The week in higher education

March 19, 2008

l l l The widespread media coverage of Lord Goldsmith’s report on how to enhance “citizenship” in the UK focused on the controversial – indeed, the widely ridiculed – idea that school-leavers should be required to swear an “oath of allegiance” to Queen and country.

But several reports also highlighted his recommendation that, as The Times put it, “students should pay reduced tuition fees and have part of their debts struck off if they take part in voluntary work”. The size of any tuition fee subsidy was not specified by Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney-General, but he said it would need to be “sufficient to encourage people to participate”.

l l l Also on 12 March, The Times reported that “the panel of scientists that earmarked the Jodrell Bank observatory for closure decided that projects closer to their own hearts should be given a higher priority”. The newspaper pointed out that the ten scientists on the panel deciding on the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s programme of cuts gave Jodrell Bank a “low priority” rating for survival, while giving higher priority to “at least ten projects that are closely connected to the panel members”.

Walter Gear, chairman of the panel, strongly denied any impropriety. He was quoted saying: “I completely refute any suggestion of bias or prejudice. There is a very strict protocol that was followed to the letter. There was absolutely no question of undue influence being applied.”

l l l Daily Mail columnist Quentin Letts, on 13 March, did not pull punches in his assessment of Chancellor Alastair Darling’s budget speech. “Long before the end several MPs and onlookers assumed reposes of semi-paralysis, stunned into slack-jawed somnolence by the sheer, Olympian dullness of the thing,” he reported. And did he detect an off-message failure to engage by Universities Secretary John Denham? Mr Denham reportedly, “clutched the left side of his jaw like a man with toothache” throughout the speech.

l l l The Financial Times picked up news from Times Higher Education’s annual survey of vice-chancellors’ pay, reporting on 14 March that the £177,844 average salary is “about £40,000 more than most cabinet minsters, and almost three times more than MPs”.

l l l On 15 March, Universities Secretary John Denham was reported to have “blasted” Lord Goldsmith’s proposals for schoolchildren to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen, according to the Daily Mirror. The Sun said that he had “slammed” the idea. His scathing comment was actually: “My view is it is probably not right.”

l l l Most newspapers reported on 15 March the news that the University of Cambridge is to drop its requirement that its students hold a GCSE in a foreign language “in an attempt to attract more applicants from state schools” (The Times), where take-up of language GCSEs has slumped since it stopped being compulsory. In

The Daily Telegraph, columnist Simon Heffer said the decision was “deeply depressing” and “a massive victory for the Government’s policies of mediocrity”.

On 18 March, there was more news from Oxbridge’s dreaming spires. The Daily Telegraph reported that for the first time in its 800-year history, “police officers are to patrol the college quadrangles” at Oxford.

“The move is an admission by the university that the boorish behaviour of some of its students has created an ‘extra burden’ on the city’s hard-pressed police force,” the paper said. The police will have powers to issue fixed penalty fines for bad behaviour, and can also detain suspects for up to half an hour and confiscate alcohol.

The Times dubbed the patrols the “Quad squad”.

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