The week in higher education

October 16, 2008

Amid reams of coverage of the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings, The Times said the league table offered a glimpse into a bleak future for mainland Europe. Noting that the University of Bologna, founded in 1158, had dropped out of the top 100, it said that the UK could be relatively pleased with its position. "If there is a warning here to the UK, it is so much starker to the rest of Europe," it said in a leader on 8 October. "The money will follow wherever the knowledge goes. And that is no longer to Bologna."

The Nobel prize season came to a close, with discoveries involving a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish, the Aids virus and a 30-year-old economic theory winning awards. The chemistry prize was awarded to Osamu Shimomura from Japan and Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien from the US for discovering and using a glowing protein from a jellyfish to investigate the molecular machinery in cells, reported The Guardian on 8 October. Princeton academic Paul Krugman won the economics prize for his analysis, formulated three decades ago, of how economies of scale affect trade patterns, and the prize in medicine was part-shared by French scientists Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi for the discovery of the Aids virus. This decision reopened long-running controversy over the discovery, which some claim should be credited to US scientist Robert Gallo.

Students at the University of Cambridge were being urged not to use dodgy condoms handed out during Freshers' Week. The contraceptives, which were emblazoned with the words "For a more perfect Union", were dished out by the Cambridge Union Society and then recalled as they lacked a required safety mark, reported The Daily Telegraph on 10 October.

A lengthy jail sentence awaits a former University of Durham bursar who admitted stealing nearly £500,000 from a college. Christine Starkey, 59, stole the money while working at St Chad's College, using it to fund a lavish lifestyle including a villa in Alicante, Spain, and a vast collection of designer shoes, The Evening Gazette reported on 11 October.

With a topless model making the grade, The Independent on Sunday's list of Britain's top 100 environmentalists had its surprises, but it also found space to include numerous academics. Peter Wadhams, the Cambridge professor of ocean physics who identified the melting Arctic ice cap, was highest-ranked at fifth and Page three girl Keeley Hazell, recently voted the third-sexiest woman in the world, was 99th.

Male academics on judging panels of literary prizes stand accused of picking obscure titles "to impress their colleagues". Author Louise Doughty, a judge for this year's Man Booker Prize, told The Independent on 14 October that such men "always have their eye on their reputations" and are more concerned with picking a "highbrow" book than a readable one.

Hot-pant-wearing pop duo the Cheeky Girls, "kiss-and-tell merchant" Rebecca Loos and glamour model Jodie Marsh are among the speakers lined up to appear at the Oxford Union this year. Columnist Richard Kay, writing in the Daily Mail on 14 October, commented that it was difficult to see how this "hothouse of debating chambers, the training ground for future prime ministers and world leaders" would benefit from a line-up such as this.

As Times Higher Education went to press, it emerged that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is in talks with Beijing officials about setting up a business college in the London 2012 Olympic park, which would be jointly run by a Chinese university and a London university, and funded by using both government and private sector finance.

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