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The PA's PA 29th July 2016

The PA's PA 29th July 2016

Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA in a week in which the line-up for the Labour leadership became well and truly finalised.  With the court case seeking to require Jeremy Corbyn to also be nominated in order to be on the ballot failing, Labour members are set for a summer of bombardment from the camps of Corbyn and Owen Smith.  Theresa May’s ‘Grand Tour’ continued with visits to Northern Ireland – top of the list being discussions about how to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic once one is in the EU but the other out – and Eastern Europe, with the PM taking Brexit’s immigration message to Poland and Slovakia.  However, tension is already brewing between the new Department for International Trade and Number 10.  Comments from Liam Fox regarding the future, or otherwise, of the UK as part of the EU customs union were quickly slapped down by Number 10 – the new Secretary of State being reminded that decisions regarding the UK’s future relationship with the EU do not rest with him.  The week also saw history being made on theother side of the pond with a female candidate being nominated by a major party as their candidate for the presidency of the United States.  Let’s see if history is made further in November. 

In this edition:


Reshuffle update

We have finally received (the very welcome) confirmation that Baroness Neville-Rolfe has retained responsibility for IP in her ministerial portfolio. 

Brexit Update

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has risked the wrath of the City of London by appointing former Commissioner Michel Barnier as the EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator (Barnier famously capped their bonuses!).   The Sun’s political editor, Tom Newton Dunn, tweeted “hard to think of a more anti-British figure, declaration of war.” Tom Shipman of the Sunday Times, tweeted “appointing Michel Barnier, one of the least popular ex commissioners in London, as point man for Brexit is an act of war by Juncker.”  However, others have been more conciliatory.  A senior diplomat called Barnier “a logical choice in the circumstance that we’re in.  He knows financial services,” an area in which the future relationship between Brussels and London will be of critical importance.

Science funding and Brexit

In the wake of reports that British scientists are being turned away from research projects the head of the Royal Society Royal Society has called for the UK government to underwrite the research of all UK-based researchers who apply for EU funding now. Speaking in an interview with BBC Newsnight, Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, said post-Brexit uncertainty needs to be "nipped in the bud".  He said EU researchers based in the UK also need to be given assurances that they will be able to stay indefinitely.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson MP spoke at the EuroScience Open Forum in Manchester, using his speech to reassure the scientific community on the future of UK research in a post-Brexit world.  Amongst many warm words about the strength and success of the UK scientific and research community, Johnson expressed concern at reports that UK participants were being asked not to lead or participate in Horizon 2020 project bids or are reluctant to apply for longer projects as they are not confident they will receive money due after the UK’s eventual departure from the EU reminding his audience that UK remains an EU member during the 2-year renegotiation period, “with all the rights and obligations that derive from this.”  He also stressed that “EU students studying here, or looking to start in the autumn, remain eligible for student finance for the full duration of their courses. We remain fully open to scientists and researchers from across the EU. We hugely value the contribution of EU and international staff. And there are no immediate changes to their rights to live and work in the UK.”  Johnson also used the opportunity to respond to comments made earlier by Commissioner Carlos Moedas (see below) in his speech, saying: “And, forgive me, Carlos, but even on the continent of Europe, the EU is not the only game in town. Academic and research cooperation in Europe predates the EU by centuries, and the community of European academic institutions has always been much wider than the EU.”  He referenced CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Spallation Source in Sweden.  His full speech can be read here.

The Lord’s Science and Technology Committee has launched a follow up investigation into EU membership and UK science. This short investigation focuses on people, facilities and funding. The Committee seeks evidence on the science dimension of the negotiations on leaving the EU and to identify any wider actions which will be needed in the short and medium terms to ensure that science in the UK can continue to flourish.   Formal written evidence is not being solicited but the Committee is happy to hear from individuals and organisations.  The PA will be getting in touch with them.   

Higher Education and Brexit

Erasmus’ UK Director Ruth Sinclair-Jones has expressed doubt over the UK’s future involvement in the scheme. The initiative, which sees British students able to study at European universities for up to a year and European students attend UK institutions, faces a “sad moment of uncertainty” according to Sinclair-Jones. Exclusion from Erasmus would hit university finances, with 120,000 students from EU countries at UK universities, of which 27,401 are through Erasmus with their fees paid by the EU. The Observer reports on this here

The Sunday Times reports that the Prime Minister is preparing the ground for a fresh crackdown on immigration amid concerns that universities have become an easy route into Britain for migrants who want to work.  Theresa May has backed calls to restrict student visas so that only the brightest and best can study in Britain amid concerns universities have become an easy route into Britain for migrants. This follows action she took as Home Secretary to close down “bogus” colleges and to limit visas for students coming to study some further education courses. 

Research funding and Open Access

The European Commission has announced it will spend €8.5bn on its Horizon 2020 programme in 2017 for research into areas such as food security and smart cities. It also said it will require all data generated by the project to be made openly available by default to create a better relationship between research and the public. Speaking at the EuroScience Open Forum, research commissioner Carlos Moedas said that "people feel science and politics have left them behind".

Universities could soon be required to show how their research influences public engagement, culture and teaching, following a review into research funding which called for a wider interpretation of research “impact” to avoid distorting research choices and careers. The independent review into the Research Excellence Framework by economist, and President of the British Academy, Lord Nicholas Stern also suggested that universities must submit all their staff to the audit process, rather than just a selection, and proposed introducing a new university wide assessment. He also said he wanted to stop universities ‘gaming’ the system to appear higher in the rankings by recruiting researchers shortly before the date of the assessment. The Government will now work with the devolved administrations and higher education funding bodies to consider recommendations before a formal response.  A full consultation on the next REF will be published later this year. 

Education

Nick Gibb’s full speech from the ACME (Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education) Conference has been published.  In it he mentions the power of a high-quality maths textbook to ensure successful teaching.   He also notes that UK schools, ‘almost uniquely’, haven’t seen textbook choice as an area for strategic school improvement but flags the workload savings a well-designed textbook can provide. 

The Observer’s Secret Teacher writes that pupils' creativity is being crushed by the punctuation police, that an excessive focus on the correct use of grammar and punctuation is preventing youngsters in year 6 from fully exploring their creativity. The anonymous educator says the interim teacher assessment frameworks mean students are given less opportunity to be creative and added that the recent announcement that the frameworks would stay in place for the 2017 assessment cycle have dashed teachers’ hopes that they would be scrapped quickly given the huge flaws in them.

Following the new Education Secretary’s comments that she is open minded about allowing new grammar schools (as reported in last week’s PA’s PA), The Sunday Telegraph reports that over 100 Conservative MPs are expected to support scrapping the current ban.  Conservative Voice, an activist group launched by David Davis and Liam Fox (both now new Cabinet members) in 2012, has the creation of new grammar schools as one of its main campaigns. 

The BBC reports on new research from the OECD into how young people use digital technology. The economics think tank found that in many countries wealthy and poor pupils spent similar amounts of time online but that richer youngsters were much more likely to use the internet for learning rather than games.

Libraries

A third (33%) of adults used a public library in 2015/16, a decrease from 48% in 2005/06.  Usage is down across all age ranges and frequency.  DCMS posted a helpful infographic on Twitter

New Libraries Minister, Rob Wilson MP, has started his engagement with the library community with the release of this public letter.  In it, he draws a clear link between his new responsibility for Libraries with his previous and continuing role as the minister responsible for civic society. 

As one of his twenty policy pledges for the Labour Leadership, Owen Smith has promised “Greater spending on schools and libraries”. The full list of pledges can be found here.

VAT update

The UK and other EU member states could soon be allowed to reduce VAT on e-books in line with their print counter parts, after the EU Commission launched a two month consultation about the VAT rates this week. The commission acknowledged that despite the “differences between printed and electronically supplied publications ... they offer the same reading content for consumers and the VAT system needs to keep pace with the challenges of today’s digital economy”.

This week we have:

Discussed Brexit challenges and opportunities with others in the creative industries at Alliance for IP and Creative Industry Council meetings; met with our partners National Literacy Forum partners and discussed next steps for the Forum’s Literacy Business Pledge and the Forum’s interaction with Read On Get On; discussed the 2016 PR plans for the Books Are My Bag campaign; heard more from the Department for Education on its new maths initiative. 

Continuing discussions with members and other stakeholders as to the implications of Brexit, contacting the offices of the new ministers to arrange meetings for when the House returns.