The week in higher education – 20 June 2019

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

June 20, 2019

Since Conservative leadership candidate Michael Gove admitted to using cocaine “on several occasions” while working as a journalist, party leaders have been falling over themselves to admit to their own drug-taking experiences. Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt told The Times: “I think I had a cannabis lassi when I went backpacking through India.” Andrea Leadsom and Dominic Raab admitted to trying cannabis while at university, and Rory Stewart could not resist telling The Telegraph about smoking opium at an Afghan wedding. Boris Johnson remains confused, however. In a 2007 interview the leadership frontrunner admitted to trying cocaine and cannabis at university but said it “achieved no…effect on me whatsoever”. Prior to that, he suggested the white powder he snorted may just have been “icing sugar” after all. When pressed last week, he made a hasty exit. It will come as a shock to nobody that students experiment with drugs at university. But while most go on to graduate to the real world, the men vying to lead the country seem unable to move beyond paranoia, jumbled speech and psychosis.

Cats are well-advised to steer clear of cannabis, but one campus feline has a clear case of the munchies. Physics students at the University of California, Davis have issued a plea to staff and fellow students to stop feeding Cheeto, a ginger tom who has been a much-loved fixture of the campus since students rescued him as a skinny kitten. Cheeto knows how to work a crowd, and his popularity has led to a rapid rise in his circumference over recent months. Posting a series of notices – complete with methodology, graphs and references – the physics students outlined the dangers of their pet’s eating habits. “Also, the squirrels like to eat the extra food, and they are getting heart disease (see figure 1),” they added. Here’s hoping their decidedly interdisciplinary project is successful.

What do robot sex, controversial Australian politician Fraser Anning, Donald Trump and the Queen have in common? Well, the missing link is an academic who has sparked an outcry after being awarded a Queen’s birthday honour despite having some fairly unconventional views. Adrian Cheok, who according to his website is director of the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia, was made a member of the Order of Australia for “significant service to international education” just weeks after standing in Australia’s federal election for Mr Anning’s far-right Conservative National Party, according to The Guardian. It is now claimed that he is setting up a graduate school with Mr Anning that will teach classes on “Trumpism” and “Bannonism”. Professor Cheok, who seems to have a penchant for tweeting in the style of Mr Trump, sometimes to criticise fellow academics, is an expert on how the internet and robots could be used for sex.

A private higher education provider in England has received some unexpectedly high profile backing in the form of British popstar Robbie Williams. The former X Factor judge has bought a 20 per cent share of Liverpool Media Academy, which offers degree courses in musical theatre, acting and film among others. The provider is currently based in Liverpool and receives degree validation from Staffordshire University, but plans are afoot to open a campus in London by 2020. Simon Wallace, one of the academy’s founders who holds a 30 per cent share, said that bringing Mr Williams on board was a “real dream come true for us all”. Let’s hope the Rock DJ’s Strong commitment goes on to become a Love Supreme with No Regrets.

It is well known that we are living in extraordinary political times in the UK, but we got a further reminder last week when the universities minister gave his own personal view on higher education funding because he was “not sure whether I’ll still be the universities minister in eight weeks’ time”. Chris Skidmore told the Higher Education Policy Institute’s annual conference that any future government cutting tuition fees in response to England’s Augar review of post-18 education must “absolutely” replace the lost university income. He also said his success in seeing off threatened restrictions on university access, which it had been suggested might form part of the final Augar report, was “a hill I was willing to die on”. Meanwhile, he also criticised the use of the phrase “bums on seats” in relation to university recruitment, a phrase that has been used by education secretary Damian Hinds. Who knows who will be universities minister in two months’ time, but it seems unlikely we will see such honesty in the post for a while.

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