The week in higher education - 18/25 December 2014

December 18, 2014
  • “Nothing short of a scandal.” That was the verdict from Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP and chair of the Public Accounts Committee, on the government’s controls over public spending at private colleges. She was speaking at a PAC hearing on 15 December to address a damning National Audit Office report on dropout rates at private colleges, student loans claimed by ineligible European Union students, and whether loan-funded students on Higher National courses had been registered with Pearson. Martin Donnelly, the permanent secretary at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was the man taking most of the flak from MPs – although Rod Bristow, president of Pearson UK, also came under fire. During the hearing, Ms Hodge cited a number of Times Higher Education stories on private colleges and described the NAO report as “one of the most shocking” she had ever read.
  • If the fundraising power of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is anything to go by, vice-chancellors may wish to sign up Prince George straight away. Some £2.2 million was raised for the University of St Andrews at a gala dinner that had the couple, who met at the institution, as guests of honour. According to a text of his speech at the event, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on 9 December, Prince William quipped that St Andrews graduates left the university in “one of two states – either married or an alcoholic”. While noting that he and his wife had been fortunate to end up in the former condition, he omitted to mention how St Andrews had been left by the couple – and that’s rolling in cash.
  • A Harvard professor’s hardball tactics directed at a Chinese takeaway that overcharged him by $4 (£2.55) backfired after his irate emails were published online. Ben Edelman, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, was charged $57.35 for a meal from Sichuan Garden, a family-run Chinese restaurant in Woburn, Massachusetts – $4 more than advertised online, The Daily Telegraph reported on 11 December. Despite receiving a profuse apology, an offer of a refund and a promise to update the menu prices, from restaurant manager Ran Duan, Dr Edelman was not placated, the paper stated. He said that he had reported the restaurant to the appropriate authorities, calling for a “more thoughtful and far-reaching resolution” and demanding punitive damages of $12. Dr Edelman later apologised for being “out of line” after his email tirade hit the internet, with thousands of commenters condemning what they saw as vindictive bullying of a small business.
  • Libraries have long been havens for dozing students, but the latest holder of a reference card at the University of Edinburgh will be forgiven for nodding off from time to time. Jordan, an eight-year-old cat, was “issued” with the pass after adopting the library as his second home, the Edinburgh Evening News reported on 11 December. The black-and-white feline makes a daily trip to the library, where he has a favourite chair near the door. The cat is unlikely to be found in the theology section, however, given that Jordan returns to his real home in the university’s Catholic chaplaincy only for a daily meal. Father Dermott Martin, one of the friars, told the newspaper: “He ignores us when he sees us in the square. He ignores us indoors as well, unless he wants feeding.”
  • In 2011, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, addressed claims that the newspaper employed too many Oxbridge graduates. “We are far more diverse than ever before, and even if there is a strong Oxbridge presence, they have done more to tear down the walls than anyone else,” he said. Mr Rusbridger is now leaving the newspaper after 20 years in charge. And after he laid to rest the myth of a special Oxbridge-Guardian relationship, life has thrown up a strange coincidence: he is reportedly to become head of a University of Oxford college. “Mr Rusbridger is expected to be announced in the new year as successor to Dr Frances Lannon, who is standing down as principal of Lady Margaret Hall…in September,” The Independent reported on 11 December. Will Lady Margaret Hall start giving away its education for free online, with its face-to-face offering becoming increasingly thin and expensive?
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