News round-up: Imperial takes a bold step to protect it from the worst effects of Brexit

Brexit dominates the headlines this week, as Imperial announces a partnership with a German university and a scientist warns of the ‘catastrophic’ effect leaving the EU could have on cancer research


University ‘dual nationality’ plan for Brexit

BBC, 10/10/2018, Sean Coughlan

A top UK university is planning a ‘unique’ post-Brexit arrangement with a German university in which staff will be appointed jointly by both institutions, with the aim of keeping access to EU research funding for UK academics. The German university says it will ‘send a strong signal against the dangers of new barriers in the European scientific area’.
Imperial College London, ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the world, has signed a partnership with the Technical University of Munich.

The agreement will create academic posts jointly recruited and shared by the UK and German universities, with these staff having a form of academic dual nationality. Both universities specialise in science and technology and the shared research will be in areas such as computer science, medical science, bioengineering, physics and aerospace.


University of Worcester can keep Brexit emails private

BBC, 09/10/2018

A commissioner has ruled a university should not have to release emails containing the word Brexit. The University of Worcester’s vice-chancellor Professor David Green said the request for emails in his account was ‘against the public interest’.

It was made after Chris Heaton-Harris MP asked universities for the names of professors teaching Brexit courses. Mr Heaton-Harris wrote to all vice-chancellors in October 2017 requesting a list of all academics who were teaching on the subject of Brexit, together with copies of the syllabus and links to the course. Prof Green had refused to provide the information, arguing that Mr Heaton Harris’ approach was challenging to the concept of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

The Information Commissioner said staff ‘must have the confidence that they can share views with one another’.


WHO voices alarm as academics denied visas to visit UK conference

The Guardian, 09/10/2018, Matthew Weaver

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed alarm about the impact of the UK government’s immigration policy on international academic cooperation after several foreign scholars were denied visas to attend a conference. The organisers of the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research in Liverpool, which runs until Friday, are compiling a dossier of immigration problems that are understood to have affected at least 10 of the event’s 2,000 registered delegates.

Dr Masoud Dara, a communicable diseases coordinator at the WHO, said: ‘International events are better organised in countries where the invited participants can more easily attend. The tough immigration policies may have impact on academic cooperation, if specific measures are not put in place to facilitate scientists’ travel to and from various countries.’ Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said it was no longer acceptable for the UK to host international academic events because of visa restrictions.


Birkbeck pulls out of ‘misleading’ UK university rankings

Belfast Telegraph, 09/10/2018, via Press Association

Birkbeck, University of London, is withdrawing from UK university rankings because it feels they do not fairly recognise its strengths, or represent it in a way helpful to students. It is pulling out of future domestic tables, arguing that, despite having highly-rated teaching and research, other factors caused by its teaching model and unrelated to its performance push it down the ratings.

Birkbeck’s governors believe it would be ‘better to be absent from the tables than to have an entry which gives a totally misleading view of the college’. However, it will continue to be included in international tables.


Brexit ‘will have catastrophic effect on cancer research’

Metro UK, 09/10/2018, Jane Wharton

Brexit could have a ‘catastrophic’ impact on UK cancer research and may trigger a manpower crisis, a new study has said.

Overseas staff contributed to nearly 80 per cent of papers published in the UK and collaboration with EU scientists has become increasingly common. Restrictions on free movement envisaged after the separation risk undermining care based on the science, a Queen’s University Belfast-led review showed.

Professor Mark Lawler, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, said: ‘Nearly 20 per cent of our research staff are non-UK born. ‘The Brexit effect on our research reputation could be catastrophic, and given that high quality research underpins better cancer outcomes, we risk undermining the cancer care of our patients.’



Brexit may be ‘catastrophic’ on cancer research and trigger a staffing crisis as fears grow scientists from the EU may not be allowed to work in the UK

Mail Online UK, 09/10/2018, Sam Blanchard


Superstar professors’ post-REF earnings surge revealed

Times Higher Education, 09/10/2018, Jack Grove

‘Superstar professors’ recruited for the UK’s last research excellence framework are likely to have received substantial pay rises if they improved their department’s performance, a study suggests.

With some £1.6 billion of annual research funding linked to the sector-wide audit of research quality conducted in 2014, many universities invested heavily to secure leading scholars, often on high salaries, to burnish their research record in key areas and to secure more income.

An analysis by economists at the University of Nottingham has now found that those new recruits – as well as other top-paid staff – are likely to have enjoyed a further significant dividend if they helped to propel their department up the REF league tables. By assessing the salaries of some 16,300 UK professors over a three-year period, starting in 2013-14, researchers found that pay of the best-remunerated professors rose much faster if their department registered an improvement in its average research quality, as measured by grade point average (GPA).


Cambridge University to offer poor students year long free course to give them a ‘leg up’

Daily Telegraph, 05/10/2018, Camilla Turner

Cambridge University is to offer disadvantaged students a year of free tuition after their A-levels to give them a ‘leg up’. The ‘Transitional Year’ programme will be for bright but poor pupils who are offered a place to study at Cambridge but fail to achieve good enough grades in their A-levels to meet their offer.

Professor Sir Stephen Toope, the university’s vice-Chancellor said that his message for these students is: ‘Here’s an opportunity for you to come to Cambridge for a period of time for free  – we are not going to ask them to pay, we are working with philanthropists to fund this programme – so that we have access to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to come here for that extra year.’ He added the programme will not guarantee the students a place at Cambridge, but said: ‘What we will be able to pretty much guarantee is they will be able to go to a top university.’

He said that tutors will assist students on the year-long programme to apply to other universities, so that if they do not ‘make the grade’ for Cambridge, they would still have another place to go.


Universities are admitting students whose A-level results are up to five grades below offer, head warns

Daily Telegraph 04/10/2018, Camilla Turner

Universities are admitting students whose A-level results are up to five grades below their original offer, a leading headmaster has warned. Chris Ramsey, head of the £37,860-a-year Whitgift School in south London, said that Russell Group institutions are increasingly giving places to 18-year-olds regardless of whether they meet their offers or not. Mr Ramsey, who chairs the universities committee at the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC), said that there is growing concern among schools about the practise. Mr Ramsey said that if this pattern continues, university offers risk losing their integrity as word spreads among pupils that they do not really need to meet their offers as they may well be given a place either way.


OfS: Lack of diversity among degree apprentices

Times Educational Supplement, 04/10/2018, George Ryan

Universities and employers need to do more to ensure that degree apprenticeship opportunities reach a more diverse mix of learners. The Office for Students (OfS), the new HE regulator, looked at the profile of 1,750 students starting degree apprenticeships in the 2016-17 academic year, the second cohort of degree apprentices after the scheme was introduced in 2015. The figures show that more men take up degree apprenticeships than women and there are lower proportions from minority ethnic groups, compared with entrants on similar HE courses. The OfS has now urged universities and employers to improve access to degree apprenticeship opportunities so they are available to all who could benefit from them.


Clapping replaced with jazz hands over fears noise could trigger anxiety among students

The Daily Telegraph, 03/10/2018, Camilla Turner

The news that a university student union has decided to replace clapping with ‘jazz hands’ because the noise could trigger anxiety in some students, is framed as the latest demand from the ‘snowflake generation’. The journalist’s case against ‘snowflakes’ includes previous Oxford University guidance which advised that not making eye contact with peers could be seen as racism.


Elite `club’ predicted to dominate UK-EU research post-Brexit

Times Higher Education Supplement 03/10/2018, Unattributed

An article about the potential for UK-European research collaborations to become increasingly ‘elite’ post-Brexit, references a number of University collaborations including Oxford’s alliance with four Berlin universities.


Now I’m an Oxford student, am I still working class?

The Guardian, 02/10/2018, Molly Innes

Molly Innes, a second-year English language and literature student at Lady Margaret Hall, writes about the conflict between her working-class background and her new identity as an Oxford student,  and how this has increased her feelings of isolation both at University and at home.


Graduate salaries are no measure of a university’s worth

The Guardian, 03/10/2018, Dominic Shellard

Article by the vice-chancellor of De Montfort University about the government’s teaching excellent framework and the use of graduate earnings as a metric to judge teaching outcomes.


Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli: fight to stay in single market

The Times, 03/10/2018, Katrine Bussey

Politicians who fail to make the case for the UK remaining in Europe’s single market will be ‘guilty of a serious dereliction of duty’, the chairman of the Russell Group of universities has warned. Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, the University of Glasgow principal , said a hard Brexit which would remove Britain from both the single market and the customs union would be ‘the most unhinged example of national self-sabotage in living memory’. He argued politicians must show leadership ‘which stands up against the fevered ideological goals’ of Brexiteers. Sir Anton, also the chairman of the Scottish government’s standing council on Europe advisory body, is an economist. He was speaking to a Brexit meeting organised by Glasgow city council.


Brexit boom for graduates as civil service boosts its ranks

The Times, 03/10/2018, Rosemary Bennett

Graduates leaving university next summer will find a bumper crop of jobs in the public sector, where there are more vacancies than there are in accounting and professional services for the first time in a generation.

The civil service fast stream is leading the way, seeking hundreds of trainee officials to prepare for Brexit and its aftermath. It wants to hire a record 1,500 graduates, compared with 960 in 2015. Last year about half of new recruits ended up in the Department for Exiting the EU, although Brexit is also creating more work for other departments.

The extra recruitment is likely to continue for several years as more and more policymaking is repatriated from the EU to Whitehall.


DfE caught adding tuition fees to school funding claims

BBC, 02/10/2018, Sean Coughlan

Ministers facing accusations of under-funding schools in England have quoted as evidence of high spending has been found to include billions of pounds of university fees being paid by students, rather than only government spending. School leaders have described this discovery as ‘shocking and disturbing’.

The Department for Education rejected their claims, saying not only were record amounts going into schools but the ‘OECD has recently confirmed that the UK is the third highest spender on education in the world’.

It sounds impressive. But the third-place ranking from the OECD, an international economics organisation, is not just a schools figure or even about government spending. It shows the proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), the value of goods and services produced, spent on all educational institutions, including universities as well as schools – and it’s for 2015 and not 2018. What really might be unexpected is that it includes personal spending – and that means that all the billions paid by students on their tuition fees are part of this total. The UK in this measure of spending as a proportion of GDP is in third place, behind Norway and New Zealand, and ahead of Colombia and Chile.


OU on steep learning curve to beat web rivals

Financial Times, 01/10/2018, Jonathan Moules

The Open University is seeking a £40m capital injection for its London-based online degree platform FutureLearn in the hope that it can take on larger Silicon Valley rivals in the digital delivery of higher education qualifications. When it opened in 1969 the OU pioneered distance learning with course material sent by post and lectures that were broadcast on national television. It has since been eclipsed in the delivery of online degree courses by US tech start-ups such as Coursera, and 2U, which have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from Silicon Valley venture capital firms. 
FutureLearn, which has remained wholly owned by the OU, now has partnerships with more than 150 leading universities and cultural institutions, including 50 of the top 200 universities in the QS 2018 world rankings.


Revealed: the ‘ingrained’ bullying at UK universities

The Guardian, 29/09/2018, Hannah Devlin and Sarah Marsh

Hundreds of academics have been accused of bullying students and colleagues in the past five years, prompting concerns that a culture of harassment and intimidation is thriving in Britain’s leading universities.

A Guardian investigation found nearly 300 academics, including senior professors and laboratory directors, were accused of bullying students and colleagues.

Dozens of current and former academics spoke of aggressive behaviour, extreme pressure to deliver results, career sabotage and HR managers appearing more concerned about avoiding negative publicity than protecting staff.

In response, Prof Venki Ramakrishnan, the president of the Royal Society, called for an overhaul of workplace practices, saying bullying had become ingrained in the culture of too many academic institutions.

The Guardian sent freedom of information requests to 135 universities. Responses revealed a total of 294 complaints against academics at 55 institutions. A further 30 universities reported 337 complaints against all staff – academic and non-academic. Across 105 universities, at least 184 staff have been disciplined and 32 dismissed for bullying since 2013. Fourteen universities said they had used non-disclosure agreements to resolve bullying cases, with at least 27 staff signing confidentiality clauses in exchange for financial payouts.


I run an essay-writing service – this is how it works

i newspaper, 28/09/2018, Florence Snead

More than 40 university chiefs have called on the Education Secretary to ban so-called ‘essay mills’ amid fears they are undermining the integrity of university courses. In a letter to Damian Hinds, those backing the call urged him to tackle those who provide the services, rather than the students that use them. Article speaks to the chief operating officer of an essay services company about what it’s like to run the operation and what the different kinds of essay-writing services in the sector are like.


‘Essay mills’ may be morally dubious, but it was good to work for one

The Guardian online, 01/10/2018, Sam Hickford


Banning essay mills is a matter of social justice

Times Higher Education, 29/09/2018, Anthony Smith