The week in higher education - 22 August 2013

August 22, 2013
  • The Daily Mail exposed a premium-rate telephone hotline that has caused outrage among parents. Frustrated teenagers who dialled the number were kept on the line for up to 50 minutes, after being encouraged to indulge in dubious chat about “entry requirements”. Ucas “provides an 0871 number costing up to 41p per minute on mobile phones to match students to vacancies”, the Mail reported on 16 August. A Ucas spokesman said that calls from a BT landline cost 9p a minute, adding that while “other providers may charge more for calling this number” Ucas did not benefit from extra charges.
  • England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has admitted to having eaten hash cookies during her student days at the University of Manchester, but said she gave up after experiencing hallucinations. The emeritus professor at Imperial College London also told BBC Radio 3’s Private Passions on 18 August that drug addiction should be treated as a medical and public health issue rather than as a criminal one. And former researcher Dame Sally lamented that while women suffer from self-doubting “impostor syndrome”, men carry a confidence-giving “bullshit gene”. “I have been much entertained by many men, as I have gone through my career, who are great at bullshitting,” said Dame Sally, identifying the secret to success in many companies, schools, universities and other institutions.
  • On 17 August, The Daily Telegraph reported on concerns that “leading universities are discriminating against private school pupils by engineering admissions in favour of teenagers from the state system”. Eleven Russell Group universities have opted to boost state school entry as part of their access agreements, the newspaper said. Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council, said universities risked “simply taking more students from selective grammar schools and middle-class comprehensives”. It is not just universities that are fighting tooth and nail to protect their lucrative fee income.
  • David Willetts has predicted that the traditional three-year degree in an “ivy-covered building” may soon cease to be the norm for millions of students, The Sunday Telegraph reported on 18 August. The universities and science minister told the newspaper that more school-leavers would be attracted to job-focused courses at local colleges or at for-profit providers or would take online programmes. But he added that the annual autumn pilgrimage to university “in Volvo estates packed with hi‑fis, pot plants and bean bags” would still take place. What lazy stereotyping Mr Willetts uses in implying that many campuses remain dominated by the middle classes – Saabs are just as popular as Volvos for parents dropping off their children at university.
  • Everything is bigger in the US – including university expenses claims. Evan S. Dobelle, the president of Westfield State University in Massachusetts, is facing a review of his spending by university trustees after running up huge bills on a work credit card, including $8,000 (£5,100) for a four-night stay at a Bangkok hotel on a trip to drum up business in Asia and $4,000 for limousine rides. By the time Westfield closed his credit card in 2010, “records show he had run up more than $200,000 in credit card charges to the [university’s] foundation, a private group that raises money for scholarships and educational programs”, The Boston Globe said on 18 August. Dr Dobelle left a previous post as president of the University of Hawaii amid criticism of his spending. Dr Dobelle countered that he had made Westfield “the hottest college in New England” and said that spending on a limo ride to New York for journalism students showed that “I do things for kids”. “I’m a change agent. You know you’re going to take a hit,” added the former mayor of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, before comparing himself to Apple founder Steve Jobs. “I can’t believe you guys hired him,” said Donna Mercado Kim, the president of Hawaii’s Senate and a longtime Dr Dobelle critic, who asked for an audit of his spending after he took donors to a Janet Jackson concert. “You really have to do your homework. With the Internet and computers, there’s really no excuse.”

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Reader's comments (1)

This is a really good question: Is college worth it? I used to think that it did, but now I have so many doubts. Things used to be different and high interest rates could easily be justified with low unemployment rate meaning that there were many vacancies for recent grads. How about now? Life is very uncertain so are the prospects for the younger generation. They are forced to work and miss classes which may result in bad marks after all. Thanx god there are lots of services (please read this useful article) which can offer assistance for such cases! Still it is better when students have time and desire to study by themselves

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