The week in higher education - 24 October 2013

October 24, 2013
  • Being forced to live in a travel hotel equidistant from London and Norwich didn’t work out too well for Alan Partridge. But 100 Anglia Ruskin University undergraduates starting term by living at a Cambridge Travelodge found themselves in just such a situation. They were moved into the hotel “because there is no accommodation available elsewhere in Cambridge”, the Cambridge News reported on 18 October. Local councillor Richard Johnson worried about how that might affect their study. “If you are starting an academic year, you want to get into a rhythm and if that is disturbed you are going to be at a disadvantage.”
  • London mayor Boris Johnson used a speech at Peking University to make a “full-throttle effort to upstage [chancellor] George Osborne”. The Times reported on 15 October that the Tory politicians’ “mildly uncomfortable double act” at the university was part of a week-long tour of China. Mr Osborne’s speech to 200 students was “delivered stiffly and made his audience fall almost silent”, but Mr Johnson evoked “20 gales of laughter” with references to Downton Abbey, Harry Potter (although his erroneous reference to the wizard’s first girlfriend being from China later got him into hot water) and a 2008 dash to buy a suit in a Beijing market so he “would look less scruffy”. It did not occur to him, it seems, to get a haircut.
  • Any good PR Peking University may have won by hosting the world’s most high-profile former shadow higher education minister was obliterated a few days later by news that it had sacked an economist with a history of criticising China’s government. The Guardian reported on 21 October that the removal of Xia Yeliang as associate professor of economics raises fears of a renewed state crackdown on free speech. Professor Xia, who helped imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to draft a manifesto calling for reform of China’s one-party system, claimed that his removal had been ordered by “high-level authorities”. Peking denied this, stating that he was fired for poor teaching and that he had been the “worst-ranked teacher for many years in a row”. Professor Xia labelled that a smear, noting that no one in 30 years had been dismissed for poor teaching. Even if it is true, there may well be UK universities ready to offer him a lifeline as long as he can be submitted to the research excellence framework and can get to the UK by next week’s census date.
  • Residents of Lincoln are demanding that the city’s university contribute £40,000 towards a service to tackle antisocial students. The Lincolnshire Echo reported on 17 October that locals, fed up with “all-night parties, urinating in gardens, verbal abuse, thefts of road signs and vandalism to cars”, have asked the University of Lincoln to fund a telephone hotline and enforcement officers to attend incidents reported in the early hours. Currently, disgruntled, sleep-deprived residents who ring the council-run antisocial behaviour service get to vent their frustrations only to an answerphone. One residents’ association member said he was “not student bashing” but found that some students took the view that “We can do what we like: it’s a student area”.
  • The Daily Telegraph took an uncharacteristic interest in a post-1992 university with coverage of the love life of the University of Bedfordshire vice-chancellor on 19 October. It revealed that Bill Rammell, the former Labour higher education minister, had “formed a relationship” with Helen Bailey, a professor of dance at Bedfordshire and head of its division of performing arts and English. “Labour-supporting” Professor Bailey was appointed “interim executive dean of partnerships” in June by a board that included Mr Rammell, but the university “stressed that his relationship with [her] began after this and so had no influence on the appointment”. She has also stepped down as a staff governor to avoid any conflict of interest and will report to the deputy vice-chancellor, Ashraf Jawaid, instead of Mr Rammell. The Telegraph’s exhaustive scrutiny of her Facebook page revealed that she had a “bit of a weirdo crush” on shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Unaccountably, however, it failed for once to mention that Bedfordshire used to be run by Office for Fair Access director and alleged social-engineer-in-chief Les Ebdon.

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