The week in higher education – 8 December 2016

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

December 8, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (8 December 2016)

Students at the University of Freiburg have been banned from eating leftovers in the canteen after concerns were raised over health and safety, BBC News online reported on 29 November. Until recently, those dining at the university in southern Germany were allowed to grab anything they spotted on a conveyor belt of returned trays, but the practice has now been outlawed, says the BBC. “The leftovers are a hygiene risk – if something happens, the manager would be responsible,” said Renate Heyberger, deputy manager of Freiburg’s student welfare services. However, the 40 or so students who regularly dine on unwanted scraps and morsels have called on authorities to reinstate “conveyor-belting”, saying that none of them would complain if they fell ill. Their case was strengthened by the opinion of hygiene expert Ernst Tabori, who said that it was fine to share some types of food, such as chips, provided that “conveyor-belters” used clean cutlery and had a healthy immune system.

Could foreign secretary Boris Johnson have put himself in dangerous territory by suggesting that he thinks Theresa May is quite wrong about international students? Mr Johnson told ITV’s Peston on Sunday show that he “takes the view” that students should not be included in net migration figures, The Independent reported  on 4 December. Foreign students are “of massive benefit to this country”, said Mr Johnson, who added that one in seven of all international heads of state was educated at a UK university. “It’s a great compliment to this country that, as Theresa and I have found virtually everywhere you go, the number one question people ask is ‘How can I make sure my kids are going to be able to come to the UK and come to university here?’,” said Mr Johnson, whose call to relax rules on student visas follows a similar suggestion by the UK chancellor Philip Hammond in October. With pressure from home and abroad building on the international student issue, is now finally the moment that Ms May’s Dalek-like intransigence breaks? Or will it be Boris instead who finds himself facing extermination?

Plans to make University Challenge teams “gender balanced” have been blasted as “sexist” towards men, the Daily Mail reported on 30 November. According to an email sent by a King’s College London student officer, the next team it fields on the BBC Two show presented by Jeremy Paxman must be made up of at least 50 per cent “self-defining women, trans or non-binary students”, the Mail said. However, the move to combat the “male-dominated landscape” of the programme was decried as “blatantly prejudiced”, as well as “sexist” and “misandrist”. It follows the University of Reading’s decision to boycott the show over allegations that Mr Paxman made “sexist comments”. The veteran host was “baffled” by the complaint, which apparently related to a joke that he made about Reading’s knitted mascot named Jeremy.

The Australian academic behind the UK’s new polymer £5 note has called protests by vegans over its use of animal fat “stupid”, The Guardian reported on 2 December. David Solomon, emeritus professor at the University of Melbourne, where he was part of its Polymer Science Group, said that the new plastic notes contained “trivial” amounts of tallow, an animal fat found in candles and soap. “It’s stupid. It’s absolutely stupid,” said Solomon on calls for the Bank of England to drop the new hard-wearing note. Professor Solomon, who led the team that developed Australia’s first plastic A$10 (£5.90) note in the 1980s, commented that the new £5 note was far more hygienic than paper notes and more environmentally friendly. “It picks up less drugs than paper notes and you don’t chop down trees,” he said.

A University of Oxford graduate is suing his alma mater for £1 million over his failure to gain a first-class degree, The Sunday Times reported on 4 December. Faiz Siddiqui, who studied modern history at Brasenose College, says that he would have had a career as an international commercial lawyer if he had been awarded a first rather than the 2:1 he achieved in 2000, the paper says. His barrister told London’s High Court that his “unexpected” mark “denied him the chance of becoming a high-flying commercial barrister”, blaming his 2:1 on the multiple sabbaticals taken by his tutors while he was at university. Oxford admitted that it had “difficulties” running the module in the year that Mr Siddiqui graduated, but has dismissed his claim as baseless and said that it should be struck out owing to the number of years that have passed since he graduated.

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