The week in higher education – 14 July 2016

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

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

Does the arrival of a young female scientist in Cluedo mark a decisive moment in the fight against sexism in science? Having been represented for decades in the murder-mystery board game by moustachioed Professor Plum, academia’s place is now taken by Dr Orchid, a biologist with a PhD in plant toxicology, The Times reported on 5 July. The potentially murderous academic replaces housekeeper Mrs White, who is the first original suspect to be killed off since the game’s invention by a Birmingham solicitor’s clerk in 1949, it added. Dr Orchid is the adopted daughter of Dr Black, the mysterious host of Tudor Mansion, and was privately schooled in Switzerland until her expulsion after a near-fatal daffodil poisoning incident, games maker Hasbro said. With grey-haired Professor Plum now recast as Victor Plum, a youthful billionaire video game designer, Dr Orchid becomes academia’s standard-bearer for Cluedo players across the world. Ending the perception of real-life academics as overwhelmingly “pale, male and stale” may, however, take a little longer to achieve.

Students who include their degree certificates in graduation-day selfies could unwittingly be aiding fraudsters, experts have warned. Sellers of fake qualifications could use photos posted online to copy the latest certificate designs, according to Prospects, the official graduate careers advice service, which has been tasked by the government with clamping down on bogus higher education institutions. Logos, signatures, stamps, holograms and wording could easily be copied from retweeted photos on to fake certificates and passed off as genuine, said Jayne Rowley, director of HE services at Prospects. “None of us would upload a copy of our passport or driving licence, nor give out our bank details – we should regard our degree certificates as precious and private information to be guarded,” she said.

A Durham University student has been awarded a first-class honours degree after penning a 10,000-word essay on the Kardashian family, The Daily Telegraph reported on 6 July. Eliza Cummings-Cove took top marks in sociology after submitting a dissertation on how the reality TV stars had influenced women’s lifestyles, the paper said. The 20-year-old watched more than 80 hours of the reality TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians to research her topic and now intends to write a book on the celebrity clan. “In my dissertation I didn’t have enough words to talk about the men in the family and their role in a post-feminist world,” said Ms Cummings-Cove, who dismissed critics of her research topic as indulging in “cultural snobbery”. “The relationship between [the] women and their partners, ex partners and, in Rob [Kardashian]’s case, their brother is a really interesting complex,” she added.

An iconic Cambridge lamp post said to mark the spot where town meets gown is to be refurbished, Cambridge News reported on 8 July. Dubbed “Reality Checkpoint” in the early 1970s, the Victorian lamp post in the centre of Parker’s Piece was long known as the point where varsity life gave way to the grittiness of “real-life” Cambridge. With the Mill Road area beyond the lamp post now thoroughly gentrified, the “checkpoint” no longer means much to most students, but efforts are under way to restore the once-colourfully painted post to its former glory, the News reports. Its tatty state in 2016 compares unfavourably with pictures of the “iconic landmark” taken in 1974 – a year after the UK joined the European Union, the News shows. Perhaps a metaphor for the UK’s sadly deteriorated relationship with Europe over the same 42-year period? Or maybe a marker of a downturn in relations between academia and the wider public?

A Chinese university is handing out blocks of ice to help students cool off in a blistering summer heatwave, BBC News online reported on 4 July. With no air conditioning in student residences, Lushan College is delivering a lorry-load of ice each evening as temperatures hit 35°C, the site said. Already, some 28 tonnes of ice have been sent to the college, which is part of Guangxi University of Science and Technology, in the southern city of Liuzhou, with students invited to carry the blocks back to their room to help escape the heat. While some have used the episode to highlight the lack of a conventional solution, others have welcomed the deliveries, with some using the huge blocks of ice to build igloos on campus.

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