The week in higher education – 4 August 2016

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

August 4, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (4 August 2016)

On 27 July, Jamie Dundas, president of Oxford’s New College Society, invited “old members” to its annual general meeting and dinner, to be held in November at the Savile Club. But the fact that the London club’s current membership is men-only, and that the dress code for the event was given as “collared shirt and jacket (ties are not mandatory)”, was seen by some as having sexist undertones. The following day, Jonathan Rubery, communications and events manager at New College, sent a hasty follow-up message, seen by Times Higher Education, “apologis[ing] because the tone of the [earlier] email implied that women were not welcome at this event” and “regret[ting] any disappointment caused by the venue choice”. Recipients of the email were assured that “the intention was certainly not to exclude anyone”, that “women are welcome to attend” – and that the dress code should have been described as “lounge suits”. It is worth noting that New College has a long history of equal opportunities, admitting its first female undergraduates in 1979, a whole century after women began studying at the university.


Theresa May wants to ensure a “positive outcome for UK science” during Brexit talks. The comments from the prime minister came in a letter she wrote to Sir Paul Nurse, director of the Francis Crick Institute and a former president of the Royal Society, which was seen by BBC News. Ms May says in the letter, written five days after she became prime minister, that she wanted “to reassure you about the government's commitment to ensuring a positive outcome for UK science as we exit the European Union”, the BBC website reported on 28 July. “While we negotiate a new relationship with our European partners, we are not turning our backs on European scientists,” it continues. However, if Ms May has a plan to deal with the problem of some European scientists turning their backs on UK partners following the referendum result, she is keeping it to herself.


An Indian university’s “draconian” dress code, including a ban on rolling up shirt sleeves, has sparked student protests, the website news18.com reported on 1 August. Almost 250 students wore black at a silent vigil in a quad at Christ University, in Bangalore, southern India, on 29 July, in opposition to the new rules, which also prohibit beards and facial stubble, according to the Indian news channel. “We social sciences students are being subjected to…norms and regulations, which we didn't sign up for,” said one anonymous student blogger, quoted on the site, while another called the “modified dress code and micromanagement…unacceptable”.


Less than a month after the bafflingly popular Pokémon Go was launched, a US university is now offering course credits to those playing the smartphone app game. Students at the University of Idaho who sign up for the pop culture games class will accumulate academic credit by searching around campus for Snorlax, Jigglypuff and other virtual animated characters, according to Times of India on 1 August. The move is aimed primarily at instilling “skills like leadership, ethics, safety and respect”, claimed an Idaho staff member, who expressed hopes that it would help those who would normally shy away from outdoor exercise to “get moving and meet other players”. “I want it to be more than people going, ‘I am going to go catch a Pikachu,’” said course instructor Steven Bird.


More than 75,000 people have signed a petition calling for a Chinese university to apologise to a lesbian couple, BBC News online reported on 29 July. “The most romantic day of my life turned into a nightmare,” Xiaoyu Wang wrote shortly after she was refused her diploma from Guangdong University of Foreign Studies because her girlfriend had publicly proposed to her at their graduation ceremony, the site said. Ms Wang has since received her diploma, but she said that the couple were told to “keep our homosexuality to ourselves”. She added that she was “devastated and humiliated” but was “fighting back”, with thousands of people registering their support for the couple via a petition set up by an international lesbian and gay website. Jean Ouyang, who proposed to Ms Wang, told Chinese media that the “mental and emotional harm” caused by the actions could not be erased. The university has declined to comment to media about the case, but reportedly told the couple that their act had “violated regulations”.

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