The week in higher education - 24 April 2014

April 24, 2014
  • A “racist” swan is terrorising international students at the University of Warwick. The Daily Telegraph reported on 11 April that the bird has taken to policing a footbridge on Warwick’s campus, and international students claim that it has singled them out for a good pecking. The university has erected a fence along the path to keep the white winger at bay. Wildlife experts say that swans become extremely territorial in the breeding season, and often attack humans who stray too near to their eggs. But the Warwick swan’s xenophobic selection suggests that it may have been recruited by the Home Office as part of its latest cunning plan to ruffle the feathers of anyone it deems a migrant.
  • Speaking of which, it is common knowledge that officials from the Home Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have spent the past four years squabbling over whether overseas students should be included in net migration figures. Perhaps the problem is that their conversations have been taking place just before lunch. According to a 15 April report in The Times, researchers from Ohio State University have discovered that married couples are more inclined to row when they are hungry. They reached this jaw-dropping conclusion after asking 107 couples to stick as many pins – up to a maximum of 51 – as felt appropriate into a voodoo doll representing their partner every night for three weeks before going to bed, having measured their blood sugar levels earlier in the evening. Readers who feel like sticking 51 pins in voodoo dolls of the researchers as punishment for going to such trouble to prove the bleeding obvious should probably buy themselves a doughnut.
  • The trend among men for fully fledged beards in the past year or two may have proved a challenge for Gillette, but an academic study has suggested that smooth chins could be about to make a comeback. Researchers at the University of New South Wales found that people who were shown a succession of hairy faces were then more attracted to a picture of a clean-shaven man, The Guardian reported on 16 April. Of course, the phenomenon also works in reverse, so those shown a succession of clean faces are then more likely to be attracted to whiskery ones. Whether the same results would emerge for male vice-chancellors is open to debate, but Times Higher Education plans to investigate any correlation between facial hair and salary awarded as a matter of urgency.
  • A beard of a very different variety attracted attention this week as concerns were raised about a growing divide between town and gown in Cambridge. In an article for the Cambridge News, Mary Beard, professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, said that security around the institution’s colleges had made the city “like a two-party town”. She also suggested that there was a “wages problem” because junior colleagues and support staff were not paid enough. “The division of ‘town’ and ‘gown’ has grown in some ways more obvious over the 30 years I have lived here as a resident, rather than as a student,” she wrote. There was no mention in the article about which side of the divide the city’s swans come under, but the fact that rowers were once subjected to attacks from a vicious swan dubbed “Mr Asbo” might provide clues.
  • Just 6 per cent of students intend to vote Liberal Democrat, according to a poll that suggests that the party could be wiped out in university towns and cities in next year’s general election. According to the YouthSight survey of 1,200 undergraduates, support for Nick Clegg’s party has slumped catastrophically since just before the 2010 election, when 50 per cent of undergraduates backed it, The Independent reported on 18 April. With the Lib Dems holding seats in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester and Norwich, the collapse in student support could mean electoral meltdown next May as 43 per cent will back Labour and 24 per cent will vote Tory, the paper says. Mr Clegg, whose apology over his tuition fee U-turn appears to cut little ice with students, might take some consolation from the fact that he is marginally more popular on campuses than his recent debate opponent, Nigel Farage: the UK Independence Party is supported by just 5 per cent of students.
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