The week in higher education - 9 October 2014

October 9, 2014
  • Stumped about how to enthuse the latest batch of grumpy, hungover 18-year-olds to grace your 9am Monday lecture? Don’t worry, help is at hand from the country’s top independent schools. School heads are arranging for their sixth-form teachers to coach university lecturers on how to “make sure they understand teenagers and how to get the best out of them”, The Independent reported on 7 October. It follows complaints from first-year students about the quality of tuition they are getting for their £9,000 fees, the annual meeting of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference heard. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if such coaching will also suggest ways to help privileged young people adjust to large class sizes, overstretched lecturers and sharing campuses with peers from comprehensive schools.
  • Being woken at night by zombies is a perennial problem, but luckily some academics at the University of Oxford have devised algorithms to analyse the best tactics for dealing with the undead, The Times reported on 4 October. According to Thomas Woolley of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute, the calculations show that the first course of action is, er, to run. This is because marauding zombies ramble aimlessly and could take 25 minutes to travel 100m. Doubts about the validity of this hypothesis were laid to rest by rigorous testing, to wit Dr Woolley asking his wife to shamble like a zombie, the newspaper reports. As the zombie population multiplies, the strategies become trickier – and ethically questionable, such as the notion of killing “weak” fellow humans to stem zombie hordes. Eventually, the researchers counsel finding a deserted island for a last stand, although an equation for locating one was strangely absent from the newspaper article.
  • Eight people at Imperial College London were sanctioned by the Home Office for failings in animal welfare standards, it emerged last week. The action followed allegations by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, published in The Sunday Times in April 2013, of “appalling animal suffering on a very large scale” at a facility at Imperial’s Hammersmith campus. According to a report by the Home Office’s Animals in Science Regulation Unit, published on 2 October, “extensive investigations, interviews, inspection visits and meetings with staff during 2013” found all but five of the BUAV’s charges to be unsubstantiated. However, the report – made public as part of a new policy to boost transparency on animal research – concludes that there was at the facility a “widespread poor culture of care” attributable in large part to “failings in management structures”. Eight people were given letters of reprimand and told to do more training, and Imperial was ordered to revise its management structure, practices and training schemes by February 2014.
  • A neuroscientist who sexually assaulted a woman who had asked him to be her sperm donor has quit his research post at University College London. Gennadij Raivich resigned his chair in perinatal neuroscience last month shortly after he was convicted of one count of molestation, Blackfriars Crown Court was told on 30 September. Raivich, who worked in maternal and children’s medicine in UCL’s Institute for Women’s Health, had set himself up as a “one-stop shop” for artificially inseminating women desperate to start a family, the court heard. However, three women later came forward to say that they had been groped by Raivich during the insemination process. He was cleared of abusing two of them, but convicted of groping Claire Long, 29, who waived her right to anonymity. Raivich was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.
  • Student rugby clubs tend not to be associated with political correctness. But the London School of Economics’ club took this reputation to extremes this week after a leaflet distributed among freshers described women as “mingers”, “trollops” and “slags”, The Guardian reported on 7 October. Despite an apology from the club, the LSE and its student union have begun an inquiry into the seven-page document, which also joked about not tolerating “outright homosexual debauchery” and dubbed female students playing sport as “beast-like”. A club spokesman insisted that the leaflet “does not reflect the views and values of our club”.
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