Campus round-up - 10 October 2013

October 10, 2013

Look back in Anglia

The University of East Anglia marked its 50th anniversary celebrations with a festival that featured Norfolk’s first firework volcano - a 5m replica of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi. A big top was also erected at the Anniversary Festival on 28 September, while students and staff dressed as zombies to stage a show called OUTBREAK!!, which invited attendees to imagine how they might handle a takeover by the undead at UEA. The day was brought to a close by performances from 1980s funk band Kid Creole and the Coconuts and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman Huey Morgan.

The Open University
Backing to have another go

The government’s decision to partly relax restrictions preventing people with prior qualifications from accessing state fee loans has been welcomed by The Open University. Such loans are to be made available to students in engineering, technology and computer science, even if they already have degrees in different disciplines. “At The Open University, we are deeply proud of our track record of giving students from all walks of life the chance to retrain or update their qualifications,” said vice-chancellor Martin Bean. “This is a further important step on the journey to creating a truly flexible, high-quality and innovative sector that delivers for all students, employers and our economy.”

University of Essex
Thin end of child health wedge

A national obsession with children’s weight could be masking much bigger problems relating to poor levels of fitness, according to research. Findings by academics at the University of Essex suggest that while 11 per cent of 11- to 16-year-olds are obese, more than 20 per cent have low cardiorespiratory fitness. Currently, the only population-level health checks English children get are measurements of their body mass index at the ages of five and 10, but research lead Gavin Sandercock believes this risks ignoring children who are very unfit despite being thin. He said it was “wrong” to assume that a “fat” school was an “unfit” school, or that schools in which the children were thinner were healthier.

Depressed finances

People in debt are three times more likely to have mental health problems than those who are not, research has found. Academics from the University of Southampton, in concert with a researcher from Kingston University, carried out a review to combine the data from previous research that looked at the relationship between health problems and unsecured debt. Thomas Richardson, the clinical psychologist from Southampton who led the research - published online in Clinical Psychology Review - said that although it showed a strong relationship between debt and mental illness, at this stage it was hard to say which caused which.

Plymouth University
Helping hand

A graduate who survived brain cancer has set up a hardship fund to help other students who fall ill. April Watkins, who graduated from Plymouth University last month, set up the fund after she was forced to miss most of her first year of university because of emergency surgery for a brain tumour, followed by 17 months of chemotherapy. The charity, What Just Happened, has already raised £7,000, which will be given to the university to manage on her behalf. Ms Watkins said the idea was to provide funding that in an emergency would immediately allow a student’s close circle of friends and family to be where they are most needed, which may be hundreds of miles from their homes.

St George’s, University of London
Pride before the fall

Prime ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher developed a personality disorder known as “Hubris syndrome” during their time in office, scientists have claimed. Both individuals showed signs of the syndrome, which is associated with a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, towards the end of their administrations, according to research by neurologists at St George’s, University of London, published in the journal Cortex. Increased use of certain words and phrases, including “I”, “me”, “sure” and “we shall”, during their dispatches at Prime Minister’s Questions was evidence of one of the 14 clinical features of the syndrome, they say. The same linguistic patterns were not reflected in the language of John Major during his time in office.

Southampton Solent University
Vessel virgins set overseas course

A UK school dedicated to training students who want to work in the superyacht industry has announced plans to expand overseas. Enrolment at the Warsash Superyacht Academy - a collaboration between Southampton Solent University’s Warsash Maritime Academy and others - has gone up by almost a third since its launch in 2012 because of the growth of the industry and the increasing size and number of the boats. Andrew Hair, director of WMA, said to “continue to meet, exceed and drive industry expectations”, it planned to expand abroad, including setting up an association with The Nautical Academy in Marina Barcelona 92, a shipyard in the Catalonian capital.

Royal Holloway, University of London
Honey trap

Stress induced by exposure to low levels of pesticide can kill off bee colonies, research suggests. While contact with the chemicals did not kill bees immediately, it changed their behaviour enough to stop them working properly as a group, thereby causing colony failure, scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London have found. “Exposing bees to pesticides is a bit like adding more and more weight on someone’s shoulders,” said lead author John Bryden, research fellow at the School of Biological Sciences. “A person can keep walking normally under a bit of weight, but when it gets too much, they collapse.” He added that understanding subtle shifts in behaviour helped to explain bees’ rapid global decline.

Soas, University of London
Rwandan detente

Politicians from opposing parties in Rwanda shared a public platform for the first time at a university debate over the future of the East African country. Representatives from the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front and the opposition Rwanda National Congress spoke at a forum hosted by Soas, University of London on 4-5 October - their first public debate since the RNC’s breakaway from the RPF in 2010. Event co-organiser Phil Clark, reader in comparative and international politics at Soas, said the conference was useful in helping to assess the RPF’s record since taking power almost 20 years ago after the 1994 genocide. It also examined recent controversies over the RPF’s domestic human rights record, its alleged support for rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo and questions over whether Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president, will change the Constitution to allow him to run for a third term in 2017.

Aberystwyth University
Green by global standards

An award-winning faculty building at a Welsh university has achieved the highest standard of environmental performance, according to the world’s foremost ratings system for building assessment. The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) building at Aberystwyth University’s Penglais campus has achieved final certification as “BREEAM Excellent” from the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method. BREEAM sets the standard for best practice in sustainable building design, construction and operation. “The building provides a great working environment and its design, build and operation is in line with the core values of IBERS - sustainable environmental development, and addressing the grand challenges facing society today, including climate change and water security,” said Wayne Powell, director of the institute.

University of Leicester
One hundred years of aptitude

A university is marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and the final year of its vice-chancellor’s tenure by celebrating its seven greatest academic achievements. The University of Leicester was founded in 1921 as a “living memorial” to those who had died in the war. Sir Robert Burgess, who retires in 2014, said: “When [the university] received its coat of arms, the founders chose the motto Ut Vitam Habeant: ‘That they may have life’.” The achievements, which include the invention of genetic fingerprinting in 1984 and the discovery of Richard III’s remains in 2012, will be highlighted on a dedicated website.

University of Nottingham
Letters to the editor

A journal that contains articles in letter form only has been launched. Jon McGregor, author and professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, asked on his blog for suggestions for the journal’s theme in the form of handwritten letters. Many responses reflected on the letter as a literary form. “The medium became the message, and the idea of The Letters Page - a literary journal in letters - was born,” he said. He intends to use it to help students learn to assess and edit work.

University of Edinburgh
Sung heroes’ great chemistry

The tercentenary of a university’s chemistry school is being marked by the performance of a specially commissioned opera. Composed by Julian Wagstaff, Breathe Freely is set for three voices and three musicians, and tells the story of the Polish chemist and independence fighter Stanislaw Hempel, who came to the University of Edinburgh in 1943. He went on to undertake scientific work in support of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, in which he held the rank of lieutenant. The other two characters are James Kendall, then Edinburgh’s head of chemistry, who gave Hempel a lab, and Chrissie Miller, the first female chemist to become a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The production, supported by Scottish Opera, will take place in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms on 24 October.

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