The week in higher education - 28 August 2014

August 28, 2014
  • Undergraduates heading abroad to study are more worried about how they will watch The Great British Bake Off than any academic concerns, the Evening Standard reported on 19 August. Experts from the British Council, the Student Loans Company and Universities UK had gathered to answer questions online about language learning, funding and overseas work, but found themselves bombarded with questions about the BBC One show, the paper reported. But the webchat’s organiser Lizzie Fane, who runs the website, defended the student questions on non-academic subjects, saying that watching the homely programme could help with homesickness.
  • A new university has opened with a library containing no books, the Los Angeles Times reported on 20 August. Florida Polytechnic University opened its doors in late August, but its 500 students will be able to access only e-books – about 135,000 are available – when they enter its purpose-built library, the paper said. Printers for articles accessed online are available, but staff want students to organise their research online, it adds. Students will, however, be able to access the 6 million books in the Florida State University system if they feel the strange, old-fashioned urge to pick up a hardback volume or two. Director of libraries Kathryn Miller told trade magazine Library Journal that “it’s the information that’s key, not the form”.
  • A student turned professional footballer is in the running for a top university prize for his essay on naval history. Peterborough United centre-back Christian Burgess, who signed for the club last week, has been nominated for the Royal Historical Society/History Today prize for best undergraduate dissertation, the Peterborough Telegraph reported on 21 August. “Brainy” Burgess, whose dissertation is on German naval expansion prior to the First World War, wrote the essay while at Teesside University and playing for Hartlepool United, the paper says. If the former Arsenal trainee, who transferred to Teesside from the University of Birmingham after turning pro, wins the competition, his essay will be printed in History Today – surely the first academic publication by a current professional footballer player. Maybe it is time to finally relegate the idea that all footballers are dim to the dustbin.
  • A university course is to explain how to become a hipster, Time magazine reported on 21 August. The new one-credit course at Tufts University, Massachusetts, titled “Demystifying the Hipster”, will examine just what constitutes a hipster, the uber-trendy individuals most commonly found in New York, London and other modern metropolises. “Students will become critics and sociologists of today’s hipster culture as they explore how hipster identity reflects larger cultural anxiety,” the course description says. It is not yet known if Tufts will receive hordes of previously unhip students wearing skinny jeans, tweed flat caps and neckerchiefs as they try to learn the secret of being cool, but surely nothing would be naffer than studying the art of hipsterdom.
  • A student who applied to Ucas to learn “wandology” at “Hogwarts University” has been informed that he probably doesn’t have the right grades. In a letter purporting to be from Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook, posted on Twitter, a Harry Potter fan is informed that his bid to study advanced wizardry could not be processed as his “stated establishment…does not exist”, the Gloucestershire Echo reported on 25 August. “After consultation with our mystic advisors we have also determined that even if it did exist, the course ‘Wandology’ would be highly in demand and hence require at least two As and a B in any of the following subjects: Advanced Spellcrafting, Mystimatics, Defence Against the Dark Arts, History of the Occult and Shaft Design,” the letter says. “Your handwritten grade sheet claiming top marks in ‘Waving a stick about’, ‘wearing a pointy hat’ and ‘watching Paul Daniels TV Specials’ is sadly not suitable for submission,” it adds. If the magic fan wanted to reapply, he or she should tie a “letter to an owl and [hope] for the best”, it concludes. While some basic spelling errors suggest that the letter may be a fake, Ms Curnock Cook soon got in on the game, tweeting “Of course it’s genuine – silly muggles. In fact it’s magic…”
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