The week in higher education – 20 October 2016

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

October 20, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (20 October 2016)

University staff are sometimes accused of having a sense of humour failure over “student high jinks”, but it seems that no one on campus was laughing at the latest “killer clown” stunt. Even self-described YouTube prankster “Kenny” quickly admitted that his decision to chase friends around Brunel University London with a chainsaw while dressed as a scary clown didn’t hit too many comic high notes, BBC News online reported on 11 October. Shortly after his video sparked panic, the media studies student made a public apology, saying “I regret filming so much on campus”. While he explained that he was “only chasing his friends”, he conceded that it “looked like he was terrorising” fellow students and that he should have informed people that he was filming. “I’m never ever doing that again,” he added, something those tired of the bone-headed creepy clown craze will wholeheartedly welcome.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the safe spaces v political correctness spectrum, a US university is offering counselling services for students who are offended by Halloween get-ups worn on campus, the Daily Mail reported on 14 October. While asking students to think about their “choices of costumes and themes”, a memo released by the University of Florida added that its Bias Education and Response Team would also be on hand to “respond to any reported incident of bias” by connecting “those that were impacted” with the “appropriate services and resources”, including a counsellor who would be available 24/7 by phone. A Florida spokeswoman added that “depending on the circumstances, we might reach out to the person who was listed as wearing the costume and see what support or resources they might need as well” – in other words, give them a stern ticking-off. 

Student plans to “wreck the teaching excellence framework” by boycotting the UK’s National Student Survey have been thrown into disarray after dissident students’ unions triggered a national ballot on the action. Among those to support the call for a national vote on the proposed National Union of Students-led sabotage of the TEF are unions from the universities of Bath, Birmingham, Durham, Hull and Newcastle, with 28 unions in total backing a student poll to decide the matter, the NUS announced on 14 October. The move follows a letter from union reps at the University of West London, which claimed that the hard-Left dominated NUS executive “hasn’t learned” from debates inside students’ unions about whether to disaffiliate from the national organisation. “We need an NUS that listens to unions and their concerns, not one that sidelines debate on them,” it added.

Trump University has struggled to get a look-in as more sleazy allegations against the Republican presidential candidate have dominated the news agenda. But the upcoming trial relating to the billionaire property tycoon’s now-defunct seminar programme may be on his mind more than most imagine, Business Insider UK claimed on 12 October. It follows Donald Trump’s call for his supporters at a Florida rally to go out and vote on 28 November, when the US election will actually take place on 8 November. However, 28 November is significant as it marks the start of a class action lawsuit against Trump University, which litigants claim was a scam used to con them out of fees running into thousands of dollars. Perhaps the Donald isn’t looking forward to coming face to face again with Gonzalo Curiel, the US-born judge he branded unfit to lead the trial on account of his Mexican-born parents?

The mystery of the 110,000 foreign students who “vanish” in the UK each year was finally solved by The Times on 13 October. The number, frequently cited by the campaign group Migration Watch, has long baffled universities, but was often used to illustrate the numbers of international students who could be overstaying visas or finding work, prompting ministers to tighten even further tough visa rules. In fact, the true number of international students refusing to leave after their studies is actually just 1,500 – one in 100 – according to a secret government report shown to The Times. Based on the first year of exit checks reinstated last year, the figure is believed to be far more accurate than the 110,000 estimate, which is based on samples from randomly selected travellers polled in the International Passenger Survey. In its leader column, The Times claimed that the 1 per cent figure had been “kept quiet by ministers for the worst possible reason”, adding that it was time to stop “deterring [international students] with tough visa rules based on false assumptions”.

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