The week in higher education

March 5, 2009

- University lecturers are doing more unpaid overtime than they did last year, according to the University and College Union. The UCU, which was marking Work Your Proper Hours Day on February, said that more than 45 per cent of university teaching staff did unpaid overtime, putting in an extra 52 days' work on average over the course of the year. The national average is 41 days.

- Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, will be the next head of the Quality Assurance Agency. He will replace Peter Williams as chief executive when the latter retires from the post in October, the QAA said on February.

- John Denham's higher education brief was put on the back burner last week when he used a Financial Times interview to turn Cabinet enforcer. The Universities Secretary slammed colleagues jockeying for position in a future leadership race should Gordon Brown's Premiership fail. Mr Denham said on 28 February that the economic crisis was the biggest political challenge facing the UK since the Second World War, adding: "To me, that is the only thing worth thinking about, the ability to rise to that challenge now, not what might happen after some future election."

- An attempt at satire that sank like a lead balloon has cost the editors of a student newspaper their jobs. An end-of-term edition of Cherwell, a University of Oxford student paper, joked about the Holocaust and superimposed photographs of students on pornographic pictures. The paper's publishers were not amused and ordered the two editors, Sian Cox-Brooker and Michael Bennett, to resign. In a statement printed by The Daily Telegraph on 28 February, the pair said they understood that satire could be "misconstrued".

- "Go on, admit it, your 'Diary of a fresher' is written by a middle-aged bloke, isn't it?" asked a Leeds Metropolitan University student in a letter to The Independent on 1 March. The feature in question purported to be the diary of a first-year student, but the letter-writer seized on its reference to James Joyce's Ulysses as evidence it was a fake. "That's a Franz Ferdinand song," she wrote.

- A group of British and Canadian scientists who found a way to produce an almost limitless supply of stem cells without destroying embryos are demonstrating the value of pioneering science, The Guardian said on 2 March. The breakthrough allows adults' skin cells to be reprogrammed, winding back the clock until they reach embryonic form. The work was done by scientists at the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with colleagues at the University of Toronto.

- The Battle of Bannockburn - one of Scotland's proudest moments or a clash with English oppressors that ended with a whimper not a bang? According to an English academic, the famous victory of Robert the Bruce over Edward II in 1314 was less glorious than is often suggested, with the English fleeing after an hour and the Scots wasting time looting the dead rather than pressing home the advantage. But Geoffrey Barrow, emeritus professor of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh, accused historian David Cornell, who made the claim in a new book, of letting his imagination "run riot", The Times reported on 2 March.

- Last week, Gail Trimble was all over the papers after leading the Corpus Christi College, Oxford team to the University Challenge title. This week, it emerged that her team-mate Sam Kay was no longer a student. The revelation led the BBC to strip the team of the title, awarding it to beaten finalists the University of Manchester. "Trimble will be every trivia buff's correct answer to one, painful question: who captained the shortest-reigning University Challenge champions ever," The Guardian reported on 3 March.


- Total funding for 2009-10 is £7.99 billion - 4 per cent up on last year;

- Total funding for teaching is £4.78 billion;

- Total funding for research is £1.57 billion;

- 87 institutions have been awarded above-inflation total funding increases;

- 41 institutions have seen real-term funding cuts;

- 15 institutions have seen cash cuts.

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