The week in higher education - 7 November 2013

November 7, 2013
  • As our readers know, we strive for nothing less than 100 per cent accuracy. Thus it was no surprise that Times Higher Education was mentioned on 30 October in the House of Commons, with the implicit suggestion that it was a trusted source on which government policy could safely be based. Education secretary Michael Gove cited THE as reporting earlier this year that the schools inspectorate Ofsted had “pointed out that school-centred initial teacher training is in many cases better than higher education initial teacher training”, with 31 per cent of the former variety deemed outstanding, compared with 13 per cent of the latter. This, he said, was a vindication of his decision to expand School Direct, the school-led training path. Apart from misstating the first figure (it was 32 per cent), the minister neglected to mention that the numbers varied markedly from those under the pre-Gove inspection regime, leading to concerns that Ofsted had become politicised. Such selective quotation could lead to suspicions that Mr Gove was once a journalist. What? Oh.
  • Revelling in the failings of others is, for some, what life is all about. And now, it seems, connoisseurs of Schadenfreude need not feel ashamed of themselves. The Daily Mail reported on 30 October that researchers at Princeton University had discovered that the feeling was a “basic biological response in humans”. Measurement of the electrical activity in cheek muscles of volunteers confronted with various scenarios, such as rich professionals getting soaked by taxis, revealed widespread pleasure in the misfortune of people they envied. “A lack of empathy is not always pathological,” one researcher concluded. Does that mean that it’s OK to have rather enjoyed the reputational beating the Mail took over its recent article claiming that Ed Miliband’s father hated Britain?
  • Rather less subtle political emotions were on display this week at the Oxford Union, where universities and science minister David Willetts was speaking in defence of the proposition that “This House believes that education is a right and not a privilege”. The minister was fighting the good fight against professional Posh Person and Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews. However, his efforts were not appreciated by all. Student newspaper Cherwell reported on 1 November that two protesters were escorted from the premises after chanting slogans and displaying a banner saying “Fuck You Willetts”. Thankfully, the banner was balanced in its assessment – it added that “Made In Chelsea Is Shit Too”.
  • Private Eye is still cracking the whip regarding former Student Loans Company chief executive Ed Lester. The magazine noted on 1 November that journalists reporting in May 2012 on the announcement of his planned departure who had referred to “an earlier controversy about [his] tax affairs” were sent a “menacing press release” that noted that the SLC “has instructed legal advisers to review these reports in consideration of seeking redress”. A subsequent Freedom of Information request by Gavin Drake, a freelance journalist, revealed that no legal redress was ever sought, but the press release had reflected the “exact wording” that Ed Smith, then SLC chairman, had, in a “clear and robust” way, indicated should be included. Mr Smith stood down last week at the end of his first term. Dame Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, has been named interim chair. A permanent replacement will be appointed early next year.
  • Former National Union of Students president Wes Streeting will stand in the 2015 general election against one of the few Tory MPs to have opposed £9,000 tuition fees. Three years ago, Mr Streeting praised Ilford North MP Lee Scott for his opposition to the fee hikes; the pair even posed together for a picture next to the famous NUS pledge card in which MPs promised to vote against higher charges. But Mr Streeting will now run against his former brother-in-arms, who abstained from the fee vote, after the 30-year-old councillor was picked as Labour’s candidate for the constituency, the Ilford Recorder reported on 2 November. Mr Scott held a 5,404 majority over the Labour candidate in the 2010 general election.

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