The Week in Higher Education

May 15, 2008

"Is this the end for the next generation of original thinkers?" The Independent asked on 8 May. In an article about the imposition of tight deadlines for completing PhDs, it quoted Gina Wisker, author of The Postgraduate Research Handbook: "In our desire to ensure completion and throughput we might be losing the Einsteins of tomorrow and even today."

John Denham, the Universities Secretary, spoke out after the Labour Party's mauling at the hands of the electorate the May elections. Mr Denham, MP for Southampton Itchen, urged the Prime Minister to "put southern England at the heart of his fight to keep Labour in power", according to the Daily Mirror on 9 May. Solving problems such as immigration and housing was key, he said, adding: "The issues that come to dominate politics tend to happen first, happen faster and happen harder in the south."

A study by the Learning and Skills Council, which concluded that understanding the rules of football required graduate-level skills, while understanding cricket required a mere GCSE, was picked up by the Financial Times on 10 May. "Cynics will ask whether the LSC - Britain's biggest quango with an annual budget of £11 billion - should be spending taxpayers' money looking into such matters," the newspaper said, despite reporting the conclusions extensively.

On 12 May, The Sun also turned to John Denham's analysis of the Labour Party's ills. "Cabinet minister John Denham admits voters are right to be furious - because Labour has spent all their money," the paper said. The article compared the fate of the Prime Minister to that of "doomed Nicolae Ceausescu as the Romanian people turned fatally against him", although it did helpfully add: "No one is threatening Gordon Brown with a firing squad - though a Sun poll showing Labour on 23 per cent is effectively a death sentence."

The Commons Children, Schools and Families Select Committee has called for an inquiry into "grade inflation" amid claims that A-level examinations have become increasingly "predictable" over the past 20 years, newspapers reported on 13 May. The same report also called for school tests at 11 and 14 to be scrapped, as "teaching to the test" had become endemic in schools.

The Daily Mail invited its readers to "Roll up for a degree in juggling", reporting on 13 May that City College, Brighton, has launched a foundation degree in "street arts performance". The paper quoted a spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, who said: "I think it is a complete waste of taxpayers' money."

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." This famous aphorism from Albert Einstein, The Guardian reported on 13 May, "has been the source of endless debate between believers and non-believers wanting to claim the greatest scientist of the 20th century as their own". Now a further insight into his views on the subject has emerged, the paper said, with the auction of a letter that has been in a private collection for more than 50 years. In the letter, Einstein describes religious beliefs as "childish superstitions".

As Times Higher Education went to press, the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that the number of academics employed by higher education institutions in the UK had risen by 3.1 per cent. The total number of academic staff climbed from 164,875 in 2005-06 to 169,995 in 2006-07. The number of managers, professional and technical staff rose by a slightly higher margin, up from 76,405 to 79,250, or 3.7 per cent, while the number of non-academic staff grew by 1.9 per cent over the same period.

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