World Encompassed

November 23, 2007

Czech Science and research gets boost

The Czech Government will fund the transformation of the state's best higher education institutions into research universities as part of a drive to boost the country's science and research sector, its Prime Minister has said.

Mirek Topolanek announced almost £2 billion in funding for the sector from 2008 to 2010, amounting to annual increases of between 7 per cent and 8 per cent.

The country's science sector would also get almost £400 million a year from the European Union, he added.

Mr Topolanek said Czech science and research must be able to fund itself when the EU funding comes to an end.

The Government will provide funding to stimulate the growth of projects co-financed by business, he said. It will also consider tax breaks for firms that enter into the deals and set up centres for technology transfer.

Fear of Academic Drought Down under

A drop in the number of Australians signing up for research degrees could leave universities without enough academics in future, an influential group of universities has warned.

The number of Australian students signing up for research degrees fell by almost a third between 1995 and 2006, according to the elite Group of Eight universities.

The group said that more PhD students must be taken on to replace the 40 per cent of Australian academics who will retire or move to other jobs in the next decade. The lack of research students could also stifle the country's economic growth, the group said.

"Australia's productivity and competitiveness require a reversal of these trends. At the current rate, Australia will not be able to supply even half the future requirement of PhD graduates for high-end knowledge skills," said Ian Chubb, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University on behalf of the group. He called for more financial help for PhD students and more support for young researchers.

Time off for solstice

Pagan students at a US university can now get time off for religious festivals.

The main staff body of Marshall University voted to allow pagans to be added to the list of religious groups who could apply for time off. The university's department of religious studies recommended that students' requests for time off for religious holidays should be considered case by case.

Exodus of Israeli Scholars

Israel is in the throes of a brain drain, with almost 28 per cent of its scholars working in the US, a conference has heard.

Dan Ben-David, of Tel-Aviv University's department of public policy, said that there were more than 1,400 Israeli academics in the US in 2003-04. This compared to 5,000 Israeli academics working in Israel. While the former figure included some staff who were on sabbatical in America, it did not account for those who took US citizenship. Between 1995 and 2002, 6.52 per cent of male professors left Israel, and the rate of emigration rose to 7.83 per cent two years later.

The percentages moving abroad in other professional occupations were lower. The "cumbersome" promotion process in Israel might have led some academics to leave, as might the lure of higher US salaries, said Dr Ben- David.

Google taken to task over patent dispute

A US university is suing the internet giant Google for infringing its patent on search engine technology.

Northeastern University is taking the firm to court for allegedly using a type of database system for which it owns the patent. The system was invented by Jarg, a company founded by one of its professors. Northeastern is demanding unspecified damages at least equal to a royalty payment.

Google was unavailable for comment this week. But the news agency Reuters has quoted a Google spokesperson as saying that the company views the university's suit as being without merit.

Fat mothers risk unruly children

Overweight mothers are more likely to have hyperactive children, according to a Swedish study. The research at Uppsala University looked at more than 12,500 children in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, following them from before birth to when they reached school age, with their teachers completing questionnaires on their behaviour.

The study found a correlation between child behaviour and the body mass index of the mother in women who were obese and moderately overweight.

The study will now look at possible explanations, which could include the greater risk of pregnancy complications in overweight women, the influence of genetics on the mother's weight and the child's symptoms, the impact of stress hormones from the mother on the child, and the effect of hormones and environmental toxins stored in the mother's fatty tissue.

US Privacy laws impede health studies

The majority of health researchers questioned in a new survey think new US privacy laws have made it more difficult to carry out their work.

The survey of more than 4,000 epidemiologists by the University of Pittsburgh found that almost 68 per cent thought new privacy rules for patient data meant their research was much more costly and difficult to carry out. Only a quarter thought that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy rule had helped privacy.

Court challenge in Los Alamos leak case

The University of California is protesting against a £1.5 million fine after secret documents from the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory were found in the home of a former employee of a contractor.

The university has taken the first step in trying to get a judicial review to allow it to preserve its right to continue negotiations with the Department of Energy about the case. The court case is not to appeal against the decision itself.

At the time of the breach, the lab was managed by a consortium that included the university; before that, the university was the sole operator.

The documents, which include classified material, were found during a drugs raid on the trailer home of a former employee of a contractor. The target of the raid was another resident of the trailer park.

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