The week in higher education

September 4, 2008

- The press went bananas for the news that the tropical fruit has been found growing in the vice-chancellor's garden at the University of Exeter. Gardeners discovered a banana growing in one of several trees planted at Steve Smith's official residence. The trees have produced fruit only once before in the past 20 years, the Western Morning News reported on August.

- A code that has foxed academics for years has been broken by a professor at Liverpool Hope University. A 0-year-old diary belonging to hymn-writer Charles Wesley was decoded by pro vice-chancellor Kenneth Newport. "This is a warts-and-all portrait. It's the eerie privilege of peering over the shoulder of one long-dead and looking into their world," he told The Independent on August.

- The flames of a fiery debate about the place of complementary medicine in higher education were fanned last week by a university study suggesting that one in five Indian herbal medicines contains dangerous levels of arsenic and lead. But Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir, writing on 29 August, claimed that complementary medicine was "immunised against bad publicity". She said: "Don't forget that Radovan Karadzic, one of the most evil warlords of modern times, evaded capture for years disguised as an alternative health practitioner. Need I say more?"

- It is just not cricket - that was the response to news that Oxbridge teams were to be stripped of their first-class status, which was given to them in 18, The Sunday Telegraph reported. Former England batsman Graeme Fowler said the move, a result of the restructuring of county cricket, was "short-sighted", in the paper on 31 August.

- Few business schools can boast that more than 30 per cent of their MBA students are women, and research by the London Business School has identified why the numbers do not rise. The study found that a majority of male and female students accepted it as inevitable that "business is done according to male rules", the Financial Times reported on 1 September.

- A University of Cambridge academic sparked a race row by suggesting that he would not be able to live next to a Jamaican family who "play reggae and rock music all day". George Steiner, a Fellow at Churchill College who is Jewish, argued in a Spanish newspaper that racism was inherent in everyone. "If you scratch beneath the surface, many dark areas appear," The Daily Telegraph reports him saying on 1 September. His remarks drew much criticism. But Max Hastings, writing in the Daily Mail on 2 September, said he was "one of the cleverest men in Britain" and had "stated simple truths".

- "Are we on the eve of destruction?" asked the Daily Mail, recycling a long-running story as the countdown continues to the switch-on of Cern's Large Hadron Collider. The project will create mini black holes and has long been a source of material for doom-mongers. The Sun's take on the same story was to remind its readers that there was still time before the end of the world to try every position in the Kama Sutra.

- It is a case of "hi-de-higher education", said The Guardian, as the University of Chichester announced plans for a foundation degree in musical theatre with holiday firm Butlins. The two-year vocational course would be run at the university's campus in Bognor Regis, where Butlins is a major regional employer, the paper reported on 1 September.

- Meanwhile, the University of Cambridge was also flirting with the world of light entertainment, lobbying to get a mention in a TV soap opera. According to The Daily Telegraph on 2 September, officials have been canvassing writers of shows such as EastEnders and Coronation Street in the hope of "shedding its elitist appeal

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