News in brief

July 25, 2013

Exam howlers

Sexual selection

The winner of this year’s Times Higher Education “exam howlers” competition is Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, for his entry that detailed an unlikely union of two eminent Victorians. In an examination answer on the evolution of sex, one student opened their essay thus: “Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel.” Professor Hart receives a magnum of champagne for his winning submission, which was selected by THE’s staff. It narrowly beat the glorious mixed metaphor of a “hotly contested potato” spotted by Steve Hawley, head of media at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Manchester School of Art.

Hefce

Entrepreneurial support continues

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has confirmed that it will continue to support awards for social entrepreneurship schemes in universities until at least the autumn, although funding for such programmes “may be different in character” in the longer term. The announcement was made by Ed Hughes, a regional consultant at the funding council, at an event in London on 17 July. Lead the Change – UnLtd HE Support Programmes 2013 National Conference heard Mr Hughes say that since Hefce began funding student social entrepreneurship in 2009, the results had “far exceeded our expectations”. One challenge that remained was convincing senior managers that social entrepreneurship should be a key part of an institution’s mission, he added.

Royal Institution

Early Christmas present

The Royal Institution has scrapped efforts to ask academics to sign an agreement if they want to use its trademarked term “Christmas Lectures”. The body told Times Higher Education that scholars and universities promoting lectures at Christmas time would not be infringing its trademark by using the term. Earlier this year, the Royal Institution registered the trademark in relation to its popular annual science events for young people, started in 1825 by Michael Faraday. In May the organisation sent letters to a number of academics requesting that “the name CHRISTMAS LECTURES or CHRISTMAS LECTURE should not be used for any event without our consent” to avoid confusing the public. After a social media backlash, the institution revised its position, allowing organisers to continue using the expression if they became part of a “Christmas festival of science” by completing an online agreement with the body. But on 19 July it said it had withdrawn this condition after “carefully reassessing its position”.

Public HE spending

Cross-party support for more cash

A former Labour minister has called for an increase in public spending on higher education to close the “international competitive gap”, securing backing from the Liberal Democrat president and a Tory backbencher in the process. David Lammy, who served as higher education minister between 2008 and 2010, also lamented the UK’s relatively low research spending in an early day motion on the knowledge economy. The House of Commons motion, tabled on 15 July, has been signed by Tim Farron, president of the Lib Dems. Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge and an advocate for science, is another signatory, as is Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP for Worthing West.

Follow us on Twitter

News that the University of Surrey considered assessing academics’ performance according to the proportion of students receiving at least a 2:1 for their modules prompted much discussion on Twitter. @laurencetratt said that the plans represented a “naked attempt to rapidly inflate grades”, adding that “those involved should be ashamed”. “What could possibly go wrong with an arbitrary numerical target?” asked @Susan_L_, while @JimsFilmModules described the idea as “troubling”, particularly with “66% of students achieving firsts and 2:1s”.

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