The week in higher education – 1 February 2018

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

二月 1, 2018
Week in HE illustration (1 February 2018)

Union chiefs have confirmed 14 days of escalating strike action at 61 universities in protest against changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme. Confirmation of the strike follows a ballot in which 88 per cent of participating University and College Union members voted to walk out over Universities UK’s plans to scrap the element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme that guarantees a certain level of pension income in retirement. Industrial action is set to begin this month with a two-day walkout on 22 and 23 February, escalating to strikes of three, four and five days in subsequent weeks (26-28 February, 5-8 March and 12-16 March). Because of their reading week dates, staff at the University of Stirling, Queen Mary University of London, King’s College London and the University of Edinburgh will not take part in the first two days of action and will instead walk out on 19 and 20 March.

Fans of the artists formerly known as the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education will be excited to hear of the sector agencies’ rebirth under the new supergroup name, Advance HE. The all-star appellation follows recommendations made last year in a report commissioned by Universities UK and GuildHE for the groups to merge, creating one “new, more responsive and holistic sector agency” to rule them all. Alison Johns, chief executive-designate of Advance HE, said that the new name reflected the group’s mission to “strive for excellence” across the sector. “It also emphasises [that] our vision is to keep moving forward and looking to enhance higher education wherever it is found and for all,” she said.

Hearts bled for George Holmes this week. The University of Bolton vice-chancellor claimed that he had felt “uncomfortable” attending the controversial Presidents Club charity dinner made infamous last month for allegations that its female hosts had been sexually harassed by attendees. In a statement issued by the university, Professor Holmes admitted that he had attended the all-male event at London’s Dorchester Hotel as a guest of one of Bolton’s “key business sponsors” but said that he been “shocked” by the treatment of women there. Professor Holmes had been “approached whilst dining and served drinks by several hostess staff”, including one who it later emerged was Madison Marriage, an undercover Financial Times reporter. “The undercover reporter has confirmed subsequently to a fellow journalist and editor that Professor Holmes ‘looked pretty shocked’,” the statement reads.

Edtech is the future – or so we’re programmed to believe – but large-scale industry shows such as Bett are pushing “nonsense” and selling “wonders and snake oil” to schools and universities without evidence of their worth, according to Kevan Collins. Speaking at a UCL Institute of Education debate, the chief executive of government-backed research fund the Education Endowment Foundation, dismissed the world’s largest edtech event as little more than an “Ikea of education”. “These endless wares and wonders you can buy to solve every problem…There’s no control. There’s no obligation to require that this does no harm, which it can do.” Anyone who has ever been lost in the windowless Swedish furniture shop will sympathise.

The untimely death of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith was very much noted in higher education circles, not only because universities feature in a couple of his songs (see Hey! Student and The Birmingham School of Business School) but also because his idiosyncratic name is shared by the vice-chancellor of Lancaster University. It’s not clear if academia’s Mark E. Smith ever met his slightly more volatile namesake. However, Professor Smith (a professor of physics rather than of caustic lyricism) did share on Twitter that he possessed a “treasured letter” from the late Radio 1 DJ John Peel – famously a huge fan of The Fall – sent after he read an abstract of his academic paper “Cation ordering in spinels” on air because he was “another MES”. @LipskisGhost replied that this could be the title of a Fall song and, who knows, if the paper was read in the post-punk hero’s famously snarling vocal style, it probably would sound like one, too.



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