The week in higher education – 31 August 2017

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

August 31, 2017
The week in higher education illustration (31 August 2017)

Hopes that Lord Adonis might bring his campaign against vice-chancellors’ pay to a climax with a speech at the Universities UK conference next month, and then leave everyone to get on with their lives, have been dashed. The former education minister raised eyebrows when he tweeted on 23 August that he had agreed to speak at the event, pledging to “set out a blueprint for the reform of universities”, covering “fees, leadership, governance [and] mission”. Excitement was allowed to build for six hours, until Alistair Jarvis, UUK’s chief executive, burst Lord Adonis’ bubble. “I’m happy to meet with you to discuss these issues but you are not on the agenda,” replied a mic-dropping Mr Jarvis. Of course, for Lord Adonis, this was “typical of [a] cosy cartel”. So we’ll be hearing from him for a little while longer, it seems.

Chinese parents have taken to scaling walls and sneaking through tunnels as they attempt to give their children an inspiring glimpse of university campuses. “A family of four was caught trying to gain entry into Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University by huddling together in the back of a tiny delivery van” in a bid to avoid huge queues of tourists trying to gain access to the campus, the Daily Telegraph reported on 21 August. Meanwhile, Xiamen University’s head of security said that the institution has introduced “a series of security measures, but many tourists still try to enter the campus for a tour by climbing over the walls and trees, and even through hidden tunnels”. It was a good week for automotive-themed stories on the status-driven appetite for education in China, as the Daily Mail also reported on students who scored top marks in the national college entrance examination and gained entrance to Tsinghua and Peking universities being paraded through their towns in SUVs, their heads sticking out of the sunroofs.

“A vampire expert is at the centre of a furore involving claims that he licked up a student’s blood when she cut herself in one of his classes,” ran the superlative introduction to a Daily Mail story on 20 August. “Emyr Williams, a senior lecturer in psychology at Wrexham Glyndwr University…is alleged to have been spotted swiping the blood and sucking it off his fingers when the student looked over her shoulder as she left the room,” it went on, noting that Dr Williams “had featured in national media three years ago when he said that vampires are not a myth, and that there are as many as 15,000 living in the UK”. There was a serious point to the story, originally reported by the Sunday Times. A PhD student reported these claims, but alleges that she found herself the subject of workplace bullying and is now pursuing an employment tribunal case. Dr Williams denies any wrongdoing, and ahead of next month’s tribunal he is reported to have said that the supposed blood-tasting never happened.

Universities’ internet security systems may have witnessed a leap in activity in recent weeks, after adult video site Pornhub announced the latest iteration of its annual Pornhub Cares Scholarship contest. The website is offering a grant of $25,000 (£19,500) to the university student who submits the best essay on the theme of ”How is your work contributing to a better future for the world”. Applicants can also present a video clip “further illustrating their response”, although these will presumably be a little more vanilla than Pornhub’s usual submissions.

If Carol Christ hoped that things would calm down at the University of California, Berkeley, after her appointment as chancellor, she is going to be sorely disappointed. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on 23 August that former Breitbart editor Milos Yiannopoulos was following through on his plan to return to campus after a speech he planned for February was cancelled amid fears of violence – and that he will be joined by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and conservative writer Ann Coulter. Donald Trump, who threatened to take away Berkeley’s federal funding when Mr Yiannopoulos’ speech was cancelled, will no doubt be looking on with interest. But Mr Trump may be less pleased to hear that James Comey, the FBI director he fired, will be lecturing at Howard University this year as Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King endowed chair in public policy, as the Daily Mail reported on the same day. With Mr Comey having stayed silent since testifying to Congress on 8 June, Mr Trump will probably be turning Fox News to mute when the lecture comes on.

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