The week in higher education – 16 April 2015

April 16, 2015
  • As their loans rack up and house prices spiral, today’s university students could be forgiven for doubting that they will ever own their own homes. But at least they have the edge on their parents when it comes to student accommodation. The Daily Mail reported on 14 April that modern students are increasingly turning their backs on squalid Young Ones-style “digs” in favour of “upmarket” private halls of residence. These relative palaces – whose residents have doubled in seven years, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency – boast such delights as gyms, private cinemas and “top-of-the range security”. Heriberto Cuanalo, director of student accommodation company Collegiate AC, said that today’s students were “striving to get more of a lifestyle from their accommodation”. But surely mouldy walls, broken boilers and shinning up drainpipes to your bedroom window because a Trotskyist newspaper seller convinced you after five pints of lunchtime lager that keys were for capitalist bullyboys counts as a lifestyle?
  • The University of Strathclyde has been “accused of ‘unbelievable’ spending at the taxpayer’s expense after shelling out £339,000 to transform a £1.2 million townhouse used by the principal”, Sir Jim McDonald. The Sunday Herald reported on 12 April that a spending breakdown released by Strathclyde included £1,180 on a single chair, £99.95 on a “state-of-the-art toaster” and £825 “for one drawer”. Left unanswered was the tantalising question of what “state-of-the-art” toast tastes like. A Strathclyde spokesman said that the property would be “used for corporate events and business engagements” and “will enhance the university’s property portfolio and be a long-term investment for Strathclyde”. Scotland’s principals are currently trying to fend off a Scottish government bill on higher education governance. They may have preferred that Strathclyde’s spending breakdown remained firmly in its drawer, which is presumably diamond encrusted.
  • Students prevented from legally buying cannabis in a Dutch city were found to do better in their studies. Research examined what happened at Maastricht University in 2011 when the city allowed only Dutch, German and Belgian passport-holders access to the 13 coffee shops where cannabis was sold, to prevent those from nearby countries visiting the city simply to take drugs. Data on more than 54,000 course grades achieved by students from around the world at Maastricht before and after the restrictions were analysed for a paper presented recently at the Royal Economic Society conference in Manchester, The Observer reported on 12 April. One of the authors told the newspaper that they estimated that “students who were no longer able to buy cannabis legally were 5 per cent more likely to pass courses”.
  • For any Maastricht students who have indulged and want to pep themselves up before attempting coursework, for heaven’s sake don’t resort to caffeine. Two students at Northumbria University “had to be treated in hospital after ‘overdosing’ on caffeine during a university experiment”, the Daily Mirror reported on 10 April. “They were taking part in a practical session to test the impact of the stimulant on sporting performance – but both suffered adverse reactions,” the newspaper said. A university spokeswoman said it was “a standard test that is delivered in most UK sports departments”, adding that the students will “return to their studies following the Easter break”. By which time they should also be able to sleep.
  • No stimulants required for the 10 million young people being sought by the Communist Youth League of China to “spread positive energy” on the internet – they will already be high on “socialist core values”. Web users in China posted a document issued by the Youth League that asks for 20 per cent of its members, mostly students, to be recruited as “cyber civilization volunteers”, The Independent reported on 10 April. The newspaper said that the students would augment the existing millions of online commenters “who post pro-government comments and attack those critical of the authorities”, with each person asked to participate in a “sunshine comments” campaign at least three times a year.
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