The week in higher education – 26 January 2017

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

January 26, 2017
Week in higher education illustration (26 January 2017)

The Daily Mail had nothing but praise for Theresa May’s vision for a “fairer, more united and more outward-looking” Global Britain, yet it seemed that its readers were less keen on internationalism, to judge by the reaction to another story in its pages last week. The suggestion from University of Cambridge academic Wendy Ayres-Bennett that Brits should be given more opportunities to learn Polish, Urdu or another language to help immigrants integrate better into society provoked an almost unprecedented tsunami of apoplectic criticism on the newspaper’s comments board. Despite also stating that immigrants were “rightly” expected to learn English once they arrive, Professor Ayres-Bennett’s idea, reported briefly on 18 January, was just too much for most readers to take. “Loony left”, “professor of ridiculous ideas” and “dangerous woman” are among the more repeatable comments made, with some even demanding that the prime minister “drain the swamp” that is Oxbridge. With almost 6,000 comments, Professor Ayres-Bennett might wonder how a fairly innocuous idea might generate more reaction than any Mail Online story about Donald Trump last week.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is thought to have pocketed about £15 million after his education listings company Hotcourses was sold, the Daily Mirror reported on 16 January. Mr Hunt – who is under fire for his handling of the NHS funding crisis – picked up the windfall after the firm he founded in 1996 was snapped up by the Australian company IDP Education, the paper said. The deal is said to make him the richest member of the Cabinet, as he owns 48 per cent of shares in the firm, which was reportedly sold for between £30 million and £35 million. A takeover worth £35 million would see him pick up a pay cheque of £16.8 million – 722 times more than an average nurse’s salary of £23,245, the Mirror said. “As the NHS collapses around him, Jeremy Hunt makes more money in a few seconds than some NHS workers take home in a whole year,” said Labour MP John Mann. “These Tories live in a truly different world,” he added.

The world’s longest exam cheat note has been discovered by Russian academics, the Daily Mail reported on 17 January. While most cheats might risk a few equations written on a hidden Post-it note, students in Voronezh in south-western Russia instead opted to pen detailed answers for a nuclear physics exam on a 12ft-long roll of wallpaper, the paper said. Pictures of the incredible exam aide soon went viral, but many wondered just how the creators hoped to sneak the “note” inside the examination hall. Russian physicists might have additional worries about the note given its obvious uselessness. How could students so clearly lacking in intelligence get anywhere near a nuclear physics degree course?

The UK government is to spend £170 million on new institutes of technology to provide qualifications for the 50 per cent of young people who do not go to university. As part of the new industrial strategy, colleges specialising in science, maths and technology will be rolled out across the UK, helping to address regional disparities in education and skills. The new institutes would “help ensure young people develop the skills they need to do the high-paid, high-skilled jobs of the future”, said Theresa May, the prime minister, adding that they would “extend the same opportunity and respect we give university graduates to those people who pursue technical routes”. But the new capital funding, which will be allied to an overhaul of science and maths education, amounted to a “drop in the ocean” and “another set of gimmicks”, according to Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. Far from heralding a “critical part of our plan for post-Brexit Britain”, as Ms May claimed, Ms Hunt said that the announcement was little more than a “relaunched skills strategy”.

Kanye West’s closeness to Donald Trump has dismayed many of the musician’s fans, but it seems that one academic’s admiration is undimmed after he launched a course about the hip-hop artist’s “black genius”. As part of a module at Washington University in St Louis, titled Politics of Kanye West: Black Genius and Sonic Aesthetics, Jeffrey McCune uses the rapper and producer’s life to discuss issues of race, gender, sexuality and culture, the Daily Mail reported on 18 January. “Kanye really uses hip-hop as a vehicle to display all of his talents, albeit some better than others,” said Dr McCune, whose classes will include “critical listening parties” and performances by guest artists. Some might scoff at the politics of Kim Kardashian’s other half. However, with the new US president keen to secure some celebrity backers, will the hip-hop icon end up with a top job in Trump’s administration sooner than we think?

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