The week in higher education – 19 March 2015

March 19, 2015
  • Scottish universities will not be subject to the same government rules on preventing “non-violent extremism” as their English and Welsh counterparts. The government’s Prevent guidance, which sets out the new legal duties on certain organisations to combat terrorism, refers to universities tackling “non-violent extremism” and to “young people” travelling to Syria to join terrorist organisations – but only in the document for England and Wales. This reveals “the extent of the disagreements between governments and the determination of the Home Office and No 10 to put universities in the frame” on terrorism, said Pam Tatlow, the chief executive of Million+. Absent from the Prevent documents – both the English and Welsh version and that for Scotland – published on 12 March is any guidance for universities about external speakers. That omission is said to be down to a refusal by Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg and Vince Cable to agree to demands from David Cameron on rules for universities, amid concerns about free speech on campus. The guidance must still be approved by Parliament.
  • An Italian electrical engineering professor has enraged professional pizza-makers by inventing a machine that can make a margherita from scratch in just three minutes, The Guardian reported on 14 March. Fabrizio Dughiero, of the University of Padua, believes that his “high-quality vending machine”, which kneads dough and uses fresh ingredients, will become “ubiquitous”, the paper said. But some find the prospect of a machine-made pizza hard to stomach; one pizzeria owner said it was “against nature”. According to Enrico Famà, head of the Accademia Pizzaioli, which trains pizza-makers: “It is not something that is really a pizza.”
  • Holding open a door for a woman is a form of “benevolent sexism” that increases gender inequality, researchers claim. Other examples of sexism masquerading as gallantry include offering women jackets if they look cold and giving them encouraging smiles because this fosters a view of women as “warm and pure, yet helpless and incompetent beings”, the Daily Mail reported on 11 March. “These supposed gestures of good faith may entice women to accept the status quo in society because sexism literally looks welcoming, appealing and harmless,” said Judith Hall, of Northeastern University in Boston. The findings were published in the journal Sex Roles.
  • The University of Warwick is establishing itself as a UK leader in an unlikely area: pole dancing. Its student dancers clinched their second successive title at the Inter-University Pole Dancing Competition held at Warwick recently, the Coventry Telegraph reported on 13 March. Success in the “vertical gymnastics” varsity, which featured 20 university teams, follows a surge in popularity for the activity at Warwick, whose pole dancing society has 270 members, 15 of them men. “When people watch us perform, there is no stigma,” said Sophie Webb, part of Warwick’s all-conquering pole dancing team. The society, she added, was in demand to perform at university events. Despite Warwick’s pre-eminence in the athletic pursuit, it may be some years yet before pole dancing becomes part of graduation day entertainment.
  • Bucks New University is the latest institution to fall foul of immigration rules after its licence to recruit students from outside the European Union was suspended. Bucks’ visa refusal rate for international students exceeded the 20 per cent maximum by 1.16 percentage points, the equivalent of just three students, leading to the penalty, the Home Office announced on 9 March. The institution has been given 20 days to make representations to the Home Office; if it still falls short of the criteria after this period, the licence will be revoked permanently. With the refusal limit now set at 10 per cent, many more universities could face similar sanctions, potentially wrecking the £10 billion higher education export market, experts have warned. Despite desperately trying to burnish their “pro-business” credentials ahead of the general election, ministers seem hell-bent on adding to the red tape entangling one of the UK’s most successful brands.
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