The week in higher education – 14 May 2015

May 14, 2015
  • The election result is unlikely to have gone down well among academics, given the Times Higher Education pre-poll survey suggesting that most intended to vote Labour. But one philosophy lecturer took her disappointment a step further, according to The Independent on 10 May. Rebecca Roache, from Royal Holloway, University of London, vowed on the University of Oxford Practical Ethics blog to “unfriend” those backing the Tories on Facebook because supporting a party that “withdraws support from the poor, the sick, the foreign, and the unemployed while rewarding those in society who are least in need of reward” was as “objectionable as expressing racist, sexist or homophobic views”. The blog drew scorn from Jim Everett, a social psychologist and philosopher at Oxford. Describing himself as a “gay, disabled, working-class Conservative”, he told the newspaper that the blog appeared to justify “the idea that Conservatives are evil and therefore they are intellectually and morally inferior”. “She’s obviously very clever, but far too biased and not applying the same rational standards of thinking that she usually does,” Dr Everett added.
  • The Liberal Democrats’ failure to oppose any rise in tuition fees appeared to come back to haunt them when the party was all but wiped out in last week’s election. Among the MPs losing their seats were Vince Cable, until then the business secretary, and Julian Huppert, the academic and advocate for science, who was defeated in Cambridge despite having voted against the 2012 fees hike. On a bad night for Labour, there was a glimmer of hope when Wes Streeting, the president of the National Union of Students between 2008 and 2010, won Ilford North from the Conservatives. But one of the biggest shocks came from Paisley and Renfrewshire South where Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old politics student at the University of Glasgow, defeated Labour big hitter Douglas Alexander for the Scottish National Party. Ms Black will now be expected to ace her final exam – in Scottish politics.
  • Ousted UK Independence Party MP Mark Reckless should have known better than to start a debate about the definition of an immigrant with an academic who specialises in global politics. Approached by Mr Reckless at a polling station in Rochester, Aidan Hehir, reader in international relations at the University of Westminster, announced that he and his daughters were “immigrants”. But on learning that Dr Hehir and his family hailed from Ireland, Mr Reckless responded by saying: “Oh you’re not immigrants then,” the Daily Mail reported on 8 May. Asked by Dr Hehir whether he knew what the legal definition of an immigrant was, Mr Reckless said he did, and added: “Well, my wife is Irish and she isn’t an immigrant.” With plenty of spare time on his hands now, perhaps Mr Reckless should enrol on one of Dr Hehir’s courses.
  • Perhaps the SNP will use its clout at Westminster to push for a novel universities policy: “extra marking” for academics who criticise the party. The punishment seems to be advocated by John Nicolson, who won East Dunbartonshire for the party, judging by his response to a Twitter row with Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a reader in psychology and social policy at Birkbeck, University of London. Mr Nicolson wrote to Birkbeck accusing Dr Brooks-Gordon, who stood for the Liberal Democrats in the Cities of London and Westminster, of “trolling”. He suggested that a “little extra marking” may occupy her better, the Daily Record reported on 6 May. In the end, the electorate delivered their own damning verdict on the academic, with her vote 13.5 per cent down on the Liberal Democrat performance in 2010.
  • Thousands of people have signed a petition to stop King’s College London demolishing a row of Victorian buildings on the Strand, The Times reported on 9 May. The university plans to replace the houses with something more in keeping with the adjacent university tower-block – a block described as a “stained monster, draped in boastful photographs of college alumni [that] dribbles on waiting bus queues and stinks of urine” by columnist and former chairman of the National Trust Sir Simon Jenkins.
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