The week in higher education – 8 October 2015

The good, the bad and the offbeat – the academy through the lens of the national press

October 8, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (8 October 2015)

As the autumn leaves begin to fall and students return to campus, so it must also be time for the traditional round of freshers’ fair banning outrages. This year’s crop of stories is headed by the outlawing of “racist” sombreros by the University of East Anglia’s students’ union because they were deemed offensive to Mexicans. “Who is going to get offended? Speedy Gonzales?,” asked one UEA student quoted in The Independent on 29 September on the free hats that were handed out at the university freshers’ fair by a local restaurant. Meanwhile, at the University of Oxford, a magazine promoting free speech – titled No Offence – was banned by its students’ union for, well, causing offence, according to The Daily Telegraphon 1 October. However, the UK still lags behind the US in the banning stakes; the man-bun – a messy topknot beloved of One Direction’s Harry Styles – was banned from Brigham Young University’s Idaho campus for being an “extreme hairstyle”, MTV News reported on 29 September.

Any minister who made major cuts to the science budget over the next five years would be a “Neanderthal”, the Royal Society president has said. In an apparent shot across the bows of business secretary Sajid Javid, who has been eyeing up how to cut 25 to 40 per cent of his department’s budget, Sir Paul Nurse said that any resultant cuts of this magnitude would “destroy the scientific endeavour”. “Nobody but Neanderthals would think about cutting the science budget by that much,” said Sir Paul at a briefing organised by the Science Media Centre in London on 29 September. “It’s my own personal view that the government is not considering such cuts to science…I don’t think they’re that foolish,” he continued. Given that he had suggested that cuts of 25 to 40 per cent would make government ministers Neanderthals, Sir Paul joked that five more years of flat cash would be merely worthy of the label “Homo habilis” – another extinct species of human.

The University of Leicester is setting up “anti-lad” workshops to stamp out lewd and inappropriate behaviour on campus, the Daily Mail reported on 30 September. But it is not just those misogynistic brutes from male sports teams that will face re-education, with all students, men and women, being required to take part from next year, the paper says. The move follows one of Sajid Javid’s few pronouncements on higher education, in which he called on universities to “end the evil” of sexual harassment and lad culture. Many universities are now stepping up initiatives to make it clear that rowdy or disrespectful behaviour has no place on campus. However, asking Leicester students to sit through mandatory classes on the subject may prove less popular with undergraduates.

The Royal College of Art was left in “a state of jeopardy” after it was forced to suspend enrolment on to one of its courses, The Independent reported on 1 October. Student unrest, government budget cuts and the departure of three senior staff led the institution, described as the world’s top university for art and design, to pause recruitment to its design interactions programme, the paper said. The move threatened to cost the RCA up to £750,000 when a shortfall in foreign admissions was included, placing the school in “an unnecessary state of jeopardy”, said its rector, Paul Thompson, in a summer newsletter that has just been made public. An RCA spokeswoman said that the newsletter was issued in July and the school had since “hit our recruitment target so there is no shortfall”.

Some lecturers might wonder if they are in the right part of higher education after reading how a “super-tutor” was paid £400,000 to get an Italian student through her degree at a London university. The tutor was hired by the student’s father who had pushed his daughter to take a business degree with a view to one day taking over the family company, The Times reported on 3 October. “The father’s personal assistant contacted me and said she is going to fail and be thrown out,” said Adam Caller, a director of Tutors International, which arranged her tuition. The five hours a day of intensive tutoring paid off and the student graduated with a 2:1 and now wants to start her own company, the paper reports.

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