The week in higher education - 13 February 2014

February 13, 2014
  • Which cabinet member has been described as an “arriviste, wannabe toff drooling over the lexicon of long ago while dreaming of the glory days of ‘prep’ and ‘lines’”? The answer is education secretary Michael Gove, whose hope to demolish the “Berlin Wall” between state and private school education was attacked in The Guardian’s letters page by Christopher Prendergast, professor emeritus in French at the University of Cambridge. On 6 February Professor Prendergast argued that Mr Gove (with his “manifest stupidity”) is seeking to “use the education brief” in his bid to become Tory leader and perhaps prime minister “by playing to the Tory right”. Professor Prendergast may find himself name-checked alongside Cambridge’s Sir Richard Evans in Mr Gove’s next list of bad academics.
  • For-profit higher education will be represented on the board of England’s funding council for the first time after David Willetts, the universities and science minister, made new appointments. Peter Houillon, chief executive officer of Kaplan UK and Ireland, part of US higher education firm Kaplan, will join the Higher Education Funding Council for England board, it was announced on 6 February. For-profits have pushed for Hefce representation in the past, with US firm Laureate telling the UK government in 2011 that “all the key regulatory bodies need to reflect [the] broader supplier base”. Mr Willetts was obviously listening. Also joining the board is Apurv Bagri, deputy chairman of London Business School and president and chief executive officer of metals trader Metdist Group.
  • An English lecturer from the University of Nottingham has apologised after he described a student as an “idiot” and “semi-literate” on Facebook. Anthony Fisher said of a third-year student on the social media site: “She’s an idiot, as the rest of her ‘essay’ (and I use the word advisedly) confirms.” Mr Fisher “also wrote of using marking days to clean his bicycle and bake bread”, The Daily Telegraph said on 8 February. The lecturer is “leaving to join York St John University”, the report added. According to student newspaper The Tab, Mr Fisher subsequently apologised to his students in a lecture, saying: “There’s one idiot in the room, and that’s me.” What damage he has wrought on Nottingham’s student satisfaction scores remains to be seen.
  • Mark Harper, the immigration minister (and thus one of the most important people in government for universities in these days of tighter controls on the admission of overseas students), resigned on 8 February after it emerged that his cleaner did not have permission to work in the UK. He is replaced by James Brokenshire, previously minister for security in the Home Office. Mr Brokenshire studied law at the University of Exeter before going to City of London Polytechnic – now London Metropolitan University – to take his professional exams to become a solicitor. Since the Home Office revoked London Met’s licence to recruit overseas students in 2012 (since reinstated), relations have been a little cool between the two parties. Perhaps Mr Brokenshire can bring his alma mater and his employer together, and form a bridge over those troubled waters.
  • “The pretty young girl is so drunk on cheap alcohol she’s lying comatose on a pavement in a torn T-shirt and minuscule shorts…Another staggers along wearing ripped fishnet stockings and shorts that leave little more to the imagination than a lap dancer’s G-string,” ran the introduction to Amanda Platell’s tale of drunken students in Liverpool in the Daily Mail on 11 February. What these unfortunate, scantily clad young women needed was clear: to have their drunken antics preserved for posterity in a double-page picture spread in the newspaper. The Mail’s coverage of the “Playboys v Bunnies” pub crawl, organised by Carnage UK, falls under the category of having your vodka-laced cake and eating it.
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