The week in higher education - 24 July 2014

July 24, 2014
  • A senior Aids researcher killed aboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 has been praised for his “tireless efforts towards defeating the disease”, the Independent on Sunday reported on 19 July. Joep Lange, a clinical researcher from the Netherlands, and his wife Jacqueline van Tongeren were on their way to the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne, Australia, when the Boeing 777 crashed in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Professor Lange, a past president of the International Aids Society, was “one of the most creative Aids researchers, a humanist, and tireless organiser, dedicated to his patients and to defeating Aids in the poorest countries”. The death of six conference delegates cast a shadow over the opening of Aids research’s biggest annual event, which welcomed more than 12,000 activists and researchers.
  • “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge,” sang Jarvis Cocker in the 1995 Pulp hit Common People. “She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College.” However, had £9,000 tuition fees been in place in the late 1980s, when Mr Cocker was considering his application to the London institution (now part of the University of the Arts London), he would have been put off by the price and the song would not have been written, The Times reported on 17 July. “If you are going to fork out that money you’re going to want to know there’s a career at the end of it and that’s not artistic thinking,” he said, adding that the fee increase would “narrow the band of people” that choose to attend art school to those who can afford it. The girl from Greece was not available for comment, although it is thought she would still have attended St Martin’s despite the tuition costs, because her dad is “loaded”.
  • The principal of the University of St Andrews has revealed that she has been mocked by members of the town’s famous golf club after it refused her membership based on her gender, despite it being a right of St Andrews vice-chancellors. In an interview with The New York Times, Louise Richardson said that some members of the Royal and Ancient have waved their club ties at her, thinking it was a “funny” way to rub in her exclusion. But there is hope: in an act of revolutionary thinking that puts Rosa Parks to shame, the club is to vote in September on whether to allow women membership, a mere 260 years after it was founded.
  • A photography firm has been criticised for offering a “digital slimming” service to make students look thinner in their graduation pictures, The Independent reported on 17 July. Success Photography, which works with a number of institutions including the University of York, offers students the chance to have their apparent size reduced electronically for an extra £9.95, the paper said. “With advanced digital technology, we can reduce the gown’s appearance making it more fitting to your body shape,” said the company’s website, perhaps to help graduates banish signs of their fast-food habits. York’s student union condemned the practice, saying it could “promote negative body image”, but Success, which also offers “digital complexion enhancement” and “smile enhancement” for an extra £7.95, said digital slimming applied only to the gowns, which can be “bulky and unflattering”.
  • The Higher Education Policy Institute won the “One to Watch” category in the Prospect Think Tank of the Year Awards 2014. The judges cited Hepi’s analysis of the costs of the new student loans system as well as its works on the quality of the student academic experience. Under its previous director, Bahram Bekhradnia, Hepi said the government was implementing a policy on loans “about whose cost, on its own admission, it can have no clear idea and which is potentially building up large liabilities for future generations to redeem”. Nick Hillman, the new Hepi director, said he was “over the moon that Prospect has recognised the work of a small specialist thinktank in this way”. It might have felt a little awkward for Mr Hillman, as he worked on the government’s student loans policy as special adviser to the former universities and science minister David Willetts. But that, in its own way, might be seen as a contribution to Hepi’s successful hit on student loans.
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