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Funding urgently needed to boost Welsh innovation, says NCUB

The National Centre for Universities and Businesses has called for more money to support Welsh university-business collaboration.

Wales suffers from “persistent structural deficiencies” that make it difficult for the country to capitalise on its wide range of innovation activities, according to Growing the Value of University-Business Interactions in Wales, a report published by the NCUB on 28 June.

Despite strong innovation potential, the report said universities in Wales “cannot keep abreast of their peers” elsewhere in the UK, in part due to the cancellation of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales’ innovation and engagement funding in 2014.

Kevin Morgan, a professor of governance and development at Cardiff University and lead author of the report, said in a statement that a “lack of long-term vision and ambition” had weakened innovation efforts by both businesses and universities in Wales. He called for efforts to identify future innovation hot spots so that fruitful areas of possible university-business collaboration could be targeted.

Morgan highlighted the success of the Institute for Compound Semiconductors at Cardiff University and suggested that a similar approach could be applied elsewhere. “Wales needs to bring businesses and universities together to exploit great research,” he said.

Meanwhile, the positive impact of Welsh universities on local businesses has also been examined by the Learned Society of Wales. It published a review of Welsh universities’ impact case studies in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework on 28 June.

The review, conducted by the policy unit at King’s College London, covers all the case studies submitted in Wales and demonstrates the value that Welsh universities add to the economy “with relatively small levels of research funding,” the society said.

 

UK > Politics > Parliament

 

Lords reappointed to science and technology committee

The membership of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has been confirmed following the general election.

Narendra Patel, a former professor of obstetrics and chancellor of the University of Dundee, and now a crossbench peer, will chair the committee. He was previously a member between June 2010 and March 2015.

Ajay Kakkar, professor of surgery at University College London who conducts research into the role of antithrombotic therapy in prolonging survival in cancer and the role of coagulation serine proteases in tumour biology, is one of two new appointments to the committee. The other is Colin Renfrew, a senior fellow in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge and a Conservative peer.

The reappointments are: Geoffrey Borwick, a businessman and former trustee of the British Lung Foundation; Christopher Fox, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on business, energy and industrial strategy; Julian Hunt, an emeritus professor of climate change at University College London; Robert Mair, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Cambridge; John Maxton, a former Labour MP; Sally Morgan, a former Labour minister; Pauline Neville-Jones, a former Conservative minister; Ron Oxburgh, a geologist and former rector of Imperial College London; Iain Vallance, a former chief executive of British Telecom; and Barbara Young, a former chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The first meeting of the committee and announcement of future business will be held “in due course”, according to a statement on 29 June.

 

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UK > Research Councils

 

EPSRC seeks strategy advisers

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is looking for applicants to join its strategic advisory teams.

Ruth Mallors-Ray, who chairs the EPSRC’s engineering strategic advice team, said applications were sought from individuals who “whilst a specialist in one area, are able to see beyond that specialism and act as an independent contributor to the work of the EPSRC”.

She added: “The strategic advisory team member often looks at the recommendations of EPSRC or the strategies of EPSRC and asks questions such as: how have you arrived at this recommendation? Have you been universal in your application of approach, so that the outcomes and recommendations have been arrived at through research, analysis and evidence gathering?”

Applications are welcomed from both academia and industry. The closing date is 4 August.

 

UK > Universities

 

Access to education ‘lagging’ for mature students, says report

Older potential students are being overlooked by efforts to widen access, according to the Office for Fair Access.

The public body published an analysis on whether higher education institutions met their widening access targets for 2015-16 on 29 June.

Les Ebdon, director of the Office for Fair Access, said that although many universities and colleges contributed to a “national success story” for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, there was “no sign of improvement in access for mature and part-time learners, which continues to be a grave concern”.

A lack of flexibility regarding courses was identified as a sometimes “insurmountable barrier” for older students, who often juggle work and family commitments with their studies.

The report found that older students were dropping out of their courses at more than twice the rate of their younger counterparts.

On 29 June, the Higher Education Statistics Agency published its survey of the destinations of higher education leavers who finished their studies in summer 2016. It found that 15 per cent of students went into postgraduate education, the highest level in five years. The number of unemployed graduates fell to 5 per cent, down from 7 per cent in for those who left university in the summer of 2012.  

 

UK > Charities & Societies

 

Alternatives to animal research to be shared openly

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research has announced a collaboration with F1000Research, an open-access publisher.

The partners intend to create a portal where NC3Rs grant holders can share their research methods. The portal is due to be launched in early 2018, following a consultation.

In a blog post on 29 June, Vicky Robinson, chief executive of NC3Rs, said the collaboration was part of the organisation's strategy to address the slow speed at which new alternative animal research techniques were being adopted into routine practice.

Robinson said that NC3Rs grant holders were frequently asked by journals to remove details of their methodology when publishing, which has led to a lack of information about new techniques in the scientific literature.

“It is a missed opportunity for achieving a 3Rs legacy to not report the model development itself,” said Robinson. “To address this we have established a new collaboration with F1000Research to set up an NC3Rs gateway—a dedicated portal for NC3Rs grant holders to publish what they achieved in enough detail to demonstrate the utility of the 3Rs model.” 

 

UK > Innovation

 

Rolls Royce rolls out £150m UK investment

Engineering firm Rolls Royce plans to invest £150 million in R&D facilities at its aerospace manufacturing site in Derby.

The experimental test-bed will provide a base for the development of next-generation engines and ensure that at least some of the company’s manufacturing remains in the UK, according to a report in the Financial Times on 29 June.

If realised, the project would be the company’s single biggest investment into the UK for more than a decade. The Financial Times reported that many company employees in Derby feared that the plant would close after financial difficulties and that manufacturing would be moved abroad.

Trade unions welcomed the move, saying that it provided significant job security for the 7,000 civil aerospace employees in the region.

 

National Nuclear Laboratory wins £7m research contract

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has awarded £7 million in funding for nuclear research.

It has given a £5m contract for advanced nuclear fuels research in areas such as reactor modelling and plutonium-based fuels to the National Nuclear Laboratory, a government-owned facility based at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site in Cumbria. The lab has also won a second contract, worth £2m, for research into recycling of fuels and waste management. The funding is part of the UK's national nuclear R&D programme.

Richard Harrington, a junior minister for industry and energy, said that the lab would work with partners to help the government deliver on initiatives such as the clean growth plan and the industrial strategy.

Both contracts include work recommended by the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, an independent organisation that advised the government on nuclear issues from 2014 to 2016.

The national nuclear R&D programme was announced as part of the comprehensive spending review in 2015. 

 

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