The week in higher education – 11 July 2019

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

July 11, 2019
Cartoon 11 July 2019

King’s College London has apologised for blocking from its campus 13 students and one staff member during a visit by the Queen on 19 March as it suspected them of being part of an unrelated earlier protest, saying those actions were “wrong and did not meet our values”. Evelyn Welch, acting principal of King’s, issued the statement on 4 July after an independent review found that the institution breached data protection laws and institutional data regulations in passing the students’ names to the police, as well as in withdrawing their card access to university premises. However, it remains unclear why only 13 students were affected; if all students who had previously attended protests were barred from important events, then some university campuses would be pretty much empty.


The Boris Johnson column in The Daily Telegraph on 8 July was another classic demonstration from the frontrunner to be next prime minister of how to align yourself with the Tory faithful, this time on higher education policy. First stoke some post-war nostalgia in your target demographic by spouting some waffle about building model aeroplanes and ships as a kid complete with references to re-enacting “storm-tossed Atlantic” sea battles. Then gently segue into a “university isn’t for everyone, apprenticeships are the answer” argument based on a visit to a Glasgow shipyard. You can almost hear the hum of agreement in deepest Bucks from those who would never dream of their own grandchildren doing an apprenticeship. Of course, as with all BoJo leadership race rhetoric, the question is how his plan would be funded, and especially whether universities will foot the bill. But UK politics left reality behind a long time ago.


Meanwhile, in the US, a former governor has ejected himself from university, turning down an upcoming research fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School amid a backlash over his role in a water contamination crisis in one of the nation’s poorest cities, it was reported on 4 July. Republican Rick Snyder, who was governor of Michigan from 2011 to January 2019 and oversaw the response to Flint’s water crisis, said on Twitter that while it would have been “exciting” to share his experiences at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government, “our current political environment and its lack of civility makes this too disruptive”. Douglas Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, took a different view. “We and he [Mr Snyder] now believe that having him on campus would not enhance education here in the ways we intended,” he wrote in an email to the school. Opponents of the appointment had included Timothy McCarthy, a Kennedy School lecturer, who asked on Twitter “why a man who is under legal investigation for poisoning a city full of black folks is coming to teach our students”.


The US’ multibillion-dollar college sports system doesn’t always gain positive headlines, with the recent admissions scandal being a case in point. But the success of the US women’s football (sorry we can’t bring ourselves to say soccer) team in winning the World Cup final on 7 July has thrown a more positive light on a system that, thanks to civil rights law, has to offer equal opportunities to women and men. In a column in The Guardian, Moira Donegan pointed out that the title IX provision of the 1972 Education Amendments Act led to an explosion in high school girls playing football in the US, many of whom go on to gain college scholarships at world-famous institutions. A run-through by Inside Higher Ed of the universities attended by some of the World Cup winning squad brings this into focus, with institutions like Stanford, North Carolina and Penn State being among those represented more than once.


Students who spend an excessive amount of time on their phones have, on average, more sexual partners – but are also more likely to achieve lower grades, have drinking problems and report anxiety or depression, according to research reported by the BBC News website on 4 July. The share of students with six or more sexual partners in the past 12 months was more than double among those who said they overused their mobile phones, compared with those who reported no problem use, based on a survey of more than 3,400 US students. Sam Chamberlain, an honorary consultant psychiatrist at the University of Cambridge and one of the authors of the study, said that “it could be that people are using smartphones to date via apps, but they also might be neglecting more normal relationships because of overuse of their phones”.

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