The week in higher education - 9 January 2014

January 9, 2014
  • The notion that the First World War was a “misbegotten shambles” is a myth perpetuated by “left-wing academics”, according to Michael Gove, executing his own Schlieffen Plan to win a culture war over this year’s centenary. Writing in the Daily Mail on 3 January, the education secretary likened University of Cambridge historian Sir Richard Evans to an “undergraduate cynic” in his take on the war, and argued that it was “plainly a just war”. Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary – and a historian to boot – boomed back in The Observer on 5 January, accusing Mr Gove of trying to “rewrite the historical record and sow political division”. In response, the Tories’ Boris Johnson bravely went over the top. “If Tristram Hunt seriously denies that German militarism was at the root of the First World War, then he is not fit to do his job, either in opposition or in government, and should resign,” the mayor of London wrote in The Daily Telegraph on 6 January, angling for a nuanced account of the impact of Serbian nationalism in 1914 to be included in the next Conservative manifesto.
  • Just as Prince Andrew was suggesting that universities do not prepare people for work – telling The Daily Telegraph on 31 December that higher education should be just “the icing on the cake” – Prince William was preparing for a vocational course at…university. Prince William started a 10-week “bespoke” course in agricultural management at the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership on 7 January, after a personal tour of St John’s College from dignitaries including Cambridge vice-chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz. It is to help prepare him for running the Duchy of Cornwall, the private estate that is held by, and funds, each Prince of Wales. Cynics objected that Prince William had somehow bought special admission to the University of Cambridge, but the CPSL routinely designs bespoke courses for clients. In any case, if Prince William has to learn to run an institution that has wielded power since medieval times thanks to its vast land, property and investment wealth, Cambridge is the place to do it.
  • The honour for higher education letter of the week goes to Geoffrey Wyborn of Walton-on-Thames, whose missive lamenting the disappearance of the college scarf ran in The Daily Telegraph on 31 December. “About 50 years ago it was common to see young people during the holidays, especially at Christmas time, wearing their college scarves, more often than not with a duffel coat,” he wrote wistfully. “Yet there seem to be fewer scarves on show now than then. Why?” Compounding his bewilderment was the vast expansion of higher education since 1960. Clearly the Robbins report overlooked the effect on college scarf-wearing of opening higher education to the great unwashed.
  • The academic leading the scientific expedition that stalled in the Antarctic has hit back at critics who branded the trip ill-prepared and a “jolly”. Scientists on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition had to be rescued last week after their ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, got stuck in sea ice. Some climate sceptics delighted in the fact that environmental scientists were halted in such a way. But Chris Turney, Australian Research Council Laureate fellow and professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales, wrote in The Observer on 5 January that there was a “sense of frustration over what appears to be a misrepresentation of the expedition”. “[It] is not a jolly tourist trip as some have claimed,” he added. “There was nothing to suggest that this event [the armadas of ice] was imminent.”
  • The end of the festive period leaves most people feeling a bit glum. But for 400 prospective students in Australia, the hangover must have been particularly severe. On Christmas Eve the University of Queensland offered them scholarships, only for the Grinch to pop up in the New Year to snatch them back. Apologising profusely, Joanne Wright, Queensland’s deputy vice-chancellor, told ABC News on 6 January that the offers were an administrative error. The aunt of one devastated student said the scholarship had elicited “happy dances” among family members. “If you make an offer to someone…in writing you have to honour it,” she added. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats and their broken tuition fees pledge, UK students would know not to trust any gifts that seem too good to be true.
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