The week in higher education – 14 April 2016

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

April 14, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (14 April 2016)

Manchester’s Oxford Road may be synonymous with many things in the student life of the city, but a suspected phantom university is probably a first. Fraud investigators have been called in to investigate why nobody can find one of the UK’s “only independent university’s [sic]” purporting to operate from the street. The Manchester Open University claims to have a campus with 2,000 students from 90 different countries with degrees in history, English and medicine, and has been advertising degrees for fees of up to £35,000, the Manchester Evening News reported. However, officials cannot find a trace of the institution while its website IP address is hosted in France. Higher Education Degree Datacheck and graduate careers website Prospects have reported the website to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Scooby-Doo may also be on the case.

David Cameron chose the University of Exeter last week as the latest venue for his European Union referendum roadshow. Despite being on the rack over the Panama Papers, at one point he was put on the spot about the terrible struggle some students would have voting in the referendum because it was being held at the same time as the Glastonbury Festival. Well, first, the festival proper starts the day after the referendum so, er, vote and then go down there and second, how do today’s cash-strapped students afford what has become a middle-class glamping extravaganza anyway? Such soft questioning was Mr Cameron’s undoing though, as he walked straight into a gaffe about preferring to enjoy the June festival on the television at home “in front of a warm fire”, The Daily Telegraph reported.

A retired academic has ratcheted up the tension in the junior doctor strike by claiming that male doctors were “better value for money” than women because the latter were more likely to end up working part time. In a letter to The Times, Roger Alford, emeritus reader in economics at the London School of Economics, wrote that “surely the number of young women allowed to begin training should be considerably limited to allow in more young men who will give a full career of medical service and provide society with much better value for the money spent on medical training”. Social media was quick to point out Dr Alford’s faux pas, Stylist reported. @k_d85 quipped, “other things that are ‘considerably limited’: Roger Alford’s grip on reality”. The LSE was quick to distance itself from Dr Alford, saying that it was the “personal view of a retired academic. It does not reflect LSE’s position.”

The first rule of renaming your institution is usually not to rename your institution (see the woes experienced by King’s College London in 2014). But, failing that, the second rule should definitely be check the acronym of the new title. Such foresight would have saved blushes at George Mason University, which is renaming its law school after the late Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia. Its first attempt at the name change – using the title Antonin Scalia School of Law – carried the unfortunate acronym ASSoL, a fact that was not lost on Twitter users, the BBC News website reported. Many liberal commentators gleefully pointed out the irony that the new acronym was linked to a judge who was seen as one of the most conservative members of the court. George Mason quickly changed course though, saying that it would use Antonin Scalia Law School instead, a name that it called a “logical substitute” after the “acronym controversy on social media”. The renaming of the law school was a condition of an anonymous $30 million (£21 million) donation received by the university on 31 March, the BBC reported.

Unlikely, but perhaps Manchester’s supposed phantom university is a clever sting like that set up by the US Department of Homeland Security, which used a fake university to ensnare criminals involved in student visa fraud, The New York Times reported on 5 April. The “University of Northern New Jersey”, which had a website featuring a list of business-oriented degrees and the promise of “an exceptional educational experience”, enabled the government to arrest 21 brokers who had recruited foreign students to an institution that they knew would not have real classes, according to the paper. The brokers, working with people posing as university officials, charged the students in a scheme that allowed them to maintain their student visas and stay in the country, while some of the brokers also illegally arranged for work visas and jobs, the paper said.

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