The week in higher education

November 20, 2008

Fifty overseas students have been excluded by Newcastle University after apparently using forged English-language qualifications. The Chinese and Taiwanese students were investigated after a number failed language assessments. They are believed to have been victims of bogus recruitment agents who faked the documents, The Daily Telegraph said on 12 November.

Fewer than ten teenagers are studying Labour's new diploma qualifications in some areas. According to Conservative figures, many students are "shunning" the qualifications, The Daily Telegraph reported on 13 November. In three areas, Wakefield, Blackburn and Harrow, fewer than ten pupils are taking diplomas this year, while 18 other councils said fewer than 30 were pursuing them. Another survey, by the Independent Schools Council, found that the number of privately educated pupils choosing qualifications other than A levels has risen by a third.

Conservative MPs will have to attend compulsory scientific literacy lessons in a bid to strengthen evidence-based policymaking. The Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet both have just one full member with a degree in science, medicine or engineering, The Times reported on 17 November. Thankfully for the sector, that includes John Denham, the Universities Secretary, who studied chemistry.

The hummingbird on the £10 note commemorates the achievements of Charles Darwin, father of the theory of evolution. But, according to Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, it is "little better than fiction". "Mockingbirds and finches were important in getting Darwin thinking about evolution, but hummingbirds played no role at all," he complained to The Observer on 16 November.

He is the new Science Minister, so it comes as a surprise that Lord Drayson believes he has a "sixth sense" to predict the future. In The Sunday Times on 16 November, he said: "There have been things I have known and I don't know why. I think there is a lot we don't understand about human capability." He said he believed in God and saw no conflict between faith and science: "You don't necessarily believe in something just because you have the evidence to prove it."

The privacy of millions of patients will be undermined by a government plan to give medical researchers access to personal files, The Guardian said on 17 November. The Prime Minister and the Department of Health want to give Britain's researchers an advantage over overseas rivals by allowing them to sift through records to identify patients who may wish to take part in trials.

"Blacking up" for a safari-themed party and holding a "bring a fit Jew" dinner is all good clean fun, say University of Oxford rugby players. The Daily Mail, which said members of Oxford's under-21 rugby team took part in both events, identified the son of a Tory MP as one of those involved. Yair Zivan, of the Union of Jewish Students, told the Mail on 18 November that "real offence" had been caused. In another furore, the head of the Oxford Union is facing the sack, The Daily Telegraph said, for allegedly lying about the speakers he had booked to address the debating society, actor Jude Law and Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko among them.

He was mocked in the Daily Mail for "stammering" when asked by the Queen, on a royal visit, to explain why no one had foreseen the credit crunch. But Luis Garicano, director of research at the department of management at the London School of Economics, has hit back: "I had no intention of chatting about corgis." In The Guardian on 18 November, he wrote that he had prepared a detailed explanation of the meltdown for the monarch, scotching reports that he had been startled by her question. He added: "The Queen posed a serious question. The answer defines our future."

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