The week in higher education

October 9, 2008

Footage of an "initiation ritual" in which students wore bags over their heads as they knocked back alcohol and vomited was broadcast by the BBC. Those involved, apparently students at the University of Gloucestershire, were goaded by another student in a "Nazi-style" uniform, prompting the university to launch an official investigation into alleged bullying and intimidation, BBC online said on 2 October. However, a reader comment put a different spin on the story: "Students getting drunk and behaving like berks? Whatever next?" they asked.

The battle between ministers and Britain's top universities over efforts to take in poor students has "turned vicious", according to the Financial Times. The debate about Oxbridge admissions was inflamed by Oxford's chancellor Chris Patten, who said the university had "no chance whatsoever of meeting the socio-economic targets set by the agents of government". In response, Universities Secretary John Denham accused the former Tory minister of "deep conservatism" and believing that "nothing should ever change", the Financial Times said on 2 October.

Meanwhile, an Oxford graduate-turned-newspaper columnist laid into her alma mater, describing it as "hellish, a pottage of misery and dysfunction". Tanya Gold, writing in The Guardian on 2 October, said: "Oxford needs a dose of normal sherry. It needs to be broken apart and stuffed with normal. Not just for the sake of the state-school pupils who deserve to study there. But for itself. Because it's meant to be a university, not a finishing school half-stocked with uneasy plebs wondering what the hell went wrong."

Scientists may be forced to describe the levels of suffering endured by animals in their laboratories under new proposals reported on 2 October. As the law stands, institutions have to estimate in advance only whether experiments will inflict "mild, moderate or substantial" suffering, but if changes that are planned go through they will have to detail the suffering far more accurately, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Strippers, fleas and slime were among the subjects of research that won prizes at the annual Ig Nobel awards, which honour unlikely research. Among the UK winners was David Sims, of the Cass Business School in London, for his study into the variety of "bastards" to be found in the workplace. Another was Charles Spence, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, who discovered that a loud crunching noise made crisps taste better. Other winning studies found: that lap dancers earn bigger tips when they are ovulating; that slime can navigate a simple maze; and that fleas jump higher on a dog than a cat, The Guardian reported on 3 October.

"From undie-clad to undergrad", crowed the Daily Mirror as supermodel Lily Cole started life as a student at King's College, Cambridge, on 6 October. Ms Cole, who is studying history of art, caused a flurry of press interest, not least because her matriculation followed hot on the heels of a recent appearance in French Playboy.

They have competed for hundreds of years, in the boat race, on sports fields and for the brightest students and staff. Now Cambridge and Oxford universities are "taking their rivalry into the 21st century", The Guardian reported on 7 October. The universities both launched a service that allows students to download lectures, videos and podcasts direct from the online iTunes website on the same day, the paper said.

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