The week in higher education - 25 April 2013

April 25, 2013
  • Lecturers often moan that student radicals have disappeared, but a few could be found at Maggie’s Good Riddance Party, a protest organised by Dominic Francis, a student at Ruskin College in Oxford, on the day that Baroness Thatcher was laid to rest, the Oxford Student reported on 18 April. The gathered students vowed to have a “jolly good knees-up outside the service at St Paul’s”, although Mr Francis urged his supporters to “stay peaceful”, the paper added. However, quite a few students did not share Mr Francis’ left-wing anger and instead travelled to pay their respects to the former Conservative prime minister. “I don’t think people my age have the right to protest about her policies,” said Javiar Mansell, 20, a student at the University of Brighton (better known as a stronghold of the UCU Left than as a haven for Thatcher disciples), who had travelled to London with fellow student Rebecca May. “We are here out of respect,” added Ms Mansell, quoted in the Mail Online on 17 April.
  • Who is the most influential, nay sinister, academic working in Britain today? If Fleet Street were to believed, Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University and executive director of Hacked Off, would win the title hands down. Once merely an industrious freelance hack, Professor Cathcart is now the lead spokesman for the lobby group helping to draft Britain’s new press law - a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, as some see him, or as others would have it, a traitor to his profession. Either way, Professor Cathcart has no intention of revealing the secret backers financing Hacked Off, The Times reported on 18 April. Quizzed at the Glasgow book festival by Observer journalist Nick Cohen, he avoided the issue, The Times reported. Instead, he launched into a lecture on the financial probity of Britain’s press barons, adding that his backers did not want to be named for fear of personal attack in the papers.
  • His overseas work has dried up since he was forced to step down as the UK’s official trade envoy two years ago, but the Duke of York has a new domestic role. Prince Andrew, dubbed “Air Miles Andy” in light of his penchant for luxury taxpayer-funded travel, has become patron of London Metropolitan University, taking over from his father, the Duke of Edinburgh. The appointment comes as the Sunday Times Rich List 2013 reveals that the University of Chester’s chancellor the Duke of Westminster was the UK’s richest university chancellor, with a fortune of £7.8 billion. Steel magnate Lord Paul (Wolverhampton) was at number two and Tory grandee Lord Ashcroft (Anglia Ruskin) was third.
  • The new Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design received a spectacular kicking from The Sunday Times’ Tanya Gold, who labelled it “the University of Idiocy and Purging”. Writing on 21 April, Gold wondered if the one-year “fashion foundation diploma”, with fees of £20,000, or the 10-week “fashion certificate”, at £6,600, represented proof that “the Enlightenment is, officially, over”. “It is, I think, essentially paid-for work experience and ‘networking’, a pretty bow on the bum of the jobs crisis; you can now, it seems, pay for experience in anything,” she adds. Her only consolation is that its rich, fashionista graduates “are not really the kind of people I mind being exploited”.
  • A postgraduate has cast doubt on the economic justification for global austerity measures after he spotted a spreadsheet error in a paper by two of the world’s leading economists. Thomas Herndon, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, made his discovery as he tried to replicate the results of Growth in a Time of Debt, an influential paper by leading Harvard economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, The Independent reported on 22 April. The 28-year-old found that the globally feted economists had made basic Excel spreadsheet errors, including the omission of five of the 20 countries analysed in their calculations. If these countries were included, then the paper’s conclusion that economies with a debt level above 90 per cent of GDP saw a sharp economic fall-off could be contradicted, Mr Herndon said. The Harvard duo stand by their thesis, but if Mr Herndon is right, his finding could debunk the entire basis for drastic public spending cuts.

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