The week in higher education

May 29, 2008

A "league table of crime" in university cities was published by The Independent on 22 May. "Mothers and fathers, as well as potential students, take note," the paper said. "The most crime-ridden city in the UK outside the capital is Nottingham ... according to new statistics compiled by The Good University Guide." Runner-up in the crime stakes for university cities is Manchester, followed by Liverpool, Bristol and Leeds.

Also on 22 May, most papers north of the border reported that Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, had announced a review of conservatoire courses in drama, to conclude this autumn. Mr Salmond's announcement came after he was sent an open letter signed by a galaxy of stars who had studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama - including Dr Who star David Tennant. They urged the Government to intervene after the academy confirmed that it was planning to make redundancies to stem a financial crisis.

"Pupils will soon be able to study science at one of Britain's most prestigious universities without having to take A levels," The Independent reported on 23 May. Under Newcastle University's plan, instead of studying for three A levels at school, students will start studying degree-level courses with The Open University. They will be guaranteed a university place provided they can complete the modules. Sixty places are being set aside at the university for students who opt for this approach.

There has been a robust debate in the newspapers about Times Higher Education's story last week, which reported Bruce Charlton's view that the lower proportion of working-class students in highly selective universities was the "natural" outcome of meritocracy, because they have lower IQs. The Daily Mirror on 23 May reported that Dr Charlton had been "slammed for 'racist-like' views". Labour MP Gordon Marsden was quoted as saying: "It comes perilously close to the views of those who have advanced racial views of intelligence."

On 25 May, The Sunday Times reported that "top physicist" Neil Turok, a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Cambridge, was leaving for Canada. He was going, it said, "having failed to receive funding for his plan to set up an institute in honour of his friend and colleague, Stephen Hawking". He told the paper that academics were "so ground down by bureaucracy, teaching and hunting for grants that it is increasingly hard to do good research".

In The People on 25 May, television presenter Eamonn Holmes complained that "too many" people were going to university to study "daffy degrees". "Let's develop a nation of youngsters with genuine skills who can be of real help to all of us," he said, such as "carpet fitting, gardening and plumbing".

Universities are "skewing admissions to aid the poor", offering "rough justice for good schools", The Sunday Times said after an investigation under the Freedom of Information Act. It said that leading universities had "overhauled their admissions procedures in an attempt to socially engineer their intake by favouring students with lower exam grades if they come from poor families". The story was followed up in the Daily Mail on 26 May, which quoted Martin Stephen, the high master of St Paul's School, who said that such practices were "an evil".

The Guardian reported on May that the novelist Hanif Kureishi had "launched a withering attack on university creative writing courses", which he described as the "new mental hospitals". The newspaper quoted him saying: "One of the things you notice is that when you switch on the television and a student has gone mad with a machinegun on a campus in America, it's always a writing student."

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