The big questions remain unanswered

In May the news was dominated by US pharma giant Pfizer’s attempts to acquire its UK-headquartered rival AstraZeneca. There was talk of tax incentives, complementary pipelines and plenty of speculation to go round. The story has been widely reported and you can read our take on it here, and see here for Derek Lowe’s view.

Even though, at the time of writing this editorial, AstraZeneca had rejected Pfizer’s latest offer of £70 billion, I expect this to continue to dominate the news during June. It’s just too big a deal. Two of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world are involved in a potential merger that has implications at the national, if not global, scale. The governments of the US and the UK were quick to recognise this, and we heard from David Cameron and Barack Obama. However, I feel that the big questions such as where the headquarters of such an organisation should be based and whether the merger is really being driven by tax savings remain largely unanswered. Whether this latest rejection puts an end to the negotiations or not, this should open up a broader debate about the principles behind such mergers.  

Higher education budget goes down under

The Australian government has just presented, as part of its new budget, an extraordinary higher education reform package. At first glance, total higher education funding has been boosted: it will increase by A$750 million (£410 million) to A$9.5 billion by 2017–18. But this represents a reduction of about A$1.5 billion in real terms once inflation and population growth are taken into consideration. The centrepiece, however, is full fee deregulation, with the proposal also including a reduction in course fee subsidies by 20% on average, an increase in the interest charged on loans and a decrease in the income threshold for beginning to pay back a loan.  

Universities’ freedom to set fees with no cap brings with it the danger that talented students will simply turn their backs on higher education. Indeed, even when it is proposed that one dollar in every five of the increase in student fees will be invested in scholarships for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the risk that university could become unaffordable for those students is only too real. 

In other news

Last September, the US and Russia agreed a plan with Syria to remove and destroy its chemical weapons by mid-2014 and now that time has come. Our feature Eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons tells you what has been happening.

In happier news, I’d like to share with you that Chemistry World has again been shortlisted by the Online Media Awards in the best specialist site for journalism and, for first time, best technical innovation categories. The list of nominees includes some of the best names in journalism and in our categories we are up against the likes of the fastFT, AlJazeera and USAToday. Wish us luck!