The week in higher education – 15 February 2018

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

February 15, 2018
Week in HE illustration (15 February 2018)

A graduate who sued the University of Oxford for £1 million after he failed to get a first-class degree has had his claim dismissed by the High Court, the BBC reported on 7 February. Faiz Siddiqui accused the elite institution of “inadequate teaching” because of a shortage of tutors, claiming that his substandard 2:1 had cost him entry to Harvard Law School and subsequently led to a “failed” career in law. Mr Justice Foskett said that, while Mr Siddiqui deserved “sympathy and understanding”, he ought to perhaps “lower his expectations at least for the time being”.

Students’ union officials representing 10 university campuses across Canada have been left baffled after they were sent anonymous packages containing sex toys, alongside mobile phones, chargers and, er, light bulbs. Each campus representative has received as many as 15 packages since November, containing goods valued at more than £500, the BBC reported on 5 February. The bizarre gifts were unreturnable to Amazon, and police said that they had failed to identify the sender – although one theory suggests that it could all be a marketing ploy by a Chinese company. The University of Manitoba made the smart move to auction off the items to raise funds for LGBT groups on campus. Presumably the bids were kept as anonymous as the sender.

Students at the University of Glasgow witnessed a highly unexpected reaction during a chemistry lecture, the Daily Mail reported on 6 February. Witnesses said that two older men, who had walked in at the beginning of the session, were initially passed off as mature students. But with just 25 minutes to go before the lecture’s end, concentration levels must have flagged, and the pair were filmed fist-fighting among the Bute Hall pews. “I didn’t want to cause a fuss and mention it to the lecturer,” said one student, unfazed. “They just started shouting, hitting and choking each other.” Campus security were called to the scene, and the guests left the class prematurely.

A scuffle of a different nature occurred at UCL, where academics voted overwhelmingly to back a motion of no confidence against university leadership, the Financial Times reported on 7 February. In a meeting to discuss investigations being held into an alleged breach of key decision-making policies, staff expressed dissatisfaction over UCL’s major expansion projects, which include building a new campus in East London at a cost of £483 million. Rex Knight, UCL’s vice-provost for operations and public enemy number one among former student rent-strikers, argued that the university had “little choice” but to increase its capacity to stay competitive in the current climate. Mr Knight’s burning effigy became a symbol of defiance during student protests two years ago. Here’s hoping the 94 per cent of staff who voted “no confidence” don’t get any ideas.

It's back to school for one academic at Southern New Hampshire University, after her decision to fail one of her students on a geographical detail backfired, Buzzfeed reported on 8 February. Sociology undergraduate Ashley Arnold and her fellow classmates were tasked with completing a project in which they were asked to compare a “social norm” in the US with another country. After discussing the differences in social media usage in Australia with that of her home country, Ms Arnold was shocked to learn that she had failed the paper. The problem, according to her professor: “Australia is a continent, not a country.” A tense email debate ensued, with the teacher refusing to accept the error. A Twitter apology from the university confirmed that it had “replaced the instructor” and refunded Ms Arnold’s tuition fees. “To our friends in Australia, we know that you are a country and a continent,” a spokeswoman clarified.

What started as a seemingly innocent PR stunt – Mr Darcy swiping Tinder to find a match, emotionally charged love letters sent via WhatsApp – has ended in a serious case of cold feet for UCL luminary John Sutherland. The emeritus Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English had previously endorsed a range of new editions of Jane Austen novels and other classics, rewritten to match the dating practices of the 21st century. But Professor Sutherland cracked, admitting that he hadn’t actually had much to do with the project and that he didn’t much like the results. “I was glad to be involved with it and pick up a useful penny or two,” he told The Times on 8 February. “Don’t be too harsh on me.”

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