Sunday, 30 November 2008

HEFCE appoints new Chief Executive

Sir Alan Langlands, currently the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He will take up post on 1 April 2009.

The current Chief Executive, Professor David Eastwood, is to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.

Read more on the HEFCE website.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Teaching to the test

The Independent reports on research undertaken by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), in which 1,600 of the country's brightest 16 year olds took "The Five Decade Challenge" - a two-hour exam which included questions from past science papers spread over the past 43 years.

The overall average score was 25 per cent, but the RSC reports that some pupils scored no marks at all. In highlighting what the RSC calls a "catastrophic slippage" in exam standards, the average score for the 2005 paper questions was 35 per cent, compared to 15 per cent for the 1965 questions. Dr Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC is quoted as saying, "The fact that highly intelligent youngsters were unfamiliar with these types of questions, obtaining on average 35 per cent from recent papers and just 15 percent from the 1960s, points to a systematic failure and misplaced priorities in the education system."

Read The Independent article in full.

Do boys put girls off science?

The new Schools minister is advocating a return to single-sex education in an attempt to get more girls interested in science and engineering reports The Independent. Sarah McCarthy-Fry is quoted as saying, "Girls do much better in science in single-sex classes. They sometimes feel intimidated in mixes-sex classes, with the boys hogging the limelight and putting their hands up to answer all the questions."

Sarah McCarthy-Fry goes on to say that she feels science needs to be presented in a manner which is more "girl-friendly" in order to make careers in science more attractive. At present more boys choose to study chemistry, biology and physics at both GCSE and A-Level.

Read the Independent article in full.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Science not seen as helpful

A new Eurobarometer report shows that the UK has some of the lowest figures for making a positive choice to study science and some of the highest figures (71%) for not being interested in a science profession. Of those respondents that said they were considering studying natural sciences and/or mathematics, the preferred professions in science were engineers and health professionals. Only slightly more than one in 10 wanted to become a researcher in the private or public sector.

In a similar piece of research undertaken by the Science Council, just one third of the 16-18 year olds surveyed believe that science qualifications will help them later on in life. The publication of both results is timely as the Science Council launches a new careers website, Future Morph which aims to demonstrate how a career as a scientist or engineer can help the world tackle major global issues such as health and the environment.

Read the Eurobarometer report in full.

Find out more about Future Morph.

Success for British scientist

Athene Donald from Cambridge University has become the second British scientist to be made a laureate of the For Women in Science awards (which are sponsored by L'Oreal-Unesco) in their 11-year history, reports The Observer. Professor Donald is quoted as saying, "It's hugely prestigious and a great honour, but the role model aspect is probably the most important thing. Having very visible, successful women who have not become complete anoraks is really important to keep girls doing science."

These awards were established in 1998 as the first international awards dedicated to women scientists around the world and celebrate their achievements in science as well as their committment to inspire young female scientists.

Read the Observer article in full.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Beddington questions homeopathy funding

John Beddington, Government's chief scientific adviser, is to look into the funding of homeopathy as a treatment on the NHS, saying that he sees "no scientific evidence" that it works, reports THES.

This commitment, made at a hearing of the Commons Universities Select Committee, will go some way to placate the MPs who believe that the continued NHS funding of homeopathy calls into doubt the Government's commitment to "evidence-based" policy. MPs have questioned why this issue was not a concern during a recent review of the Department of Health by Professor Beddington's office.

Read the THES article in full.

Focus on nanomaterials

The Commission for Environmental Pollution has called for more safety testing and tighter regulation on nanomaterials reports the Financial Times. Although there is no evidence of harm to either health or the environment it warns, "The pace at which new nanomaterials are being developed and marketed is beyond the capacity of existing testing regulatory arrangements to control the potential environmental impacts adequately." These sentiments are echoed by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering who have both called for more research into the harmful effects of nanomaterials.

The commission chairman has said that the widely used nanomaterials, nanosilver, carbon-60 and carbon nanofibres are of particular concern.

Read the Financial Time article in full.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Mandelson speaks on science

Research Fortnight reports that whilst addressing the House of Commons Business and Enterprise Select Committee on 21 October, Peter Mandelson said that he would have made a strong argument against the decision to shift science to the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Referring to his time in the DTI (when it had responsibility for science and business) he is quoted as saying, "What I promoted at the time was a bridge between the research that took place in universities, the excellent science base that we have in this country and the commercial sector."

Adam Afriyie, shadow minister for science and innovation has interpreted Mandelson's views as a clear criticism of Gordon Brown and his reorganisation of Whitehall. However, Phil Willis, chairman of the House of Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee is quoted in Research Fortnight as saying, "I find it quite amazing that someone who has been out of the loop for the last three years can come in making such statements about another department."

Research Fortnight (registration required)

Friday, 7 November 2008

European Commission proposal on animal testing

After eight years in the making, the European Commission has announced plans to strengthen the protection of animals across the EU, including a ban on experiments using great apes. The proposal would extend the ethical evaluations required before experiments with animals were authorised and set minimum requirements on housing and care, reports the Financial Times.

Opinion on the proposals are, as expected, divided. While animal rights activists feel the Commission should have gone further, researchers are worried about unnecessary regulatory burdens, and warned that testing could migrate to countries with lower standards.

Read the Financial Times article in full.

DIUS faces shortfall

THES recently reported that DIUS is facing a £100m cash shortfall in funding for student grants. "Whitehall has blamed a "legacy problem" for the deficit, but some commentators have pointed to a failure to properly cost last year's expansion in the number of students entitled to maintenance grants."

However, in an update to this story, John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, admitted the department was facing a funding shortfall of £200m after DIUS underestimated the numbers of students eligible for a full maintenance grant. As a result, the threshold of family income below which a student is eligible for a grant will drop from £60,000 to £52,020.

Read the THES article in full.