The week in higher education – 9 July 2015

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

July 9, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (9 July 2015)

Finally, we have got to the issue at the heart of the Sir Tim Hunt saga: nasal hair. Look at a picture of the Nobel laureate and it is impossible to ignore. Yet not until Howard Jacobson’s 3 July column in The Independent did someone grasp it. Former lecturer Mr Jacobson noted the condition of Sir Tim’s nostrils then recalled his own days at university, when a dishevelled appearance expressed “the higher carelessness of the academic life…Nostril hair wasn’t simply an inadvertent consequence of collegiate life; it was the very badge of it.” Of such figures, “bigotry was expected and even required”. Mr Jacobson continued: “There have to be places where people let nostril hair run wild, think differently from the rest of us…find wisdom through unconventionality, and say a lot of foolish things along the way. Universities are such places. Correction: universities should be such places.” His metaphor for scholarly freedom will be easily grasped by the sector’s overwhelmingly male and ageing leaders.


Members of the University and College Union have voted narrowly to reject a 1 per cent pay offer. In a consultative ballot, 53.5 per cent of members voted against the offer for 2015‑16 that was made by employers in May, which includes uplifts of up to 2.65 per cent for the lowest paid staff. But although they also endorsed some sort of industrial action, only 47 per cent backed a full strike. Overall, the turnout for the ballot was just 32 per cent of those eligible to vote. In light of the result, the union’s Higher Education Committee has said that the UCU will write to the Universities and Colleges Employers Association to invoke an official dispute resolution procedure. But it adds that “given the results…there are major risks in proceeding to a statutory ballot for industrial action now”.


Congratulations (or commiserations?) to former University of Kent economics lecturer Euclid Tsakalotos, named Greece’s new finance minister on 6 July. He replaced Yanis Varoufakis, the University of Essex PhD graduate who left an academic post at the University of Texas at Austin to lead the Syriza government’s negotiations with Greece’s creditors. Mr Varoufakis rode out of the Finance Ministry on his motorbike after the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, decided that a new face would have more chance of striking a deal with creditors after the “no” vote on the latest proposed bailout in the country’s referendum on 5 July. Mr Tsakalotos studied at the private St Paul’s School in London (just like UK chancellor George Osborne), then took an undergraduate degree and a PhD at the University of Oxford as well as a master’s at the University of Sussex before teaching at Kent in the early 1990s. The Daily Telegraph said that his background “is as a jobbing Western academic rather than a career politician” – and given the European political elite’s handling of the Greek crisis, that might not be such an insult.


Whether Mr Jacobson’s impassioned rhetoric will prompt Theresa May to ban nostril hair from campuses remains to be seen. But the home secretary has undergone a reported “U‑turn” on her attempt to force through rules requiring universities to gain 14 days’ notice of external speakers – and to gain notice of the content of events. Recent drafts of the external speakers guidance have excised those sections after “a barrage of criticism” from figures such as Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former MI5 chief who is now chair of council at Imperial College London, The Observer wrote on 5 July. There is “ongoing debate” within government on the content of the new rules, it added.


Dragons’ Den star Peter Jones has urged budding entrepreneurs to skip university. “For entrepreneurs, university is a complete waste of time,” the Daily Mirror quoted him as saying on 7 July. “You’re not gaining any enterprise experience.” But in making his argument, the technology and property entrepreneur was himself being rather enterprising. For he owns “36 academies across the country where young business brains follow a one-year part-time course while working”, the Mirror said. Mr Jones added: “We’ve been brought up in this country to believe entrepreneurship can’t be taught. That’s absolute hogwash.” So it can be taught – but only by the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy’s BTEC and apprenticeship courses.

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