The week in higher education – 23 July 2015

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

July 23, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (23 July 2015)

The National Union of Students has hit back at David Cameron’s “misleading” claims that it has allied itself with Cage, the advocacy group accused of being a Jihadi John sympathiser, the Huffington Post reported on 20 July. In a speech on combating extremism, the prime minister said that the NUS “shamed” itself by allying with the group, which, he said, had called the London-born Isis executioner a “beautiful young man”. The criticism follows a motion passed by the NUS in March that promised to lobby the government to repeal new anti-extremism legislation, including the Prevent strategy, alongside Cage and other civil liberties groups. However, Toni Pearce, who was then president of the union, distanced herself from the organisation, saying that the NUS had “absolutely no intention of developing a working relationship – formal or otherwise – with Cage” – a statement reiterated by the student group this week.


A Canadian postgraduate spent 10 months living in a back garden to save money on rent, the Manchester Evening News reported on 19 July. Stockport resident Charley Mantack allowed Evan Eames, from Montreal, to pitch his two-man tent on her lawn for free after the student realised he did not have enough money for accommodation, having paid £20,000 for his astrophysics master’s course at the University of Manchester, the paper says. The 24-year-old slept out in all weathers, including snow, and used the showers at Manchester’s Alan Turing Building. Amazingly, Mr Eames even managed to attract a girlfriend during his outdoor exploits, and she would sometimes stay in his tent. “It was a really fun experience – I am super glad I did it,” said the student, who is heading to Paris for his PhD studies. With maintenance grants gone and the dizzying £100-a-week-plus rents charged to many students, Mr Eames may inspire other hardy scholars to consider life under canvas.


The sporting and higher education worlds collided in unlikely fashion twice last week. Not only did 22-year-old Irish student Paul Dunne lead the Open golf championship as it entered its final round but a university leader popped up on Test Match Special on 17 July for a teatime chat. Baroness Amos, who will start as director of Soas, University of London in September, was interviewed during the Lords Test match between England and Australia by BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew about her time as UK High Commissioner to Australia and her forthcoming academic appointment. Asked if she was the new “headmistress” at Soas, Lady Amos did a good job of putting the commentators straight and provided a little light relief from a dismal performance by the England cricket team.


A Guardian job advertisement seeking a “Russell Group graduate” has raised some eyebrows among its readers, given the newspaper’s regular swipes at elitism. The employer behind the advert, spotted on 16 July, is also surprising; it is not a City bank or “magic circle” law firm but a “trendsetting primary school” in north Bristol looking for a teaching assistant paid at about £60 a day. Many universities – particularly those institutions that churn out hundreds of outstanding trainee teachers each year – will surely be irked that the Michael Gove-inspired movement to exalt the Russell Group and its alumni has reached somewhat ludicrous levels.


The furore over University College London’s treatment of Sir Tim Hunt rumbles on almost two months after his now infamous “trouble with girls” speech. Despite insisting that the Nobel laureate will not be reinstated to his honorary post, citing equality as one of its “core values”, UCL has regularly used the men-only Garrick Club for formal dinners, The Times reported on 15 July. The use of the gentleman’s club – which recently voted to retain its ban on female members – was “totally inappropriate”, said Dame Athene Donald, professor of experimental physics at the University of Cambridge. Two days later, The Times reported that it had seen a recording that showed Sir Tim’s supposedly sexist comments being greeted with laughter, casting more doubt on the initial reporting of his speech. With no let-up on the stream of Sir Tim stories, UCL will no doubt be wondering when its almost daily kicking in the national press will end.

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