World in brief - 20 February 2014

February 20, 2014

United States
Harvard mistake hits 11,000

A US university accidentally overtaxed thousands of its employees for four years in a payroll error. Owing to a mistake in the way it reported its employees’ taxable income, 11,000 workers at Harvard University paid excess income tax between 2009 and 2013. The error occurred after Harvard changed the structure of its supplemental life insurance plan so that the benefit should no longer have been taxable, according to a letter from Marilyn Hausammann, the vice-president for human resources, that was sent to all affected employees on 7 February, The Harvard Crimson college newspaper reported. Despite this change, however, the university did not alter the way it reported taxable income; thus employees paid taxes on income that they did not receive. The letter said that the total excess reported income was more than $20 million (£12.1 million), although individuals were affected to different extents.

Demand-driven R&D

Research should follow teaching and adopt a demand-driven funding approach, according to an economics academic. Elizabeth Webster, professorial research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, said that more research should be shaped to meet industry demands and that funding should be channelled through “R&D corporations” modelled on rural research and development corporations established in 1989, The Australian reported. She added that Australia had great science and research capabilities but the country was “pretty bad at converting that into commercial outcomes”. “The R&D corporation is not the only strategy but the more I read about it, the more impressed I am,” said Professor Webster, who proposed the idea in a Melbourne Institute policy brief.

Billion-dollar research boost

The Canadian higher education sector has hailed the federal budget’s new injection of cash into research. In last week’s budget, the Conservative government pledged C$1.5 billion (£824.8 million) over a decade to launch the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, The Globe and Mail reported. The fund will be flexible, with universities and perhaps colleges competing for funds to spend in targeted areas, which could mean hiring new talent, buying new equipment or securing international partnerships. The budget also provides a C$46 million annual boost to research granting agencies such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and assigns C$40 million to fund internships, while extending student loans to some apprentices.

Is there a professor in the house?

India’s public central universities are facing a severe shortage of academic staff, according to the latest audit of their academic capabilities. Of the 15,573 teaching faculty positions in 39 central universities across the country, close to 40 per cent remain vacant; at some institutions, more than three-quarters of teaching posts are unfilled. According to the University Grants Commission, the Central University of Odisha has only 11.6 per cent of its required staff, while the Central University of Tamil Nadu, which has only 28 of the 151 faculty members it needs, has a staff shortage of more than 80 per cent. To make up for the shortfall in existing departments, Tamil Nadu has arranged teachers on a short-term contractual basis, The Times of India reported.

Hong Kong
Sack over undeclared earnings

A Hong Kong university has sacked one of its heads for not declaring her external earnings. Judy Tsui, vice-president for international and executive education and professor of accounting at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was fired after an investigation into claims that she omitted to declare earnings of HK$1.85 million (£117,024) made outside the institution. Professor Tsui’s contract has been “terminated with immediate effect”, the university said last week. The investigation was launched after an internal audit discovered Professor Tsui’s earnings as a director of a local company and a consultant to a mainland company had not been declared, breaching the institution’s policy, which also requires academics to pay some of the outside income to the university.

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