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Teesside professors told to reapply for jobs

Teesside University has told 27 of its professors to reapply for their jobs over the summer.

Plans to create a new research professor title as part of an effort to boost Teesside University’s standing in the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) have been met with hostility by academics and trade unions.

The University and College Union called the university’s actions “bizarre”, and claimed that it had failed to clarify the rationale. The university dropped a “bombshell” on staff who were preparing for their summer break and the new academic year, the UCU said in a statement on 7 July.

According to the UCU, the university wants to interview all 27 staff members by the end of August, during which they must justify their personal research and funding bids. They will also be interviewed by a panel.

Teesside University entered eight units of assessment in the 2014 REF. Most of its research was deemed to be either internationally excellent but falling short of the highest standards (3*) or of quality that is recognised internationally (2*).

A Teesside University spokesman said the university believed the action was necessary because it was working towards an “ambitious new Teesside 2020 strategy” that is “committed to building on its success in the last REF, which rated the majority of its research as world-leading or internationally excellent”.

As such, Teesside would like to create a new research professor title with a clearer and consistent role description, and with expectations defined and agreed by the university’s academic board, he said.

The university claimed that it was still in the early stages of consultation with the 27 affected staff and that no specific timeframe had been set. So long as the staff “meet the new criteria, they will be appointed”, the spokesman said. He criticised the UCU for publicising the plans at an early stage in the process and said: “No element of the process has yet been finalised and this is all subject to consultation.”

Jon Bryan, regional support official for the UCU, said that his main concern was uncertainty, as there was no guarantee that all affected staff would have a job at the end of the process. He said the exercise was likely to adversely affect staff morale and their prospects.

Bryan told Research Fortnight that the trade union had already spoken to a number of affected staff and “they are very annoyed and concerned” with the plans. He noted that #TeessideProfs has begun to circulate on Twitter.

 

UK > Politics > Whitehall

 

Dearth of skilled graduates in ocean industry, says government

Marine enterprises in the UK are struggling to attract the skilled engineering graduates needed to make a big economic impact, the Government Office for Science has said.

The UK has many engineering and business strengths in the ocean economy, but companies have “struggled to articulate” their value as a coherent and integrated industry, according to the government report.

Foresight Future of the Sea, published on 6 July, outlined industry perspectives on the future of ocean-related enterprises in the UK.

An increase in automation and the adoption of new technologies demands the recruitment of people with new skills, it said. This means that the ocean industry will have to compete with the automotive and aeronautical industries for skilled engineering graduates.

To attract graduates, the marine industry must “increase the range and depth” of employment opportunities it offers, the report recommended.   

 

Stellenbosch University’s Graduate School of Economic and Management Sciences (GEM) is accepting applications for its full-time, residential PhD programme. Suitable candidates are invited to apply for full-time doctoral scholarships in the Graduate School’s advertised research programmes, to commence studies in January 2018.

 

Three universities to build 5G test network

The University of Bristol, the University of Surrey and King's College London have been selected to develop a 5G test network to boost innovation in the UK.

Matt Hancock, minister for digital, announced plans for the £16-million test network on 6 July.

He said the aim of the project was to “put Britain at the forefront of the next wave of mobile technology—potentially adding up to £173 billion to the economy by 2030”.

“We know 5G has the potential to bring more reliable, ultrafast mobile connectivity, with quicker reaction times and larger data capabilities,” Hancock said in a statement. “This funding will support the pioneering research needed to ensure we can harness the potential of this technology to spark innovation, create new jobs and boost the economy.”

The test network is the first part of a four-year programme of investment and collaboration in the government’s 5G testbeds and trials initiative.

Other institutions will be invited to bid for further programme funding from 2018-19.  

 

Overseas aid target met, says DFID

The UK spent 0.7 per cent of national income on international development in 2016, according to the annual accounts of the Department for International Development.

The report, published on 6 July, said that the UK continued to meet its international commitment and had provided £13 billion for this purpose in 2016.

Priti Patel, the international development secretary, said that problems such as famine, child sex slavery and drug-resistant infections were affecting “record numbers” of people, in a preface to the report published on 6 July.

“It is not in our national interest to sit on our hands and wait until these problems reach breaking point or find their way to our doorstep,” said Patel. She noted that as the UK exits the European Union, it should “be more outward looking and engaged in the world”.

Patel said that the department would maintain a 3 per cent budget spend on research, in addition to the £357m Ross Fund to address global challenges.

 

UK > Politics > Parliament

 

Lib Dem MPs compete to chair science select committee

A Liberal Democrat will chair the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, with two MPs standing.

Jo Swinson, MP for East Dunbartonshire, and Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, have put their names forward.

Swinson is deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats and describes herself as a “former business minister, runner, feminist and booklover” on Twitter.

Lamb is the health spokesman and has campaigned for health and social care reform.

Elections will be held on 12 July.

The chairs of numerous other select committees will also be chosen at the same time, having all been dissolved as a result of the general election.

Stephen Metcalfe, Conservative MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, who used to chair the science committee, has confirmed his intention to stand to chair the education select committee. He tweeted that he wanted to focus on “delivering student potential”.

 

UK > Research Councils

 

Browne appointed chairman of Francis Crick Institute

A former chief executive of BP and the architect of the tuition-fee system in England is to chair the Francis Crick Institute.

John Browne, who was elevated to the peerage in 2001, will take up the role on 1 August, according to a statement published on 6 July. He is expected to head the board of trustees for the next seven years.

A businessman, Browne was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 2006. He served as president of the Royal Academy of Engineering between 2006 and 2011. He chairs the trustees of the Tate gallery in London and is also executive chairman of L1 Energy, an oil and gas investment company co-owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman. He is also chairman of the international advisory board of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

In 2009 he led an independent review into university tuition fees in England, which recommended lifting the £3,225 cap in 2010.

The Crick institute is an independent organisation devoted to uncovering the biological basis of health and disease to improve diagnosis and treatment. Opened in 2016, it is a partnership between Cancer Research UK, Imperial College London, King's College London, the Medical Research Council, University College London and the Wellcome Trust. It employs 1,500 staff including 1,250 scientists and has an annual budget of more than £100 million, making it the biggest single medical lab in Europe.

Its director is Paul Nurse, a Nobel laureate and architect of the plans to create UK Research and Innovation, a single umbrella body housing all seven research councils.

 

Rosalind Franklin Institute identifies leadership team

An interim team has been appointed to lead a national interdisciplinary research centre being built at Harwell.

Andrew Livingston, professor of chemical engineering at Imperial College London, has been selected to spearhead the project as interim academic lead for the institute, according to a statement published by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council on 6 July.

Livingston will work with the project’s 10 university partners to define the institute’s science and technology programmes, build partnerships with other universities, forge links with industry and set up the institute’s formal and legal structures.

Livingston, who led the establishment of the Engineered Medicines Laboratory—a collaboration between Imperial and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline—said he believed the creation of the Rosalind Franklin Institute “represents a unique opportunity for the convergence of science, engineering and medicine”.

James Naismith, director of the research complex at Harwell, has been appointed co-lead for the institute and will oversee the design of the new “hub” building. 

Plans to create the institute were first announced in the 2015 spending review, but further development has been slow. Only in February this year did the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announce a £103-million commitment to the institute. 

Speaking to Research Fortnight in February, Ian Walmsley, pro-vice chancellor for research at the University of Oxford who has led development of the institute, said the government’s commitment had “put the fuel in the tank” for the institute.

A series of town meetings are being planned to engage with potential partners and other interested parties.

 

UK > Charities & Societies

 

EngineeringUK appoints chief executive

Mark Titterington will become the chief executive of EngineeringUK, which represents British engineers and engineering companies.

Titterington will join the organisation after more than a decade at Syngenta, an agriculture technology company where he is the global head of corporate affairs. He will start his new job in October.

Malcolm Brinded, who chairs EngineeringUK, said in a statement on 5 July that Titterington’s business background and policy experience made him well placed to “build on the achievements” of departing chief executive Paul Jackson.

Titterington said EngineeringUK played a “critical role in inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in engineering”.

He added that he was “absolutely delighted” to have been appointed as chief executive.  

 

UK > Careers

 

Nominations sought for Queen’s new year honours list

University staff who have demonstrated exceptional contributions in the areas of research, teaching, administration and philanthropy can be recommended for recognition.

Nominees are sought from all levels within institutions, particularly staff in manual, clerical and supporting positions, according to a letter from the Higher Education Funding Council for England circulated on 6 July. The council said it was keen to encourage more diversity in the nominations, and that it would especially welcome recommendations for female candidates, and for black and ethnic minority candidates.

The names of all nominees must be submitted electronically to the Cabinet Office. They will then be considered by two independent committees.

Nominations are also sought for a British Empire Award Medal, which recognises individuals in junior or auxiliary roles who have been actively engaged in work that promotes stronger societal values.

The deadline for nominations is 8 September.

 

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