The week in higher education – 20 July 2023

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

七月 20, 2023
Source: Nick Newman

With conference budgets squeezed, academics are used to booking no-frills accommodation. But a US academic’s recent lodgings in London may be a step too far for wandering scholars after it emerged he was staying in a tiled bathroom – with a toilet just inches away from his bed. “That feeling when you arrive at your Airbnb and realise that the whole space is essentially just a large-ish bathroom that the host put a bed into,” wrote David Holtz, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, in a tweet viewed 15 million times and picked up by the New York Post. With a sink and a shower also in the room, Holtz’s cramped quarters attracted thousands of comments – one person dubbed it “Airbnpee”. While many were disgusted by the unusual living arrangements, others didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. “That is basically my London flat,” tweeted one nonplussed millennial.

There can be just as much of a squeeze in a university library during exam season, when bagging a seat can be a near-impossible task. But a desk-booking system introduced by libraries in China has, it seems, created an illicit market in “seat scalping”, with enterprising undergraduates happy to rent out their prime window seats for a hefty sum. With student touts doing a roaring business, libraries have begun to rent out desks themselves, with one offering a private study room to rent at Rmb800 (£87) a year – about a fifth of what public universities charge in annual tuition fees. Payment for a guaranteed spot – with wi-fi, heating and presumably a window – might not break the bank for some undergraduates but was, in the eyes of others, a step too far in the marketisation of higher education. Libraries “may want to go far on some creative measures, but they should not go against the principle of fairness”, wrote one scholar at Fudan University.

Twenty years after Mark Zuckerberg created a website rating the attractiveness of Harvard students, a Chinese student is in trouble for doing the same thing. According to CNN, a 25-year-old graduate from Renmin University of China in Beijing was arrested on suspicion of stealing university data after his dubious ranking website came to light. “The school strongly condemns behaviours that violate personal privacy and endanger information security,” explained Renmin in a statement, noting that it was cooperating with police on the matter, which became of one of China’s most-discussed stories after going viral on Weibo. While many users were outraged at the crass online rating of female attractiveness, others couldn’t help noticing the similarities with FaceMash, the forerunner to Facebook, whose founder escaped with a slap on the wrist from Harvard to become, currently, the ninth richest man in the world.

Universities are well used to the threat posed by hacking. Typically these breaches are targeted at stealing data or bringing down an institution’s systems, in exchange for ransom – not just for the sake of it. The University of Connecticut was the latest victim, when a hacker managed to send an email to the school’s undergraduate community falsely claiming that Radenka Maric, the college president, had died, the New Haven Register reported. A hacking group called “SiegedSec” has since claimed responsibility, with their leader telling journalists that they did it “for the lulz” – purely for personal enjoyment. In news that will worry the college’s IT team, he said the group was able to get a username and password from publicly available data, and that the system did not have a two-factor authentication system. UConn has since taken corrective action.

The Nickel Trophy – presented to the winner of the annual American football match between the University of North Dakota (UND) Fighting Hawks and the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Bison – is a rivalry that stretches back to 1894. So hundreds of recent UND graduates will have been particularly annoyed when they received their degree certificates to see that, owing to an error, they were labelled as NDSU graduates instead. UND, based in Grand Forks, blamed a third-party company for the typo, which led to confusion for about 700 graduates. Mathew McLaughlin, who graduated from UND in May with a degree in atmospheric sciences, was not thrilled to have his diploma coming from the rival college, based 76 miles away in Fargo. “This does make for a pretty good fire-starter – I was thinking bonfire or burn pit,” he told the Grand Forks Herald.



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