The week in higher education – 15 October 2015

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

October 15, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (15 October 2015)

“Hi, my name’s Kate Lynes, I’m from Nottingham and I’m studying for an MD in sphincter preservation.” So said one of the students on the Queen Mary University of London team on University Challenge on 5 October, sparking much sniggering on Twitter. Which means that all the jokes about whether there is a colon in the name of the subject, or saying that it has a nice ring to it, have been done already. Ms Lynes was happy that her playful introduction had attracted more attention to this sensitive area. As Queen Mary helpfully explained on Twitter, sphincter preserving operations are an important treatment for rectal cancers.

A first-year Aberystwyth University student who lives in a caravan by the sea rather than in halls attracted national headlines. “I was mainly motivated by cost, but also the prospect of having my own shack, living fairly off grid and being right by the sea,” Tom Moore told The Tab in a 1 October story picked up by national newspapers this week. The reluctance of Mr Moore, whose caravan is 10 miles from campus, to live in close proximity to students is possibly explained by his being 23 and having worked for four years as a National Trust ranger. If he wants to have an argument about washing up or listen to someone throwing up in the early hours, he will have to find a particularly truculent seagull.

The famed Harvard University debate society has lost a contest against a team of prison inmates, the Daily Telegraph reported on 7 October. The team from the maximum security Eastern New York Correctional Facility took on the Ivy League institution, the current national debating champions, on the subject of state schools in an initiative organised by a local college, the paper said. The felons, all convicted of violent offences, impressed judges to beat their illustrious opponents to cheers from the audience. The team has already beaten students from the US Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont but, in what has been described as like something from a film written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the victory over Harvard is the biggest of them all, the Telegraph said.

Student unions have been the first to condemn the “chilling” effect on free speech caused by the Prevent counter-terrorism laws, but they are not afraid to serve up a few bans of their own. In the wake of the “racist” sombrero controversy at the University of East Anglia, the University of Manchester’s students’ union has become the latest to bar a journalist from a debate because of allegedly “transphobic” comments made in a Guardian article 11 years ago, The Times reported on 9 October. It is by no means the first time that Julie Bindel has been given such a no-platform ban by students on account of a piece in which she questioned the right of men who undergo gender reassignment surgery to be treated as women. But in this case her opponent Milo Yiannopoulous, a right-wing blogger, was also banned after his own “similarly provocative views” were made public, The Times said. Jess Lishak, women’s officer at the union, said that Ms Bindel has been on a “crusade against the trans community and trans women in particular” and her views were “extremely dangerous”, adding that the decision was “about keeping our students safe”.

Mary Curnock Cook, the Ucas chief executive, delivered an unflattering verdict on the quality of private education, The Guardian reported on 7 October. She told the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents the heads of private schools, that their pupils stuck to a narrow range of courses and careers, often at the same universities that their parents attended, shunning high-tech subjects such as robotics and bio-engineering in favour of “predictable” careers in law, banking and the media. “Perhaps, instead of worrying about social engineering, independent schools should encourage their students to be independent-minded, and to develop a sense of future self that breaks the mould a bit,” she added. In the absence of reports to the contrary, we must assume Ms Curnock Cook made it out of the HMC alive, despite delivering an uncomfortable message about the education for which private schools charge tens of thousands of pounds a year. 

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