The Week in Higher Education

June 19, 2008

- With Britain feeling the pinch of an economic slowdown, now may not be the best time to talk about raising tuition fees. The Government has promised a review next year, but Conor Ryan, former education adviser to David Blunkett, thinks a looming election could pose a problem. In The Independent on 12 June, he said the review should be cross-party and report after the 2010 election to keep fees out of the political campaign.

- Much ink was devoted to Sutton Trust research that found that one in ten of the highest-achieving state-school pupils do not make it to university. The Daily Mail said the findings "exposed another Labour lie", proving that 60,000 of the best comprehensive school pupils missed out because of "bad teaching, not bias". In an editorial on 13 June, it said: "What a tragedy that the Government has spent so long attacking our supposedly elitist higher education institutions, rather than raising standards."

- The "three-legged trousers" apparently beloved of fashion students were scrutinised by The Guardian in Graduate Fashion Week. Fashion writer Hadley Freeman, who was a judge at the event, confessed a prejudice against students more interested in art than "wearability". This year's cohort did not disappoint, showcasing such designs as a "bumble-bee vest, turquoise metallic leggings and bunched-up carpet where a skirt should be".

- The Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey caused a stir when he was unveiled as a professor at the University of Oxford on 14 June. The artistic director of The Old Vic Theatre Company will be the next Cameron Mackintosh visiting professor of contemporary theatre at St Catherine's College.

- The University of Oxford may have topped a new league table this week, but the Daily Mirror has identified a tougher target than winning a place there. "Harder to be apprentice than get to Oxford Uni", its headline read on 16 June, alongside a story revealing that there are four applicants for every place at the venerable institution, compared with five for every apprenticeship in the building trade. The Government said it "realises apprenticeships are popular". Oxford was not asked to comment.

- It was an uncomfortable week for psychiatrist and broadcaster Raj Persaud, who admitted plagiarism when he appeared before a General Medical Council hearing. The BBC reported on 16 June that he had admitted plagiarising four articles for a book published in 2003 but denied that his actions were dishonest. He also admitted passing off other researchers' work as his own in journal and newspaper articles. The allegations prompted him to stand down as director of the now-defunct Centre for Public Engagement in Mental Health Sciences at King's College London.

- On 17 June, The Guardian reported government figures that showed students were "borrowing record amounts to pay for their studies". The total amount loaned to students rose by 32.2 per cent last year to nearly £4 billion, data from the Student Loans Company showed. The amount borrowed to pay tuition fees rose by 176.7 per cent on 2006-07 to a total of £1.07 billion in 2007-08.

- As Times Higher Education went to press, it emerged that a University of Cambridge college is to change its name after receiving a £30 million gift. New Hall will become Murray Edwards College following the donation, the largest ever to a Cambridge college - made by Cambridge-based entrepreneurs Ros and Steve Edwards. When the college was founded by Dame Rosemary Murray in 1954, it was with one shilling and no name - it was known as the "New Hall" because it was waiting for a donor who would endow and name it. The money will help recruit more students from non-traditional backgrounds.

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