The week in higher education – 12 May 2016

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

May 12, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (12 May 2016)

New London mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to make the capital’s housing crisis his top priority, and he need look no further than students for an example of the pressing problem. Many are feeling so desperate that they are taking part in a rent strike, withholding in excess of £1 million in accommodation payments, The Guardian reported on 6 May. Students at four institutions are now involved in the action: University College London (whose students were the first to start a rent strike earlier this year); Goldsmiths, University of London; the University of Roehampton; and the Courtauld Institute of Art. One academic at Goldsmiths, who asked not to be named, told The Guardian that the high cost of rents in London was leading to students “working two or three jobs, some up to 40 hours per week” to make ends meet. “They are not showing up for lectures, especially in the mornings, and we have lecture rooms half-empty. The whole thing is affecting our capacity to teach.”

The Boaty McBoatface saga seems finally to be at an end after the government announced that a new polar research ship will be named after Sir David Attenborough. The name for the state-of-the-art vessel, due to take to the seas in 2019, had been put to a public vote, with Boaty McBoatface coming out on top. But science minister Jo Johnson said last week that the name of the famous broadcaster – who has just turned 90 – would be used instead even though it came fifth in the poll. The name “Boaty” will be used for a remotely operated vehicle that researchers will also have at their disposal – this news, inevitably, prompted wags on Twitter to suggest that it should be called Subby McSubface or Droney McDroneface.

The University of Cambridge is planning a business doctorate that will cost students £80,000 in the first year, with a total cost of £230,000, making it one of the world’s most expensive degrees. The four-year degree of doctor of business, to be launched in October 2017, is aimed at the “most senior leaders around the world” and is expected to attract small classes of “one to two” students each year, according to details of the plan from Cambridge’s Judge Business School published in the university’s official journal, The Reporter, on 5 May. But critics within the university have already objected to the “gigantic” fees and intend to force a rejection of the plan at a meeting of Cambridge’s governing Regent House on 24 May. Extortionately expensive, accessible solely to those senior business people whose deep-pocketed companies will shell out for them – it needs only some free champagne and a comfy office to make this business degree business-class.

The virtues (or otherwise) of a gap year before university have been brought to the attention of the American public after it was revealed that Barack Obama’s daughter Malia will take a year off before attending Harvard University in 2017, The Guardian reported. Although gap years have traditionally been more synonymous with UK students, the newspaper said that Harvard encouraged new students to take a year off before starting an undergraduate course so they can gain work experience. So what will the daughter of the outgoing president do with her time? With ambitions to be a film-maker, Malia has already worked as an intern for television drama maker HBO and as a production assistant for US network CBS. But perhaps there is still time for her to follow the more traditional gap-year path pursued by many and twiddle her thumbs for a few months deciding what to do before spending the rest of the year backpacking around Goa in a bid to “find herself”.

One of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall movement at the University of Oxford has caused a storm of protest after he wrote on Facebook about how a waitress in South Africa cried “white tears” when she was told that she would not get a tip unless the country’s land was returned to its black population, The Daily Telegraph reported on 5 May. In the post, which has since been deleted from Facebook but was published in the Sowetan, Ntokozo Qwabe said that the moral of the encounter was that “the time has come when no white person will be absolved” of blame for the country’s history. However, his post prompted a petition for him to be stripped of his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford after it emerged that the waitress was nursing her mother who has terminal lung cancer.

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