The week in higher education – 11 June 2020

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

六月 11, 2020
Robot mortar board
Source: iStock

Students have accepted many less-than-perfect workarounds as the coronavirus crisis has disrupted campus life, but plans to replace them with robots at their graduation ceremonies seems to be regarded as a step too far. To prevent infections on campus, officials at Malaysia’s Sultan Zainal Abidin University outlined proposals to have a ceremony at which robot surrogates dressed in gowns and mortar boards would receive degree certificates, Channel News Asia reported. “We would show the face of the student through the head of the robot through video conferencing,” explained Engku Fadzli Hasan Syed Abdullah, the academic behind the futuristic plan. But students were not too pleased with the idea of robotic stand-ins after video footage of the proposed ceremony was aired, with many calling for traditional diploma-giving events to be delayed until October. “I am willing to wait one, two, three or several years – but please let me go on the stage,” said one appalled student.

Would those students, one wonders, rather have been in the position of the hundreds of graduating students at the University of California, Berkeley who filed into the institution’s Memorial Stadium last month for their commencement ceremony, as has been the tradition for decades? As usual, they received their degrees and tossed their mortar boards into the air, while more than 40 artists performed at a music festival. But the grand event was not a flagrant violation of lockdown rules – the students were attending a virtual ceremony in an animated version of the campus that had been created on the video game Minecraft. A team of more than 100 students at the prestigious public university painstakingly built Blockeley University, a project that began in March after in-person classes were cancelled, according to Business Insider. Even if students cannot return to Berkeley for the next academic year, at least they have a version of campus they can visit.

Given their reputation as highly paid wheeler-dealers taking millions of pounds from the professional game, football agents are generally not that popular with fans or clubs. But a new degree for would-be agents might help to change those perceptions, The Herald reported. Accredited by the International Telematic University UniNettuno, a distance learning university based in Rome, the master’s course includes modules on contract law, economics, marketing and combating racism, with students learning via online tutorials and webinars. The new course might get a helping hand from Fifa, football’s governing body, which is considering mandatory qualifications for agents, who have pocketed up to £25 million for some Premier League deals. “Fifa are right to want agents who are educated; they are right to want agents who are qualified; they are right to want agents who are ethical,” said course leader John Viola.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to all sorts of unexpected problems for universities, but a campus invasion of cows is one of the more unusual. With students long departed from the University of Sussex and its Falmer campus largely deserted, a herd of cattle made their way to the entrance of the business school to take a closer look, the Brighton Argus reported. The moo-ving moment was captured by the university’s vice-chancellor, Adam Tickell, whose picture was tweeted by Sussex’s official Twitter account. “What’s not to love about a university situated in the heart of the South Downs National Park but only 50 minutes from London?” tweeted the university on the unusual attraction of their “neighbourhood cows”.

A college at the University of Oxford has ordered staff and students to undergo training to combat racial bias after an undergraduate made a “joke” featuring a comparison between protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis and flour shortages, The Guardian reported. The comments were made during a virtual hustings event by a candidate for the position of “cake rep”, a welfare position on the junior common room committee at Christ Church college. The student, who has since withdrawn her candidacy, was reported to have said: “The US is facing two very important crises at the moment – the curious incident of George Floyd, and the event of flour shortage. I would like to put forward the motion that these incidents are not two, but rather one. Flour shortage leads to rioting, which leads to death, which leads to racism. And racism leads to death, leads to rioting, and that leads to flour shortage.”

Two New Orleans universities are embroiled in a lawsuit alleging that they improperly applied for and received millions of dollars in federal funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Xavier and Dillard universities, as well as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and AECOM, a government contractor, are all defendants in the case, which was brought by a whistleblower employee of the contractor, according to the Associated Press. The allegations include that Xavier University received $6.6 million (£5.2 million) “based on the misrepresentation that Katrina had severely damaged the gymnasium’s concrete, floating slab foundation when, in fact, the building had no such foundation”. Federal court records show that the institution has reached a settlement, which included a payment of $12 million. Dillard University was also accused of having received millions for inflated estimates of building damage.



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