Exquisite Life Exquisite Life Research Europe Research Fortnight

November 09, 2011

Research Globalisation Live Blog

by Laura Hood

Session 1: Global research alliances

Welcome to the Research Fortnight live blog, direct from our annual conference at the St Pancras Hotel in London. Speakers for the first session are Lord Bhattacharyya, chairman of Warwick Manufacturing Group, Prof Anton Muscatelli, VC of GLasgow, and Dr Syed Zahoor Hassan, from Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. The session is chaired by Prof  Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities. 

Lord Bhattacharyya: British research is excellent but my message is not just 'well done, carry on'. There are 4 areas we need to look at:

1. Our research strengths do not match those of our emerging competitors, who focus increasingly in physical sciences and engineering. It's not hard to see why emerging economies should specialise in these areas, they have impact.

2. The UK needs faster growth in partnerships. While our partnerships in China are growing, they are not growing as fast as Chinese research overall.

3. Our overall R&D spend is still too low. Our low business R&D spend is a particular problem and is lower than all our comparator nations as a percentage of GDP.

4. We don't partner enough with business.

The emphasis on bibliometric measures of impact, such as citations are also a hindrance to collaborations with emerging countries such as Brazil, this is particularly as a result of the relationship between language and citation counts. We need to move away from this.


Prof  Anton Muscatelli: The UK's funding for HE is slightly lower than the OECD average and research funding is increasingly concentrated. So does the UK still have a comparative advantage? I argue that it does but because of collaboration. We have to collaborate in order to compete. Three of the main drivers for this are diversifying funding streams, bringing the best together and addressing global challenges.

There is a danger of seperating teaching and research in this discussion. I would argue that building research collaborations without some element of collaborative teaching is slightly dangerous. That's how to ensure a new generation of researchers.

 Dr Syed Zahoor Hassan: We are a young institution, at only 25 years old. Our experiences reflect a very different context to what we've been hearing so far today. We decided in 2005 to be a research university. From day one, we decided to have international presence at board level. Our strategy has always been to go with global benchmarks and seek global partnerships at every opportunity.

Challenges for institutions in Pakistan include difficulty in accessing data and the need to collaborate with a Western partner to access it; a lack of critical mass of researchers; and a lack of local expertise on filing patents and the cost of hiring expertise from abroad. Research collaboration deals should include support for filing patents.

Now it's time for questions from the floor.

Q. It's easy to set up campuses and collaborations but the challenge is to make them efficient. A recent BIS report shows that mobility rather than just collaboration, is effective. Researchers who have worked elsewhere are 2.5 times more productive. It's about how we collaborate.

Muscatelli: I quite agree. We have decided to channel sufficient resources into a number of strategic partnerships.

 A question from the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Could prof Muscatelli comment on pressure from multinational business and even the media.

Muscatelli: Does the media pressure you to do things or not do things. So far we haven't seen a huge amount of opposition to our work but we do choose not to occupy certain spaces, such as working with tobbacco companies.

Q. How important has Glasgow's Easy Access IP project been in easing IP problems

Muscatelli: It's early days, but has had quite a lot of traction in early cases and industry is responding postively. I was of the belief that we did unnecessarily hold collaborations back because of IP issues and so I was a big proponant of the scheme. I really hope it will make a difference because I think if we can't play our part in trying to solve the problem then we are failing in a public duty.

October 04, 2011

Is green turning back to blue?

by Laura Hood

The coalition government has clearly stated its goal to be the “greenest government ever” but Chancellor George Osborne's speech in Manchester yesterday has sent murmurs around the conference that this commitment is slipping.

Osborne appeared to imply that the green agenda represents a threat to growth. Here is the passage that seems to have caused all the upset:

“Yes, we must have investment in greener energy. And that’s why I gave the go ahead to the world’s first Green Investment Bank. But Britain makes up less than 2% of the world’s carbon emissions to China and America’s 40%.  We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business. So let’s at the very least resolve that we’re going to cut our carbon emissions no slower but also no faster than our fellow countries in Europe.”

In a fringe meeting on renewable energy today, Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr said Osborne's words betrayed a deep-rooted problem in government. If the 'Treasury trolls', as he described them, continue to see the green agenda as a threat rather than an opportunity, the UK risks losing its lead in areas such as tidal and wind energy to global competitors. Producing renewable energy and developing the technologies needed for it presents economic opportunity, said Parr, but Osborne's words implied that he continues to fail to see this. Parr added that the government must harness the huge potential for innovation that exists in the UK in this area as a way of addressing the energy challenge as well as supporting economic growth.

However, Greg Barker, minister for energy and climate change dismissed Parr's concerns as “absolute nonsense.” According to him, the government remains fully committed to the green agenda but is moving into a new, “muscular” “green politics 2.0”, where alternatives to fossil fuel must prove their economic value. “We've got to move away from the Al Gore 'hello flowers, hello trees' green of 2005,” he told the fringe event. He added that renewables continue to be more expensive than fossil fuels and that the government faces pressure to show value for money during the economic crisis.

He denied that Osborne's words represented a shift away from existing government policy and that he had merely been referring to the UK's right to reconsider its carbon commitments if other countries fail to pull their weight.

May 11, 2011

Cuts in Culture conference live blog - 1 of 3

by Laura Hood

Welcome to Research Fortnight's Cuts in Culture live blog from Bafta. Our first session today is Policy in Context: Challenging or Inspiring Creativity?

Our speakers are Lord Denis Stevenson; Ivan Lewis, shadow secretary of state for culture media and sport; Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre;  and Peter Scott, professor of higher education at the Institute of Education. Their chairman is Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts.

News, instant analysis and comment on  what was said. Read from the bottom up.

Continue reading "Cuts in Culture conference live blog - 1 of 3" »

May 10, 2011

Now, class, prepare to concentrate

by Laura Hood

Some of the UK’s top arts and humanities institutions get little or no money from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Joseph Milton and Laura Hood report.

Continue reading "Now, class, prepare to concentrate" »

April 01, 2011

David Willetts: you are no Germaine Greer

by Laura Hood

Universities and science minister David Willetts has landed in hot water over his remarks about feminism ahead of the launch of the UK government’s social mobility strategy.

But this is not the first time ‘Two Brains’ has courted controversy with his views on the effects of feminism on work, life and the family.

Continue reading "David Willetts: you are no Germaine Greer" »

December 14, 2010

Live blog on Lords tuition fees vote

by Laura Hood

This afternoon, the House of Lords will debate and vote on the government's proposals to raise tuition fees in English universities to up to £9,000.

William Cullerne Bown and Laura Hood will be blogging below as it all happens.

Bookmark this page and come back at any time for by-the-moment news, instant analysis and comment on  what is said.

No fancy technology. Refresh your browser for updates. Read from the bottom up.


20:37 No real surprises in this result, it appeared clear from the start that the government would prevail. However, Triesman put up a good fight. This blog will be updated when the individual votes are published, but for now, we are signing out. Thanks everyone for joining. 

20:22 And the proposal to increase to £9k is passed 273 votes for to 200 votes against

20.15 Next the vote to increase fees to a maximum of £9,000

20:15 And Triesman is defeated. Peers agreeing to the amendment number 215. Peers disagreeing number 283

19:58 awaiting decision on Triesman's amendment, which would negate the Commons vote and stop the increased fees proposal in its tracks

19:55 And now Triesman sums up for the opposition. He appeals to the peers to vote for his amendment if they don't feel that the evidence for the government proposal is there. The debate cannot be properly held until the other bits of the picture are in front of the house following the publication of a white paper

19:50 The UCU tweets that it is "quite stunned" by some of the things Lord Ashdown said earlier

19:42 on accusations that the proposal is being rushed through, Henley argues that by the summer, students will already be choosing the university they wish to attend. Everyone needs to know where they stand by then.

19:39 Lord Henley is summing up for the government. He continues to argue that the proposal is fair, despite some pretty convincing arguments to the contrary from some very passionate peers

19:28 Baroness Hollins raises the important question of the costs associated with studying 45 hours a week for five years to get a medical degree and how to prevent students from lower income families from being put off from a career as a doctor as a result of higher fees

19:25 Ashdown says he sees no problem in saddling young people with large amounts of debt, we already think it's fine to let them take out large mortgages. Why not make them pay back on their 'intellectual property' as well?

19:18 Ashodown says that he tried to talk the Lib Dems out of their stance against fees as far back as 1998. We've had to ammend the view we took, he says, but did so to form a coalition government to guide the country out of crisis.

19:17 This is a highly dangerous situation and the government has still not engaged with the students on the issue, says Lord Winston

19:02 Aaron Porter tweets: "cross-benchers in the Lords appear to be coming out in favour of a delay to tuition fees. Wonder if the Lords can force a Govt defeat?"

If John Krebs' powerful speech is anything to go by, the NUS president has got a point.

19:01 University is not like toothpaste or a fizzy drink, says Krebs: the market will not necessarily deliver what the nation needs. It needs deliberation

18:54 Lord Krebs, principal of Jesus College Oxford and chairman of the Lords science committee, says he is backing Triesman's fatal amendment: No, the proposals are not fair; no, they do not make HE more sustainable; and no, we don't understand their consequences

18:53 Blackstone says that Labour would have cut teaching funding, but not to this extent.

18:45 Martin Rees is sitting next to John Browne in the back row. Do they agree on this?

18:44 A quick summary on what Margaret Sharp said. It doesn’t look like she will be voting with the government. She ended her speech by saying there are things she likes in the package, but - with visibly heavy heart - “other elements that I don’t understand and are unfair.” Sharp’s main concerns seem to have been that poor students will be put
off, that the level of debt is just too high (£80,000 for a couple), that the “very high” 9% level of tax will last for 30 years for many. Oh, and what David Willetts railed against in The Pinch, that baby boomers are dumping the problem on the next generation. She’s also unhappy with the financing mechanisms. Thanks to HEPI, IFS and London Economics, she suspects the government’s loss on the loans will be more than the 28 per cent the Treasury has estimated. But even
on the Treasury’s own assumptions, the loss is more or less what it is saving in cuts from the BIS budget. “Down the line, the cost is just the same,” she says. In other words, what’s the point of all this upheaval? But Sharp did not tell us whether she will vote with the Opposition or abstain on the amendments. She’s not trying to rouse a rebellion.

18:40 Baroness Blackstone, vice-chancellor of the University of Greenwich and former minister, says teaching funding is an investment, not a subsidy. Removing funding for most subjects has caused despair in the sector. No other country has removed teaching funding for the main part.

18:35 Baroness Greenfield has apparently told the BBC that she will be voting against the increase

18:29 Lord Giddens is highlighting the many ways in which the US university system differs to ours. There are strong measures to widen participation, a credit system that makes it easier for students to opt in and out during their studies and universities with huge endowments. We are getting all the negative aspects of the US system under this proposal without the benefits

18:27 Despite all the merits of the proposed system, it is unfair, she says. However, she is attacking Labour, who have been hypocritical. Labour introduced fees, commissioned the Browne review and initially rejected a graduate tax. She does not say how she will vote

18:25 Repayments at 9% are in effect a 30 year graduate tax. I feel that we, who did not pay for our education, are lumbering the younger generation with substantial debt, she says.

18:22 Whatever people say about students being used to debt, she says, work by the Sutton Trust does show very clearly that a sharp hike in fees may make students very uncertain about whether they want to go to university. The larger loans means they are less likely to be paid off in the end.

18:21 but here come her 'substantial reservations'

18:19 Margaret Sharp, the 'undecided' Lib Dem  spokeswoman for education says she has some sympathy for Cable's proposals

18:15 He warns against seeing education as a market commodity rather than as something for the common good. A wide range of subjects must be offered.

18:09 It seems the Church of England is not entirely on board with this either. The Rev John Saxbee, chairman of its education board, questions whether the normalisation of this kind of debt is morally defensible or socially sustainable

17:55 Over at Channel 4, Gary Gibbon says Lib Dems expect the revolt among its Lords to be counted on one hand. "The Great Unknown in tonight’s vote," he says,  "is the Crossbenchers, but a significant proportion of them have university posts of one kind or another and their university friends are thought to be leaving them in no doubt that they want tonight’s vote passed.

17:53 Browne—Living costs during studies are what puts students off, says Browne, not tuition fees, which don't have to be paid back until after graduation

17:52 We recommended lifting the cap on student numbers as well as on fees, says Browne. Allowing institutions to grow in response to student needs is critical to the success of the sector

17:50 Lord Browne, who made these proposals in the first place, is up to speak. He says that he supports the government motion even though some of the proposals deviate from his report.

17:47 Cut on this level would never have been considered, he responds

17:45 Lord Ashdown asks Triesman how the Labour party would fill the gap left by the necessary sharp drop in funding

17:40 He appeals to the business people in the Lords. Would any of them disregard the effect cost has on demand? No sane person would make decisions like this in business without doing the market research. This proposal lacks the rudimentary science on which policy should be based.

17:38 Where too is the study on the impact of the proposals on women—those most likely to take career breaks?

17:34 Triesman—There is not a prayer of encouraging more lower income students to apply for university. Triesman wants to see the specific research on the "appetite for debt" among these families. These people suffer it but don't welcome it, perhaps there is too little experience of debt in the government to really understand this.

17.33 "it is, straightforwardly, undeclared privatisation of our universities"

17:31 Did Browne know about the cuts to come when he made the proposals? Triesman wants to know. If not, he was surely aiming for increased investments

17:29 He says that one vice-chancellor has told him that the government is somewhat disingenuous when it says it has the support of university leaders (as Vince Cable did in the Commons debate) it is, in fact a Hobson's choice. They are being forced to charge rates that no other country has contemplated.

17:26 Universiites will charge the top rate, he says. Any university charging less than around £7k will actually lose money

17:15 Commissioning a report does not necessarily mean agreeing with it. Labour commissioned the Browne review under very different crcumstances and it would be foolish not to disucuss it. This proposal changes everything, says Triesman

17:14 Lord Triesman on his proposed amendment—it's unfortunate but necessary. The consequences for the future of higher education policy and the damage the propsals will do cannot go unchallenged.

17:13 He says Lord Bilimoria's call for introducing fee increases gradually rather than all at once would be damaging

17:09 He reminds the house that Triesman's 'fatal' amendement would stop the fees proposal in its tracks

 17:08 Lord Henley opens the debate. He opposes the amendments and motions tabled to prevent the vote

16:29 Students are apparently planning a last-minute protest at the Lords during the debate

15:44 Welcome to today's live blog. The Lords will debate fees this afternoon now that the governmen has won the House of Commons vote on the subject. The coalition has a majority of 40 in the Lords but that doesn't guarantee an easy ride. Labour peer David Triesman has tabled an amendment in a bid to delay the vote and education spokeswoman Margaret Sharp says she is still undecided.


November 16, 2010

Top government science and research post axed in civil service reshuffle

by Laura Hood

The government is to abolish the position of Director General of Science and Research at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Research Fortnight has learnt.

The DGSR post, which pays a salary of around £165,000, is to disappear as part of a wider shake-up at the top of BIS. In a letter to staff, Permanent Secretary Martin Donnelly confirmed the department will be organised under just three policy groups from the next financial year. Science, research, universities and space will now sit inside a new group called Knowledge and Innovation.

“This [Knowledge and Innovation] grouping spans elements of three of the existing groups, so it has not proved possible to do a match for this post,” Donnelly wrote in the letter. “Having consulted the Cabinet Office I have concluded there should therefore be a competition to fill the new post.”

The new post has been advertised internally and interviews are being held this week—suggesting that a career civil servant is being sought. It is not clear whether the current DGSR Adrian Smith, former principal of Queen Mary, University of London, intends to apply. Smith has been the DGSR since September 2008.
During a hearing of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee on 16 November, chief scientific adviser John Beddington revealed that he had not been consulted on the decision—a situation which he described as “deeply regrettable”.

Continue reading "Top government science and research post axed in civil service reshuffle" »

September 24, 2010

Nesta chief to quit as quango's fate hangs in the balance

by Laura Hood

The chief executive of the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts announced he is quitting the post just days before a leaked government document revealed the organisation is not yet safe from abolition.

In a letter to leaders of science organisations dated 21 September, Jonathan Kestenbaum revealed that he is leaving NESTA to take over the helm of Five Arrows Ltd from owner Jacob Rothschild.

On 24 September, a document leaked to the BBC revealed that NESTA’s future is “still to be decided” as part of a government cull of arms length bodies.

There are 180 bodies on the leaked list that are to be abolished and a further 124 that will be merged, the BBC reports.

Although NESTA’s future is still up in the air its leader is departing at a crucial time.

“It will be a great wrench to leave NESTA but I have discussed it with the board and they understand that working with Lord Rothschild to expand and develop the investment company is an extraordinary privilege,” Kestenbaum wrote.

Bodies on the list to be abolished include the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property.

The Department of Health’s advisory bodies on HIV, AIDS, dangerous pathogens and its Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition will all be abolished and brought into the department. The same fate awaits its Alcohol Education and Research Council.

As previously announced, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and Human Tissue Authority will also go.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England, the seven research councils and the Technology Strategy Board are on the list to be retained.

Meanwhile, the Royal Society of Chemistry is “ready and willing” to fill the gap left behind by the abolished quangos.

“The RSC’s specialist member groups offer much science and education expertise offered by bodies reportedly facing the axe, such as the Air Quality Expert Group, Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and numerous others,” said chief executive Richard Pike in a statement. “Should these bodies be abolished or combined, the collective expertise of the 46,000 members of the RSC stands ready and willing to assist the government in making sound, evidence-based policy decisions.”

September 09, 2010

Flip flopping at the IChemE

by Laura Hood

The Institute of Chemical Engineering appears to have had a curious change of heart in the wake of yesterday’s gloomy speech from Vince Cable.

The organisation has responded to the news that the science budget faces cuts by saying that the search for the Higgs Boson should be put on ice.

In a statement released yesterday, Andy Furlong, head of policy at the IChemE said the following:

"Innovative process engineering is central to the quest for solutions and it's important that spending should be directed towards these areas. The UK is well placed to secure a competitive advantage in emerging fields with attractive revenue generating potential, such as industrial biotechnology. Curiosity driven scientific research remains important and pure science has enjoyed a real boost over the last decade. But the financial crisis has changed the game and a shift of focus is needed. As ever, the devil is in the detail and we look forward to assisting government with the development of its plans. But for now at least the search for the Higgs Boson may have to wait.”

It’s not so long ago that the IChemE wrote a joint letter with the Institute of Physics to Research Fortnight saying pretty much the opposite. The two were responding to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s suggestion that money should be pulled from particle physics to support near-market research:

“We recognise that in the current economic background there needs to be a strong focus on value for money in all government expenditure, but this must recognise the synergy between basic science and the translation or innovation capability. There does need to be an emphasis on application (which emphatically does not necessarily mean just short-term application) as a reflection of economic need, but not at the expenses of undermining the science base.”

So what has prompted this u-turn? The IChemE say that they don’t want to see an “ugly scrap” over funding. But you might say that this is exactly how you start one.

July 30, 2010

Chemical engineers back physicists in row with Royal Academy of Engineering

by Laura Hood

The Institution of Chemical Engineers has come down on the side of physicists in the row between the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Physics ahead of October’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

The RAEng wrote to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills earlier this month calling on the government to reconsider its support for fundamental research, and of particle physics in particular, in favour of science that could provide more short-term economic returns.

In a letter sent today to Research Fortnight, signed jointly by David Brown, chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers and Robert Kirby-Harris, chief executive of the Institute of Physics, the government is urged to continue backing basic research.

The text of the letter is as follows:


The UK’s future will not be helped by a ‘battle’ for funds between basic research and engineering application: they need each other.

Continue reading "Chemical engineers back physicists in row with Royal Academy of Engineering" »

Laura Hood

Laura Hood

Laura Hood is news editor for Research Fortnight.