The Week in Higher Education

June 5, 2008

Oxford's £1.25 billion fundraising campaign was widely reported in the papers on 29 May, with comments from the university's chancellor, Lord Patten, dominating coverage. He "attacked" the Government "over its attempts to push deprived teenagers into higher education", according to The Times. The Guardian quoted him saying that "it does nobody any good to think that you can deal with the problems of secondary education by lowering standards in our universities". In its leader column, the Daily Mail argued that "our top universities" should be "set free" from state funding to protect Oxbridge from the Government's "heavy-handed social engineering".

The Sun's leader railed against "the nannies wrecking our country with health and safety madness" on 29 May. Its target was Anglia Ruskin University, which had ordered students not to throw their mortarboards in the air on graduation day for fear of an accident. "We can do one of two things," the paper said. "We can surrender to these twits. Or throw our hats in the air and tell them to go to hell." The Daily Mirror covered the story under the headline: "Loony-versity", while the Daily Express said university officials were "off their heads".

"Days after the pop lyrics of Amy Winehouse featured in a University of Cambridge exam paper, a professor at the university has revealed that she tested her Classics students on a bestselling biography of Diana, Princess of Wales," The Daily Telegraph reported on 31 May. Mary Beard, Classics professor, said that she also made third-year students read tabloid newspapers and transcripts of the notorious "Squidgygate" and "Camillagate" tapes - which disclosed details of the extra-marital affairs of the Prince and Princess of Wales - for a course in Ancient Roman history, the paper reported. Professor Beard was quoted as saying that she wanted students to think "out of the box".

In a letter to The Sunday Times on 1 June, University College London biophysicist Roger Ekins decried the phenomenon of "career politicians as science ministers, the lack of funding for scientific developments and the financial insecurity of university scientists".

Universities should receive extra money if they increase the proportion of students they enrol from less well-off backgrounds, Sir Martin Harris, director of the Office for Fair Access, has told MPs. The Guardian's website reported on 3 June that Sir Martin told the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee that the incentive would help universities work harder to attract applicants from low-income families, who are under-represented in higher education. But Sir Martin "stopped short of agreeing with some MPs that universities should be fined if they didn't admit a minimum number of students from the poorest families".

For anyone seeking evidence that students are apathetic, a report in London Student newspaper may offer proof. It found that 93 per cent of 1,019 students polled admitted that they couldn't name the National Union of Students president, Gemma Tumelty. Of 68 who thought they could, only 25 selected Ms Tumelty from a list of five names.

As Times Higher Education went to press, The Open University and University College London confirmed that they had joined Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University in publishing course materials and lectures via Apple's iTunes U service, a dedicated area for educational content in the online music store. More than 300 video and audio files from Open University courses are available to download.

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