7 March 2013 - The week in higher education

A sideways look at the week’s big stories

March 7, 2013
  • “The likelihood of becoming a student at Oxford or Cambridge universities can be strongly influenced by date of birth,” the BBC website reported on February. The BBC used the Freedom of Information Act to gather data on birth dates for entrants to the universities, saying the findings raise the issue “of whether universities should start to consider applicants’ dates of birth when deciding who to give places to”. The website said that “last year the chance of someone born in October becoming an Oxbridge undergraduate was more than 30 per cent higher than for someone born in July”. There must be a market here for an enterprising author to cash in. Expect Womb for Improvement: Oxbridge Entry from Conception Onwards to be published soon.
  • A homeless man was ordered to leave the library of St John’s College, Cambridge after masquerading as a student to use the 24-hour facility as free lodgings for six weeks. The interloper was “spotted on numerous occasions flicking through the books, using the computer and generally ‘trying to look busy’,” The Daily Telegraph reported on 28 February. One student said: “When I saw him using the computer he said he was ‘just emailing the department’…He seemed polite and relatively well spoken.” Another said the man had “made vague claims of working on a PhD on the topic of ‘how we perceive religious identity’”. A plausible manner, a flair for pretentious nonsense and the ability to appear busy while doing nothing at the expense of a university: this man could make professor within two years, academia’s detractors in the right-wing press might suggest.
  • The University of Calgary has announced the retirement of one its academics, a former adviser to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, after he suggested that people should not be jailed for watching child pornography. Tom Flanagan, professor of political science, was speaking at a forum to discuss his controversial views on rights for Canada’s First Nations (indigenous) people. A member of a First Nations group, Levi Little Mustache, asked Professor Flanagan about some 2009 comments he made on child pornography, and he responded: “I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.” A video of the remarks was uploaded to YouTube, after which CBC programme Power and Politics quickly dumped Professor Flanagan as a pundit, the National Post reported on 28 February. Elizabeth Cannon, Calgary’s president, said his comments “absolutely do not represent the views of the University of Calgary. In [its] view, child pornography is not a victimless crime.”
  • “A university lecturer with a dislike of 4x4s went on a two-hour graffiti spree, scratching mostly polite complaints into parked vehicles after downing a cocktail of gin and antibiotics,” The Daily Telegraph reported on 2 March. Stephen Graham, professor of cities and society at Newcastle University, was fined £28,000 after damaging cars in the incident, during which he was “dressed in only underpants, trainers and a suit jacket, with a sleep mask pushed up on his forehead”. His behaviour appeared to have been caused by an attempt to self-medicate for toothache. Professor Graham’s graffiti retained, for the most part, an air of academic respectability: words he carved into the cars’ paintwork included “arbitrary”, “wrong” and “very silly”, as well as the less scholarly “twat”.
  • The government’s inclusion of overseas students in its target to reduce net migration is “irrational” and “potty”, according to the business secretary Vince Cable. He told an audience of education leaders at Wellington College, Berkshire, that the situation “stems from a very strange statistical artefact, where under UN conventions, students who stay in the country for more than one year are regarded as immigrants”, the Financial Times reported on 4 March. “Now that is potty because they come here to study and then they go home.” Even if Theresa May, the home secretary, has some “potty” ideas, she has nevertheless comprehensively outmanoeuvred Mr Cable on this issue.

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