The week in higher education – 23 April 2015

April 23, 2015
  • “No player is bigger than the club,” runs the football cliché. Plymouth University has been given a similar lesson in an external report on its governance that was recommended by the Higher Education Funding Council for England last year after the suspension of the institution’s former vice-chancellor, Wendy Purcell. The unedifying saga also featured the resignation of the chair of governors who suspended Professor Purcell, William Taylor, after an investigation began into allegations – which he denies – that he sexually harassed female staff and students. Among the recommendations to Plymouth from the Good Governance Institute’s report, which emerged last week, are that “at least one member of the academic board should be elected to sit on the board of governors, thus restoring an academic governance link which is enshrined in the university’s instrument & articles of government”. In terms of “lessons learned”, the report notes: “No one individual is greater than the institution they serve.”
  • University Challenge whizz Ted Loveday has revealed how he answered an incredible 10 correct “starter for 10” questions in last week’s final. The 21-year-old law student at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, whose team triumphed 255-105 over Magdalen College, Oxford, honed his general knowledge by watching old episodes of the BBC Two show and trawling Wikipedia, the Daily Mail reported on 16 April. Mr Loveday’s YouTube research led him to spot the favourite topics of question setters, rightly guessing that Pre-Raphaelite paintings might feature, he explained. Brainy, well-prepared and lightning fast on the buzzer, Mr Loveday was dubbed the show’s “greatest ever” contestant, eclipsing even legend Gail Trimble from 2009. Intellectually, the two are hard to separate, but Mr Loveday surely shades it thanks to a memorably geeky Aran jumper that cements his cult status.
  • Hunky Italian male model Pietro Boselli – who is also a maths lecturer at University College London – is perhaps a more traditional academic heart-throb. But Dr Boselli, who has modelled for Armani and for Abercrombie & Fitch, admits that he is sometimes frustrated that 18-year-old female students are not always as interested in his talks on quadratic equations as they are in his improbably handsome looks. In an interview with The Times on 20 April, Dr Boselli said he had pulled up some students for taking “sneaky pictures of me”. But the lecturer, who has about half a million followers on Instagram, still hopes to focus on his career in mechanical engineering, saying his online following will “fizzle out” soon.
  • A Chinese university has been criticised for spending more than £435,000 on a “fake” version of the Great Wall of China, the Daily Telegraph reported on 16 April. The mile-long replica being built at the Wuhan Institute of Bioengineering is designed to “spread the culture of the Great Wall” to students and tourists alike, the university says. Undergraduates will take PE lessons and study Chinese history on the replica after it is completed in September. But many internet users have denounced it as “tacky”, with one Weibo user saying “a university is to educate people and not to build tourist spots”.
  • George Holmes, the University of Bolton’s vice-chancellor, has been at the centre of controversy around loans, yachts and sackings in recent weeks. The header on his profile on Bolton’s website used to state that he was “Professor George E Holmes PhD MBA BSc (Hon) FInstD PGCE”, modestly refraining from mentioning his swimming certificate. But that was changed last month to: “Professor George E Holmes DL”. On 11 March, Times Higher Education had contacted Bolton to ask if it was correct to say that Professor Holmes did not have a PhD, but rather had a doctorate in education, which is usually abbreviated EdD. On 13 March, the university’s spokesman replied that a “PhD and an EdD are two common doctoral degree designations of equal academic attainment and it is not uncommon for the titles to be interchanged”. Asked to explain the timing of the rewording on his profile, the spokesman later said: “The change of style was made on 17 March, the date which Dr Holmes became a deputy lieutenant of Greater Manchester. The decision to remove other numerous post nominals is not unusual.”
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