The week in higher education

December 11, 2008

- Drinking games and visits to out-of-town brothels were all part of the student experience at the University of Cambridge in the 19th century, a diary has revealed. The journal kept by Charles Astor Bristed, an American who studied Classics at Trinity College in the 1840s, is to be published for the first time in more than a century. With a surprisingly modern turn of phrase, he recounts how the Cambridge students liked to "work hard and play hard", adding that most of the male students were "careless and undisguised" about visiting prostitutes, The Times reported on 4 December.

- The "frilly feminists" competing in the Miss University London student beauty pageant scored a higher profile in the Daily Mail than any other higher education story last week. "In decades past they would have marched out in comfortable shoes to protest about nuclear disarmament or women's rights," the paper said on 4 December. "These days, university girls are fighting for the right to look hot."

- Universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are losing ground to those in England, a report by Universities UK said. The paper said that since devolution, English universities have grown at a faster rate, have been better funded and have attracted more students than their counterparts elsewhere. They have also benefited more from research funding and an influx of students from overseas, the BBC reported on 5 December.

- As reported last week, the appearance of a Santa hat on the spire of a University of Cambridge college required three fire engines to get it down. However, the incident prompted one graduate of St John's College to recall his own less laborious climbing exploits in the 1950s. In a letter to The Daily Telegraph on 5 December, Nigel Peacock wrote: "One sunny morning a chamber pot and a couple of bras appeared on the pinnacle of New Court. The dean called me to his office and said: 'Peacock, the college does not believe you are responsible, but would be grateful if you would remove them.' By four o'clock the summit was clear."

- An early-warning system is to be installed to prevent another massive helium leak like the one that shut down the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern). The leak forced the closure just nine days after the collider was switched on, causing damage that will take until at least May to repair, The Guardian said on 6 December. Cern said it expects the LHC to be ready for powering tests by the end of June 2009.

- A "spaceguard" system to scan the skies for asteroids heading for Earth has been mooted by leading scientists. The group, including Royal Society president Lord Rees, says the United Nations needs a system to destroy or divert dangerous asteroids, The Observer said on 7 December. Meanwhile, scientists have suggested that another potential disaster for the planet - global warming - could be offset by melting ice caps. Rob Raiswell, a geologist at the University of Leeds, said the ice could release minerals that would boost plankton populations and other sea life, helping to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

- A university is reviewing its policy on relationships between staff and students after an undergraduate had an abortion following an affair with a lecturer. The mature student in her thirties had a romance with Istvan Pogany, 57, a professor of law at the University of Warwick, last year. The pair informed the university about the relationship, who reportedly advised the professor not to flaunt the affair or mark the student's papers. The relationship gave rise to an online "gossip campaign" about the pair, The Daily Telegraph reported on 8 December. Warwick said it was considering a new code of conduct in light of the incident.

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