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15th July 2016

Higher Education and Research Bill – what is it for?

Filed under: About universities,Diary,Not extinct — John Allen @ 6:16 pm

This morning I attended a discussion meeting at the House of Lords concerning the Higher Education and Research Bill.

In my opinion there is an urgent need to oppose this disastrous Bill.

The Convention for Higher Education has produced a summary of the many reasons for doing so.

These include, quoting from the e-mail of invitation to today’s meeting:-

  • the proposed reorganisation of research in the UK (including abolition of the Research Councils’ royal charters);
  • the proposed introduction of a lower bar for entry into English higher education by new ‘alternative providers’;
  • the proposal to abolish Privy Council involvement in the granting of English university title, and to vest all such powers (including withdrawal of title) in a new body entirely appointed by and overseen by the Secretary of State.

The Bill seems designed to consolidate Failing management in UK universities.

In its 117 pages, the Bill contains neither definition nor description of the term university. The Bill has no declared aim. What is its purpose?

Teaching is to be overseen by an Office for Students.

The White paper’s short section “Research” is entirely about United Kingdom Research and Innovation, a superstructure for the Research Councils. Is research itself no longer a core university activity?

From the Higher Education and Research Bill:-

UK research and innovation functions
UKRI may—
(a) carry out research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(b) facilitate, encourage and support research into science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(c) facilitate, encourage and support the development and exploitation of science, technology and new ideas,
(d) collect, disseminate and advance knowledge in and in connection with science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(e) promote awareness and understanding of science, technology, humanities and new ideas,
(f) provide advice on any matter relating to any of its functions, and
(g) promote awareness and understanding of its activities.

“…and new ideas” – listed as if these are a separate field of enquiry. I wonder what the authors imagine research to be?

A member of academic staff in a real university researches and teaches. These two activities are complementary; each supports the other. Research qualifies a university teacher to take students to the boundary of existing knowledge, to try to see beyond it, and to question what they find there.

11th July 2016

Quantum secrets of photosynthesis at Summer Science Exhibition 2016

Filed under: Diary — John Allen @ 10:55 am

The Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition is always full of interest. The 2016 exhibition had some remarkable displays and demonstrations.

Quantum secrets of photosynthesis was fascinating. I heard that energy transfer between chlorophyll molecules occurs more rapidly than can be explained by classical models, and that quantum superposition is required. I am not quite sure what that means, but need to find out. It somehow also has implications for understanding consciousness, apparently. Nicholas Allen, M.A. (Social Anthropology) was just as intrigued as I.


My own interest in energy transfer in photosynthesis is long-standing, while I tend to think much more of great big proteins carrying chlorophyll, changing shape, and lumbering around in membranes, to break and forge alliances with different photochemical reaction centres. I’ll have something to say on this in Verviers on August 13. I wonder if there are quantum secrets hidden under the classical model I carry around and that I have, perhaps, come to take for granted?

Full marks to Dr Alexandra Olaya-Castro and her team of enthusiasts at the exhibit for an entertaining set of demonstrations, accurate in the parts I think I understand, and accessible, I know, to a much wider audience.

3rd July 2016

29 June | Graduation, University of Edinburgh

Filed under: Diary — John Allen @ 5:41 pm

IMG_1391Graduation Ceremony for students from the School of Social and Political Science and the School of Physics and Astronomy.
Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Congratulations to all graduates, especially Nicholas Garrick Allen, M.A.


Filed under: Diary — John Allen @ 5:18 pm

Joseph Priestley, brave, honest, Yorkshire lad,
Across the centuries accepts the trust placed in his memory.
Grieving for a noble daughter,
His statue guards these flowers.

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