News round-up: UCU offers an olive branch to end strike – but will universities have to close because of coronavirus?

An end to the academics’ strike may be in sight, but as the death toll from coronavirus rises, Western universities are being urged to close campuses

UCU offers ‘significant concessions’ in pay and pensions disputes

Times Higher Education, 05/03/2020, Anna McKie

The University and College Union has said that it has made “significant concessions” to some of its demands and has “extended an olive branch” in an attempt to break the deadlock over pay and pensions.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady says union negotiators had told employers that an offer of a 3 per cent pay rise for its members in 2019-20 could end ongoing strike action.

Plan to expand Sheffield’s AMRC into ‘MIT’ put to ministers

Times Higher Education, 05/03/2020, John Morgan

Plans to “propel the regeneration of manufacturing in the North [of England] and Scotland” by massively scaling up the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre have been presented to the UK government – but calls to make the AMRC independent are being resisted by the university.

A document titled “Powering the North – Manufacturing Institute of Technology (MIT)”, proposing to “extend the success” of the AMRC and calling for funding of £750 million over seven years, has been drawn up by northern leaders with input from regional universities and has been seen by ministers and officials, as they consider how to achieve the government’s key priority of “levelling up” the UK regions.

Skidmore rejects ‘university-bashing’ and urges funding stability

Times Higher Education, 05/03/2020, John Morgan

Chris Skidmore says he sought to bring an end to government “university-bashing” in his time as universities and science minister and calls for “a period of stability” in English higher education funding.

Mr Skidmore draws some key conclusions from his time in office in an article for Times Higher Education this week, following his sacking in Boris Johnson’s reshuffle on 13 February.

Women make progress on authorship but miss grants and patents

Times Higher Education, 05/03/2020, Simon Baker

Global scholarship is moving slowly towards gender parity in terms of researcher numbers, according to a large-scale study of authorship data, but major inequalities remain in areas such as patents and collaboration.

An Elsevier study of bibliometric data around article authorship, grant funding and innovation finds that although all but one country – Argentina – still has more men than women publishing research, noticeable progress has been made over the past 20 years in most nations.

Majority of students still prefer physical books, survey finds

Times Higher Education, 05/03/2020, Anna McKie

A survey has found that three-quarters of students would prefer to use physical books over ebooks for their studies.

The survey of 741 students across UK universities, conducted by the bookseller Blackwell’s, asked respondents: “If each of the following resources – printed textbooks, ebooks or digital courseware – is made available to you free of charge, which would you prefer to use in your studies?”

Universities ‘may have to close’ to prevent spread of coronavirus

Times Higher Education, 04/03/2020, Ellie Bothwell and Anna McKie

Western universities should be prepared for the possibility that they may need to close their campuses to help limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to experts who have urged institutions to ramp up their contingency planning.

As of the start of this week, more than 88,000 people across 60-plus countries had been infected with coronavirus, while the global death toll from the Covid-19 epidemic had surpassed 3,000.

University watchdog says ‘practical steps to secure freedom of speech’ are needed in wake of Oxford transgender row 

Daily Telegraph, 04/03/2020, Camilla Turner

The higher education watchdog has said that “practical steps to secure freedom of speech” must be taken by universities in the wake of the Oxford transgender row.

 Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said she supports the “widest possible definition of freedom of speech”.

Oxford dean accused of failing to report child sexual assault claim

The Guardian, 04/03/2020, Harriet Sherwood

The head of a prestigious Oxford college has been accused of failing to disclose an allegation of sexual assault of a minor to police or safeguarding officials.

In the latest twist in a long-running dispute that began in 2018, Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church and head of its cathedral, strongly rejected the claims against him by the college, saying each of the cases were properly dealt with at the time.

Entry tariff data show market is transforming English HE

Times Higher Education, 03/03/2020, Simon Baker

For better or worse, UK universities have often been placed in different groupings, mainly based on the age of the university (often whether they were established before or after 1992, when legislation allowed for polytechnics to become universities) and the amount of research income they receive.

But differences between the groups have also often been defined by how selective they are when recruiting students.

Oxford University professor condemns exclusion from event

BBC, 04/03/2020, Anon

An Oxford University professor whose invitation to a conference celebrating women was withdrawn has defended her stance on transgender rights issues.

Selina Todd was “no-platformed” by the Oxford International Women’s Festival, at which she had been due to speak.

British universities on top of the world

The Times, 04/03/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Oxford has been named the world’s best university for eight subjects in an annual global ranking, making it a record-breaking performance for a British institution.

The 2020 QS World University Rankings placed Oxford top in a range of subjects, including anthropology and pharmacology. Last year it came top in five subjects.

Backlash as students give International Women’s Day a trans rebrand

The Times, 03/03/2020, Rosemary Bennett

A university students’ union is under fire for rebranding International Women’s Day to include trans women.

Leicester students’ renaming of the celebration as International Womxn’s Day follows their election of a trans woman to the post of women’s officer. Dan Orr will represent the views of women on campus, speaking out about sexism and misogyny.

Theo Brennan-Hulme inquest: Call for more family contact

BBC, 03/03/2020, Anon

The mother of a student who was found asphyxiated in a university campus room has called for greater communication with the families of undergraduates.

University of East Anglia (UEA) student Theo Brennan-Hulme, 21, from Stoke-on-Trent, died in March 2019.

EU leaders desert research in Brussels budget showdown

Times Higher Education, 02/03/2020, David Matthews

Individual countries are failing to champion European Union research spending, raising doubts about the bloc as a serious funder of science, university lobbyists in Brussels have warned after a recent budget summit ended in deadlock.

In recent years, Brussels policymakers have talked up research and innovation as a key part of what the EU does, proposing a record €100 billion (£85 billion) budget for Horizon Europe, a spending package starting next year. The European Parliament has been even more supportive, backing a budget of €120 billion for the seven-year programme.

Universities brace for government scrutiny after Policy Exchange report

The Guardian, 01/03/2020, Sally Weale

Universities in England, still reeling from Brexit, are bracing themselves for unprecedented scrutiny as the government turns its attention to how the sector can deliver on the prime minister’s so-called “levelling up” agenda.

After No 10’s recent assault on the BBC and criticism of the civil service, there are fears that universities, which overwhelmingly supported the campaign to remain in the EU, could find themselves next in the line of fire.

One in five students lose money by going to university, IFS finds

The Guardian, 29/02/2020, Richard Adams

One in five students would be financially better off if they skipped higher education, according to groundbreaking research that compares the lifetime earnings of graduates and non-graduates.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found while 80% of former students gained financially from attending university, about 20% earned less than those with similar school results who did not attend, highlighting how some subjects, such as creative arts, offer negative financial returns.

University College London to look at renaming buildings honouring eugenicists to address ‘problematic’ history

Independent, 29/02/2020, Eleanor Busby

A top university could rename buildings and awards honouring two prominent eugenicists following concerns about secret conferences on eugenics and intelligence hosted on campus. 

University College London (UCL) has unveiled a series of measures to address its “problematic” history with eugenics after pressure from students and staff. 

Oxford lecturer admits producing indecent photographs

The Guardian, 27/02/2020, Nazia Parveen and Sally Weale

An Oxford University lecturer has been suspended after he pleaded guilty to three counts of producing indecent photographs of a child.

Peter King, a philosophy tutor who published a controversial paper on the ethics of child pornography in 2008, appeared at Oxford crown court last week. He will be sentenced next month.

Call for ‘first-in-family allowance’ to cover year’s tuition fees

The Guardian, 27/02/2020, Sally Weale

Students who are the first in their family to go to university should be given a year’s free tuition to allay fears about graduate debt and encourage them to continue into higher education, according to a report.

The authors want the government to introduce a “first-in-family allowance” which would cover tuition fees for the first year of an undergraduate degree – which normally costs £9,250 – for any student whose parents have not had tertiary education.

Fewer than 1% of UK university professors are black, figures show

The Guardian, 27/02/2020, Richard Adams

Fewer than 1% of the professors employed at UK universities are black and few British universities employ more than one or two black professors, figures show.

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) figures show UK universities continue to increase academic and non-academic staff numbers to record levels but progress on employing more staff from ethnic minorities remains sluggish.

Universities to withhold offers until after A levels

The Times, 27/02/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Pupils will receive university offers only after their A-level results in radical reforms to the admissions system that are supported by a growing number of vice-chancellors.

University chiefs are getting behind plans to stop pupils relying on either the often inaccurate predictions by their teachers or unconditional offers that require no A levels at all.

See also: Students could apply to university after A-levels under major overhaul of admissions system (Independent, 27/02/2020, Eleanor Busby)

Staff step down in Cambridge rape crisis

The Times, 24/02/2020, Rosemary Bennett

A crisis prompted by allegations of sexual abuse at a Cambridge college has deepened after the master and a senior tutor stood down temporarily.

The Rev Canon Dr Jeremy Morris, master of Trinity Hall, and William O’Reilly, acting senior tutor, were criticised for the college’s response to allegations that three students had been sexually assaulted.

Cambridge considers expanding colleges to give more places to disadvantaged students

Sunday Telegraph, 22/02/2020, Camilla Turner

Cambridge University is considering expanding all its undergraduate colleges to make more places for disadvantaged students, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

It comes as the university is under pressure to boost the number of students it admits from deprived families.

The vice-Chancellor’s staff are in “detailed disc