The Week in Higher Education

December 18, 2008

- More than half of students are given the wrong A-level predictions, with boys most likely to be marked down, a study has found. As many as 55 per cent of students are given inaccurate estimates, researchers at the University of Portsmouth found. This means that many sixth-formers may be missing out on university places, The Daily Telegraph reported on 10 December.

- The University and College Union (UCU) has "abandoned attempts to boycott Israeli universities after years of international controversy", according to "opponents of the policy", The Guardian reported last week. On 10 December, the newspaper announced that the UCU had "quietly dropped" plans to implement a conference motion that instructed members to "consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions", after it had faced legal threats. But the union insisted that it had done nothing of the kind. In a statement, Sally Hunt, the UCU's general secretary, said the union's position has not changed. She said that "there was never a boycott motion passed at its congress and its position on Motion 25 had not changed". She added in the statement: "The UCU has a proud record of solidarity with academics throughout the world, which will continue."

- Members of a university rugby team have been told to attend a diversity training seminar after a series of gaffes led to accusations of racism. The University of Oxford's under-21 team were in the news after it organised a party with the theme of "bring a fit Jew" and another party that had an African safari theme at which players blacked themselves up. The university said that an investigation had found that no internal regulations had been breached, but a seminar on cultural diversity had been organised for those who were involved, The Guardian reported on 12 December.

- At least £250 million has been wiped off the value of leading British universities' endowments, according to a survey by The Guardian. The universities of Cambridge and Oxford are the biggest losers, with the former's fund falling £84 million in the year up to July, the paper said on 12 December. Alan Gilbert, president of the University of Manchester, which lost £16 million from its endowment by July, underlined how serious the economic crisis was for universities. In a letter to staff, he said that things are now "tougher, certainly, than anything universities have faced for the last quarter of a century".

- Universities are typically not short of brains, but the University of York has acquired some particularly unusual grey matter. When archaeologists, who were commissioned by the university, found a skull dating back to at least 300BC, they were surprised to hear something rattling around inside. Although the brain is normally one of the first organs to decompose, the skull had preserved its contents intact, according to The Sun on 12 December. Rachel Cubitt, who discovered what is believed to be the oldest surviving human brain in Britain, described how she peered into the skull and saw an unusual yellow substance inside.

- It was too good an opportunity for The Daily Telegraph's picture desk to miss - Cambridge students posing naked with only "farmyard animals to protect their modesty". The latest group to shed their clothes and pose nude for a charity calendar were veterinary students - hence the animals. The students are donating the money raised from the sale of the calenders to an animal hospital. "In one image, a rather bemused looking black-and-white dog peers at the camera as he is surrounded by naked men perched on a trolley," the paper said on 15 December.

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