The week in higher education – 19 May 2016

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

May 19, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (19 May 2016)

A cat that prowled a students’ union for more than a decade has been elected its honorary president, The Daily Telegraph reported on 13 May. The University of Southampton’s Students’ Union passed a motion handing the title to the “much-adored” pet, Susu, in recognition of her “contribution to reducing students’ stress”. The moggy, which has been a constant presence on the campus since 2002, was praised as “fulfilling an important duty by being detached from union politics, thus providing stability and security which is greatly needed in the face of an ever-changing union”. In a landslide victory, Susu took the honorary presidency by 176 votes to 86 – a ringing vote of confidence that will be the envy of many union presidents in today’s increasingly fractious and divided world of university politics. Luckily, Susu won’t need to make any difficult decisions about whether to keep Southampton in the National Union of Students following the election of Malia Bouattia as president, as the union had already chosen to disaffiliate several years ago.


Those who attend Russell Group universities are less likely to get fat in middle age, a study has suggested. Former private school pupils and graduates from the 24 research-intensive universities had in later life a body mass index that was on average 1.8 points lower than that of graduates of other universities, according to the report on the effects of an “elite education”, The Daily Telegraph reported on 11 May. Those with “better educations” spend less time watching TV and eat fewer take-away meals, claimed the study by University College London researchers, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The research, which was based on more than 8,400 men and women born in a single week in 1970, added that there was no difference in BMI when students were still in education – suggesting that the late-night kebabs and beans-on-toast staples of student life are just as likely to be consumed by the “elite” and hoi polloi.


Students in Spain are taking a compulsory course in exorcism, the Huffington Post reported on 9 May. Undergraduates at the University College of Barberán and Collán have to attend a seminar by a priest on “The Evil”, which will cover everything from “fields related to the devil, exorcisms and being possessed and hell”, the Post said, quoting reports in The Local that cited newspaper El Diario. Catholic priest José Antonio Fortea Cucurull, an expert on the controversial practice, will undertake the session at the institution – which is linked to the highly regarded Complutense University of Madrid – having written the go-to guide on exorcism and demonology, it said. The lecture may perhaps prompt several attendees to turn to the more traditional type of spirits associated with student life – a double whiskey and Coke, perhaps?


It’s not just spelling tests for seven-year-olds that are falling foul of exam cock-ups. When first-year geophysics students at Imperial College London sat down for an end-of-year paper, they found the answers listed at the bottom of the page, student paper Felix reported on 6 May. In a commendable display of academic integrity, students quickly notified the invigilators about the mishap, leading to a swift halt to the exam. It will be replaced by a coursework module and is worth 6 per cent of first-year marks for geophysics. This is not the first time that Imperial examiners have come unstuck: one paper handed out in 2014 had the answers stapled to the back, while physicists last year were set an impossible question on quantum mechanics, but were marked on it anyway. With the unfortunate track record in mind, students were urged to ensure that the mistake stay “within these four walls” – which failed to happen once Felix learned of the mishap.


The Duke of Cambridge has admitted that he did not visit the library much as an undergraduate, the Huffington Post reported on 11 May. During a visit to Magdalen College, Oxford’s newly refurbished £11 million library, Prince William told students and benefactors that he had seldom visited the library while he was studying at the University of St Andrews, where he met his future wife. “I can’t say I was a regular attender of libraries,” said the Prince, despite widespread reports that he worked hard to gain a respectable 2:1 in geography back in 2005. “He said if this was his library he would have gone a little bit more,” said Dayna Hamilton, a third-year engineering student, who spoke to the Duke.

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