The week in higher education – 21 July 2016

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

July 21, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (21 July 2016)

She left school with only six O levels, but the Duchess of York has now been appointed a university professor, The Times reported on 13 July. But don’t expect the new “visiting professor of philanthrepreneurship” at the University of Huddersfield to be supervising any PhD students for a while as the title is an honorary one, with no teaching required. It was awarded by Huddersfield, whose chancellor is her ex-husband Prince Andrew, in recognition of the Duchess’ contribution to the institution, which she has visited several times since 2013. The unpaid position would “evolve over time” as the Duchess developed a relationship with faculty and students, Huddersfield said. Indeed, it will probably take at least a few years for Fergie’s academic colleagues to get their tongue round her tongue-twister of an academic title.

With ex-Oxford Union president Boris Johnson as the new foreign secretary, Theresa May’s ruthless reshuffle wasn’t all bad news for Oxbridge-educated politicians. However, with fellow Oxonians George Osborne, Michael Gove and Theresa Villiers walking the plank on the new prime minister’s first day in office, Oxbridge’s grip on power appears to have loosened significantly. Only 48 per cent of Cabinet ministers attended either the university of Oxford or Cambridge compared with 64 per cent under David Cameron, BBC News online reported on 14 July. Those to arrive from the “plate glass” universities established in the 1960s include international development secretary Priti Patel (Keele), chief whip Gavin Williamson (Bradford), Brexit minister David Davis (Warwick) and ex-leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom (also Warwick). Universities will also be keeping a keen eye on what education secretary Justine Greening (Southampton) – now in charge of higher education – has in store for the sector.

If there is one scholar who doesn’t need to worry about academia’s “publish or perish” culture, it is one-time law professor Barack Obama. But the US president, who was a lecturer at the University of Chicago for 12 years, made history last week when he published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association – the first time a sitting Commander-in-Chief has been thought to have done so, Inside Higher Ed reported on 13 July. But the leader of the free world was not given an easy ride by his fellow academics, with some peer reviewers questioning some of President Obama’s claims about the effectiveness of his healthcare reforms. One suspects the president, who is tipped to return to his scholarly roots when he leaves office next year, will not be short of offers, regardless of how well his publications are received.

Academic credibility was never a problem for President Obama, but it is a bit more of an issue for the man who might replace him, billionaire property tycoon Donald Trump. In the latest round of the legal battle over Trump University, which some former students are suing him over, the bequiffed presidential hopeful is fighting to block the release of videos of his recorded witness statement. Mark Sumner, from the US news site Daily Kos, said that Mr Trump’s campaign was “worried that Trump talking truthfully” about the project “might be used against him”, adding that it was likely it would be “sliced and diced” for use in attack ads. While he may worry about footage becoming public, Mr Sumner notes that those putting together ads against Mr Trump already have an “embarrassment of riches” from his gaffes outside the courtroom to work with.

The fallout from Brexit has continued for higher education, with a Welsh university claiming that it has already lost dozens of potential students from Europe after the referendum result. “Over 100 European students have withdrawn their applications to us at this point, 50 by the end of [the Friday after the referendum],” John Grattan, acting vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University, told a graduation ceremony last week, BBC News reported. “That’s a stunning impact on our finances – there are 120,000 European students at British universities,” added Professor Grattan in his downbeat address. “All UK universities have said that prospective students that had accepted firm offers are now withdrawing them, and we are no exception,” added a university spokesman.

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