculous" today.
The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Times

Star's 4 million mph explosion is captured by British astronomers
A vast nuclear explosion on a star unleashed a blast wave that spread at almost four million miles per hour. RS Ophiuchi a double star 5,000 light years from Earth, was seen to brighten suddenly in February last year. This was the result of an explosion on one of the two stars, which circle each other closely. British and German astronomers used radio telescopes to gain a view of the aftermath. Tim O’Brien, of the University of Manchester, who led the study, said: “Our first observations, made only two weeks after the explosion was reported, showed an expanding blast wave already comparable in size to Saturn’s orbit around the Sun.
New Scientist

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