The week in higher education

March 26, 2009

- Having been commissioned by Gordon Brown to investigate threats to children online, Tanya Byron, the chancellor of Edge Hill University, may feel she can get away with a cheeky comment. Or maybe she does not want to be asked to head any more reviews. The professor of public understanding of science may have burnt her bridges with the Prime Minister after discussing how much make-up he wore for a joint TV appearance. "He had so much panstick on, I remember thinking: 'The PM's been Tangoed'," she told The Daily Telegraph on 18 March.

- Government expenditure on quangos rose by an inflation-busting 12 per cent last year - and the biggest spender was the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. The revelation came on 19 March as the Conservative Party set out plans to slash spending on quangos if it wins the next general election. A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said the rising budget reflected "the Government's increasing investment in education, skills and research during difficult economic times".

- A civil liberties slogan scrawled in chalk on a pavement in Bristol may land a student with a criminal record. Paul Saville, a sociology and criminology student at the University of the West of England, wrote: "Liberty. The right to question it. The right to ask: 'Are we free?'" He was arrested and charged with criminal damage. He pleaded not guilty and is now awaiting trial, it was reported on 20 March.

- Children don't make you happy, a childless researcher has concluded. Nattavudh Powdthavee, an economist at the University of York, said the memories that parents cherish, such as a baby's first smile, give an unduly rosy impression of what it is like to raise a family. He added on 20 March that "deep down" everyone knows that raising a child is probably the "toughest and dullest job in the world".

- Two academics and a topless model are the unlikely trio behind an anti-capitalist movement urging protesters to "storm the banks". Camilla Power and Chris Knight, both anthropologists at the University of East London, are joining former Playboy model Marina Pepper to organise the rally. The event is planned for 1 April, dubbed "Financial Fool's Day", when they say they are "taking our protest to the belly of the beast: the Bank of England". Professor Knight told The Sunday Telegraph on 22 March: "We want a revolution. We are quite open about it."

- The age of 23 might seem a little early for a woman to start worrying about being "left on the shelf". But Alex Humphreys, a student at Leeds College of Art and Design, is so nervous about the prospect that she has launched a conceptual art project to find a husband. As part of the so-called husband project, which will form part of her degree, she aims to advertise for, meet and marry a man within three months. She said on 22 March: "I don't want to wake up when I'm 30 and think: 'Oh my God, I'm on my own.' It's better to say I'm looking for a relationship, not just a shag."

- Charles Darwin spent more of his money on shoes than he did on books while studying at the University of Cambridge, according to recently unearthed records. During one term in 1823, he spent £3/14 on books and £4/13 on shoes and shoeshines, it was reported on 23 March.

- Four of the UK's largest medical charities may cut back on their investments in research because of the recession. Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, Leukaemia Research and the Wellcome Trust are all looking to make savings by reducing research budgets. It emerged on 23 March that the charities were reviewing their activities to cope with huge losses from their investments and a fall in donations.

- The son of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, who worked as an academic, has killed himself, it was announced on 24 March. Nicholas Hughes, a fisheries scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, was 47. In 1963, his mother committed suicide by gassing herself.

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