The week in higher education

January 15, 2009

Only one in six students taking the government’s new diplomas have chosen the toughest version of the qualification, which is supposed to be the equivalent of an A-level.

According to the Financial Times, the most common diploma is “creative and media”, which some employers have described as the ultimate “soft subject”, the paper said on 7 January.

However, Education Secretary Ed Balls, speaking to the Independent insisted diplomas were “this generation’s best chance” to break the divide between academic and vocational qualifications.

His voice may be slight and his height barely greater than the lectern, but Aman Rehman, the world’s youngest lecturer, is only eight years old.

The boy has been appointed to teach adult students about computer-generated animated film at the College of Interactive Arts in Dehra Dun, India, the Daily Telegraph reported on 7 January.

A dodo, a sabre-toothed tiger and a wooly mammoth are among a wish-list of extinct creatures that scientists would most like to bring back from the dead.

Compiled by New Scientist, the list also includes a lumbering armadillo the size of a car, and Neanderthal man, the Daily Mail said on 8 January.

As a union leader, Wes Streeting may hope to stand out for his revolutionary zeal.

However, the president of the National Union of Students is up against some thoroughbred competition in a new Times list, published on 8 January, of 25 “faces to watch” in 2009.

Alongside Mr Streeting (who was cast as “the next Jack Straw”) in the roll-call of movers-and-shakers is Raul Castro, brother of Fidel and president of communist Cuba.

Today’s academics may suffer under the weight of emails they receive, but the experiences of Charles Darwin more than a century ago suggest this is nothing new.

A letter written by the father of evolution, which is up for auction, reveals his frustration at being plagued by stupid questions in missives from “half the fools of Europe”.

In the note, he says he is “tired to death” of replying to queries and requests for his expertise and advice, the Daily Mirror reported on 10 January.

If Britain had anything mirroring the US constitution, the right to a tea break would probably be enshrined within it.

So the news that over 1,000 staff at the University of Nottingham have been banned from stopping to have a cuppa on the job has been met with predictable fury.

The ban on “paid tea breaks”, which affects catering and hospitality staff, was slammed by Unison, which said they were a “necessary” part of the working day, the Nottingham Evening Post reported on 10 January.

A fourth academic who worked in a nuclear laboratory at the centre of a public-health scare has developed cancer.

Tom Whiston, 70, a former professor based at the University of Manchester’s Rutherford lab, is the latest of several academics who used the building to develop pancreatic cancer.

An internal investigation is underway to determine whether there is any link between the building and the men’s illnesses later in life.

Campaigners are calling for a public inquiry after rooms near the old labs were found to be contaminated with nuclear materials and mercury, the Guardian reported on 13 January.

Britain’s effort to lead the world in stem cell research with the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos has ground to a halt, scientists say.

According to one researcher, the controversial work, which was legalised less than a year ago, had been hobbled by scientists on funding committees with moral objections to it.

The Independent reported on 13 January that funding had dried up, and existing projects are being run down to the point of closure.

Two out of three researchers with licences to create hybrid embryos had been denied research funds to continue their work, the paper said.

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