The week in higher education - 11 July 2013

July 11, 2013
  • The government continued its impressive record for evidence-based policy last week by banning khat, a herbal stimulant popular in the Somali, Yemeni and Ethiopian communities, in defiance of scientific opinion. Guidance from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said there was insufficient evidence that khat caused health or wider social problems, The Guardian reported on 4 July. But the Home Office declared prohibition necessary to prevent the UK becoming a trafficking hub for the drug, which is banned in many other European countries. This is not the first time that the ACMD has been sidelined. David Nutt, former chairman of the body and academic at Imperial College London, was famously sacked after suggesting that taking ecstasy might not be the most harmful activity in the world. Professor Nutt said the khat ban showed “contempt for reason and evidence”.
  • If there is a group of people who cop more flak for their pay packets than vice-chancellors, it is BBC executives. Bestriding the two worlds like a deep-pocketed colossus is Patrick Loughrey, warden of Goldsmiths, University of London and former BBC head of nations and regions. He left the BBC in 2009 with an £866,000 settlement before finding “another highly paid public sector job” at Goldsmiths, the Daily Mail reported on 5 July. The BBC awarded him 12 months’ salary “in lieu of notice” even though he had “agreed his exit 14 months earlier and worked out his notice period”, the newspaper said. Mr Loughrey replied that any sums received were “in fulfilment of long-standing contractual entitlements”. Even the best-paid vice-chancellor must be awed by Mr Loughrey, acknowledging that the man has an impressive set of contractual entitlements.
  • Employers that recruit only graduates with first- or upper second-class degrees are requiring undergraduates to do “so much work that only obsessive weirdos or the already privileged can make the grade”, believes a Spectator columnist. Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of marketing and communications agency Ogilvy Group UK, writing in his Wiki Man column on 6 July, suggested that innovative employers should hire only those with lesser degrees to avoid making their talent pool “dangerously homogeneous”. With this in mind, Mr Sutherland offered readers a proposal: if they would send him a bottle of gin, he would vouch that their children had undertaken a “magnificent” four-week internship at his firm – “Meanwhile your kids can all go off to Goa and spend the summer smoking drugs on the beach as God intended.” Exactly the sort of future Spectator readers envisage for their graduate offspring.
  • Vince Cable, the business secretary, has continued to criticise the government for the headaches its immigration policy is causing universities. In an interview published in Scotland on Sunday on 7 July, the senior Liberal Democrat said: “The problem is more about the rhetoric and the language which is off-putting and which has fed through to countries like India.” He added that the Home Office was “not treating with proper respect one of our big export industries”. If Theresa May, the home secretary, really is a Dalek, as one vice-chancellor proclaimed in these very pages, Mr Cable might want to position himself near a set of stairs.
  • Boris Johnson was accused of being “pathetically archaic, unacceptably sexist and hopelessly out of touch” after a joke about female university students in Malaysia. The mayor of London – no stranger to the sector, having been shadow minister for higher education – made the remark at the London launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum, where he appeared alongside Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister. According to a Guardian report on 8 July, Mr Razak said: “Before coming here, my officials…told me that [in] the latest university intake in Malaysia…68 per cent will be women entering our universities.” Whereupon Mr Johnson butted in to suggest that the women went to university because they “have got to find men to marry”. The quip incurred strong criticism from the Everyday Sexism campaign. But as everyone knows, the mayor is quite capable of handling unexpected press coverage, a result of having more skeletons in his cupboard than a medical school.

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