The week in higher education - 27 June 2013

June 27, 2013
  • Britain’s best-known student society has been embroiled in its “dirtiest election in living memory”, The Daily Telegraph reported on 19 June. Allegations of blackmail, computer hacking and sexism marred this year’s contest for officer positions at the Oxford Union, the paper said. The troubled election has now led to the resignation of Cai Wilshaw, 19, who stepped down as secretary after the discovery of emails by student paper Cherwell which rivals said showed he had tried to hack into people’s computers and send “misogynistic messages”. The emails included photographs of Amelia Hamer, who stood for election as librarian, and captions with sexual references. Ms Hamer has said she felt “victim-ised by the sexist and misogynist nature” of the images. However, Mr Wilshaw said his own computer had been hacked by a rival who had tried to blackmail him with the offending emails, which he said were not motivated by sexism.
  • Universities are “burying their heads in the sand” over the extent of student sex work, The Independent reported on 21 June. Next to an account of its undercover sting on the phoney Sponsor a Scholar website, whose founder Mark Lancaster admitted at Southwark Crown Court last week to luring young women into having sex with him on the promise of escort work, the paper reported the findings of an academic study on the student sex trade. Up to 6 per cent of students could be employed in part-time sex work, such as pole or lap dancing, escorting or prostitution, according to academics at the universities of Kingston and Leeds. They estimated that the “higher education economy” for such services could be worth £355 million, or £2.1 million per university.
  • The Sunday Times is again drawing attention to its favourite subject of late: the exodus of bright students to US universities after £9,000 tuition fees were introduced here. A whopping nine students have turned down places at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, mostly to attend Ivy League universities in the US, after they were put off by Oxbridge’s “elitism and higher fees”, the paper reported on 23 June. “Experts predicted that it could be the start of a brain drain of children abroad,” it added, with education minister David Laws saying that he was “deeply concerned by the situation and planned to intervene”. The paper said the nine students were among 64 who attended Sutton Trust summer camps, of whom 21 accepted places at US universities this year. It’s a fun story – combining lofty middle-class aspiration, the American dream and talented young Brits – but UK universities shouldn’t be too worried yet: while 21 are heading stateside, about 465,000 students will start full-time courses this autumn if last year’s intake is matched.
  • The University of Stirling has been attacked for “shameful” behaviour after spending about £150,000 renovating the vice-chancellor’s house during a period when it was making redundancies to plug a budget deficit. The Sunday Herald reported that Gerry McCormac’s on-campus grace and favour home had been fitted with a £22,000 kitchen, £45,000 worth of landscaping, and £6,789 in floor coverings. Intriguingly, the planning application for the revamped garden said it would offer “soaring views over a Himalayan crag garden perched above the university parkland campus”. Stirling has pointed out that the listed building is also used for university events – but has shed no light on how it had replicated the world’s highest mountain range in the vice-chancellor’s backyard.

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