The week in higher education – 7 June 2018

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

June 7, 2018
Cartoon stork

A new mother gave her family and classmates quite the shock when she turned up ready for graduation just hours after having given birth. Zeinab Abdalla had her second daughter Salma at 8pm the night before she was due to accept her master’s diploma in special education from the University of St Thomas in Minnesota. Having been discharged from hospital just in time for the 5.30pm ceremony, Ms Abdalla saw no reason to miss out and set straight off, newborn in tow. Ms Abdalla said that morning sickness and tiredness had made her studies all the more challenging, but that she remained “determined” not to let it affect her academic performance. “It was really important for me to attend [the ceremony] because I was the first person in my family to graduate,” the Daily Express reported on 28 May. “I wanted to reward myself.”

When he was the UK’s business secretary, Sajid Javid’s main pronouncement on international students was that the visa system should be “focused on people who want to study and then, once they’ve had their studies and completed that, they leave”. Given that, as home secretary, he is now in charge of immigration policy, there had been some nervousness about whether Mr Javid might end hopes that a review of the impact of international students initiated by his successor, Amber Rudd, would lead to a liberalisation of the rules. Vice-chancellors will have been cheered, then, by Mr Javid’s appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on 3 June, in which he acknowledged that there was a “perception problem” with the inclusion of students in net migration figures. “It is something that I would like to look at again," said Mr Javid, who also said that he would "think more carefully" about the cap on the number of skilled workers from outside the European Union who are given visas.

Mr Gyimah was not the only one to receive a stark reminder of the power of social media last week. A Facebook page dedicated to revealing the shameless exploits of the University of Cambridge’s drinking societies has built up so much traction that it could see the very worst of the groups shut down, The Guardian reported on 30 May. Anonymous tales posted on the Grudgebridge page include allegations of members of a male drinking society sexually harassing women after confiscating their keys and mobile phones, as well as countless stories of bullying, violence and classism, the newspaper said. Students and alumni have attested to claims of such antisocial behaviour for generations, but the extent of the allegations posted online has only now prompted Cambridge University Students’ Union to draw up a code of conduct for members. Daisy Eyre, the CUSU president, said that the union’s governing body was expected to vote on whether to campaign for the end of drinking societies altogether.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, an investment in knowledge pays the best interest. Perhaps that goes some way towards explaining the eye-watering wealth being sat on by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge: nearly £21 billion between them, according to analysis published by The Guardian on 28 May. That makes the two institutions richer than the other 22 members of the Russell Group put together, or, to put it another way, than Latvia. Of course, the sums in question are huge, but whether they are a good thing or not is up for debate. As the UK’s pre-eminent higher education institutions, Oxford and Cambridge are charged with competing against the giants of America’s Ivy League and their huge endowments (Harvard University’s alone is $36 billion, about £27 billion). If the government won’t fund them properly to do this, using the proceeds of the dissolution of the monasteries doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

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