Archive for the 'Higher Education' Category

URGENT: All who cycle in Camden: 19 June deadline for Huntley Street consultation

Apologies for the impossibly short notice but the London Cycling Campaign has just sent out the following action alert. I encourage all who cycle in the UCL/Bloomsbury area to respond immediately.

Deadline 19th June for letters and emails regarding a) Cycling contraflow in Huntley Street, Camden b) Cycle Hire docking station in Huntley St, Camden

We understand that both the proposal for a cycle contraflow in Huntley Street and the bike hire docking station in this street may be rejected because of resident objections. We understand there have been very few letters of support for either the contraflow for cycle users or the docking station. Many local cyclists will be unaware of this important consultation. We urge you to express your view immediately.

As you may be are aware local residents, and the many students, hospital staff and patients who use this street are currently forced to use the very busy Tottenham Court Road gyratory system to avoid the one way arrangement along a short (Torrington Place to University Street) but critical stretch of road. Huntley Street, as many people know, is directly linked to one of the busiest cycle routes in Britain – along Torrington Place. Making a small section of Huntley Street two way for cyclists will enable the many thousand of users of the busy cycle route to access University College Hospital and other buildings in this area without having to use the Tottenham Court Road gyratory system. Huntley Street itself has very little traffic and the northern stretch of the street is already two way for all vehicles – in terms of safety this contraflow is not problematic and it will only require minor works .

It would be most regrettable if a useful facility and a reduction in road danger to cyclists will be rejected when funding is available to carry out the necessary works. We understand the funding will be returned to TfL if the proposal is rejected.

The location of a cycle docking station in Huntley Street would be a great convenience for local residents as well as patients who wish to go to University College Hospital. It would unfortunate if this station were rejected. The contraflow in Huntley Street would make the short journey to the Torrington Place cycle route or UCL Hospital legal in both directions.

We understand that the council is consulting on the two matters separately in the same document. All local cyclists whether local residents, users of UCL Hospital. UCL students, Camden Cycling Campaign members, LCC members, CTC London members or any others are urged to write immediately to Dave Stewart, principal engineer, making their views clear on either or both proposals. The deadline is Saturday 19th of June. His email is dave.stewart {at} .

The consultation can be found at

What one cyclist wrote to Camden Council:

“Dear Dave Stewart ,
I would like to show my support for the measures outlined in the consultation on a) Cycling contraflow in Huntley Street, Camden b) Cycle Hire docking station in Huntley St, Camden.
I am a regular cyclist in the area and I would find these facilities very useful.

Yours sincerely,
Alix Stredwick”

Demise of languages and humanities teaching at Imperial College

Below is the full text of my letter to Felix, published 5 June 2009. (I would link to it but I think it was only published in their print edition.)

Dear Editor,

I was saddened to read in the Times Higher Education Supplement that Imperial is massively cutting back its provision of languages and humanities tuition.

The opportunity to broaden study options was one of the reasons I, and I’m sure many other IC students and alumni, chose to go to Imperial. Engineers and scientists at other universities tend to just get a handful of frankly boring management courses. As a practising engineer I can confirm that the wide opportunity to study languages and humanities produces more rounded graduates better equipped to fulfill the leadership roles required in today’s multi-disciplinary and multi-functional workplaces. It’s something I’ve always considered just as important as the wide range of student clubs, societies and sports.

Language tuition is also essential to widen students’ opportunities for a year abroad or overseas internship. Many of my friends at IC were able to pursue these. In every case it contributed much to their personal development. Most had not studied the language before university and would therefore have been excluded under the new plans.

Imperial’s provision is, I believe, unique for science students in the UK; but not amongst the Ivy League institutions that we now know the Rector is so keen to emulate. It’s perhaps worth noting that the condemned Roman History module was introduced at IC in 2005, in response to MIT announcing that it was their most popular option amongst their engineering students.

Perusing Felix online I was surprised to see a comment that languages are seen as a soft option. That might be true of a small number of students who cover up their existing language proficiency but it’s an extraordinary generalisation to make. I’m sure most students whose natural talent is in numerate, scientific disciplines find both language and essay-type subjects difficult and hard work. Certainly I found my French, Italian and political philosophy courses much harder than any engineering module. I know it’s been a couple of years since I graduated but we always used to consider the management courses as the noddy ones: does anone seriously think “accounting” is even in the same league as “fluid dynamics”?

I know protests have been planned. I hope IC students are able to reverse these plans and the College is able to find a way to keep humanities and languages alive.

Mustafa Arif
DoC / EEE 1999-2003
IC Union President 2003-2005

Academics should not allocate research funds

It’s long been the case that the greatest barrier to the advancement of a UK involvement in manned space exploration programme has been the vested interests of the scientific establishment. Distinguished academic prima donnas have a tendency to allocate research funds to their own pet projects (or to at least vote down expensive projects that may compete for funds with their own). Now we learn that the disgraceful decision to close the Jodrell Bank observatory was made by other scientists protecting their vested interests [The Times].

This state of affairs in unacceptable. Left to their own devices it’s only natural for scientists to allocate funds to projects closer to their own interests. Yet even on a broader perspective it should not be for the scientific community to decide who taxpayer funded research grants should be allocated. Science has benefits far beyond the sake of science itself. There are not just the tangible benefits such as improvement to health and quality of life. There are also intangible benefits such as inspiring future generations. Scientists alone are not best placed to weigh up all these pros and cons.

Of course it’s right that scientists should be involved in the decision-making process – any funding body needs to include expert members. But the funding council boards should not consist of expert members exclusively. As with other public bodies there should be a diversity of skills, knowledge and experience, with a lay majority, so that future decisions can be made to reflect the overall interests and priorities of society, not the scientific establishment.

In defiance of the ring finger ratio

In See Those Fingers? Do the Math [ScienceNOW], Constance Holden describes the latest study in brain and finger development by Mark Brosnan and collleagues at the University of Bath.

Boys with the longest ring fingers relative to their index fingers tend to excel in math, according to a new study. In girls, shorter ring fingers predict better verbal skills. The link, according to the researchers, is that testosterone levels in the womb influence both finger length and brain development.

Scientists have been interested for years in the observation that ratios of finger lengths differ in men and women. In men, the ring (fourth) finger is usually longer than the index (second); their so-called 2D:4D ratio is lower than 1. In females, the two fingers are more likely to be the same length.

That’s all very well. However my index fingers are longer than my ring fingers. And I have a (strongly mathematical, academic) degree in Engineering from the Imperial College, London.

Source: Boys with Longer Ring Fingers are Better at Math [Slashdot].