The Week in Higher Education

March 13, 2008




The Times took a wry - and cutting - look at the news that the famous Jodrell Bank Observatory is under threat of closure as part of an attempt by the Science and Technology Facilities Council to save money.

On 6 March, the newspaper said that the £2.5 million annual cost of running the observatory was equivalent to items such as "the expenses claimed by Cabinet ministers in 2007"; "the value of Admiralty House, the grace-and-favour apartment occupied by Lord Mallock-Brown, Foreign Office minister"; and the "grants and subsidies to the Prince of Wales last year".


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The newspapers had a number of takes on the Higher Education Funding Council for England's annual funding allocations on 6 March.

The Daily Telegraph said that "former polytechnics were handed a large share of almost £250 million to keep undergraduates on courses - even though dropout rates have failed to improve.

The Guardian reported that "leading universities face cut in funds to recruit poor students".

The Daily Mail reported that "universities are being paid a bonus worth up to £1,000 for every student they accept with lower qualifications ... as ministers battle to come within reach of a controversial university expansion target."


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Also on 6 March, The Independent reported on the controversy that arose when University of Exeter student Tindyewba Agaba criticised the institution's "lack of effort" in attracting ethnic minority students. The coverage may have been affected by the fact that he is the adopted son of Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson. The Evening Standard's headline was: "Emma's son attacks racism in university city".


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The Association of School and College Leaders conference in Brighton garnered many headlines on 8 March - particularly on ASCL members' verdict on plans for new 14-19 diplomas. "GCSEs and A levels must be scrapped if diplomas are to succeed", was the message according to the Daily Mail.


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Students at University College London came under fire from The Sun on 8 March over their decision to sever all links with Britain's military in protest at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Sun denounced the students in its leader column as "childish".

"In a week that saw 184 medals for bravery handed to our troops, what sort of message is Britain sending them in return?" The Sun demanded.


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Also on 8 March, the International Herald Tribune reported that former Prime Minister Tony Blair will teach a seminar on faith and globalisation at Yale University next year. The Guardian pointed out that the job will be combined with his roles as a special envoy to the Middle East, and as an adviser to Zurich Financial Services, to the Rwandan Government and to bankers J. P. Morgan.


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On 10 March, several newspapers reported findings from the Sutton Trust that demonstrate that "deprived teenagers who attend a summer school that encourages them to go to university achieve better degrees than their peers" (The Times). Or, as The Sun put it: "Bright kids from poor homes do better at university than public-school toffs, a new report says ... Nine out of ten working-class students got a first or 2:1 degree - compared with just two thirds of all graduates."


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As Times Higher Education went to press, a storm was brewing over the forced retirement, from the University of Manchester, of feminist and historian Sheila Rowbotham.

An online petition has been launched to campaign for the reinstatement of Professor Rowbotham, who turned 65 two weeks ago. It says that while the university maintains it cannot afford her salary, Professor Rowbotham wants only one third of her current wage to continue teaching.

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