The week in higher education - 13 June 2013

June 13, 2013
  • He may be hell-bent on destroying their “Marxist” education departments, but universities are still dutifully helping education secretary Michael Gove with his A-level reform plans. After the Russell Group agreed to set up an advisory group to see how universities would sign off revamped A‑level curricula, Mark E. Smith, vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, will now chair a separate Ofqual panel on the content of the qualifications, it was announced on 6 June. Professor Smith said he was “looking forward to this process” – a chirpy contrast to previous statements from university leaders, which have criticised Mr Gove’s A‑level reforms as unnecessary, misguided and a waste of their time.
  • Sleep-deprived men are more likely to try it on with women than those who have enjoyed a good night’s kip, a US study has claimed. Researchers at Hendrix College in Arkansas found that having just one night of poor sleep makes a man think he has a greater chance of sex with a woman even if she is not keen, the Daily Mail reported on 7 June. Asked to rate a woman’s sexual interest level, the average score for a male university student was 13.5 before a bad night’s sleep but 17.5 afterwards. The same effect was not noted in female students, whose judgement of the opposite sex remained unchanged when they were tired. The difference may be explained by women seeking things other than sex when dating, the researchers said. “Women may be making instinctive decisions rather than cognitive ones,” said David Mastin, associate professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who also worked on the study.
  • A university exam board has defended its use of graphic descriptions of sex in an AS‑level Latin paper, The Times reported on 7 June. Teenagers sitting the OCR board’s exam on The Amores, Ovid’s collection of erotic poetry, were set questions on Elegy 14, in which the author acknowledges to his mistress that she may sleep with her husband or other lovers. “Let him thrust his tongue as far as it will go into your coral mouth and…let the bed creak and groan as you writhe with pleasure,” the translation goes, prompting one academic to say “no one in their right minds would set it in an exam”. But OCR – part of the University of Cambridge’s examinations arm Cambridge Assessment – said that censoring material would “leave young adults with a false perception of their area of study”. Cambridge classicist Mary Beard agreed. The days of censorship because “some old codger thought [teenagers] might get corrupted” were over, she said.
  • Three Oxford dons are paying to be deep-frozen when they die in the hope that they will be brought back to life decades later, The Sunday Times reported on 9 June. Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy, and his co-researcher Anders Sandberg at the Oxford Martin School will pay a US company anything up to £50,000 to have their heads frozen in liquid nitrogen at −196°C, the paper reports. Their colleague Stuart Armstrong will pay £25 a month in premiums to have his entire body preserved in a medical storage facility in the Arizona desert – a process that may cost up to £130,000. When they are revived after 200 years in cold stasis, there will surely be some unpleasant surprises. Of all the possible shocks, the state of TV viewing in the 23rd century might be the biggest, for ubiquitous talent show guru Simon Cowell, supposedly also a cryonics fan, is also likely still to be around.
  • Questions have been raised about the academic credentials of a candidate in the Iranian presidential election after confusion over which UK university he attended. Official state biographies originally stated that Hassan Rowhani, now seen as the leading reformist contender in the 14 June poll, had a PhD from the University of Glasgow, The Daily Telegraph reported on 11 June. However, it was then claimed in a campaign film that Mr Rowhani had gone “to England” before graduating with an MA and a PhD from Glasgow Caledonian University. And mystery still abounds about when he is supposed to have studied, with the film implying that it was in the 1970s, before the university was established. Glasgow Caledonian said it was checking its records.

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