The week in higher education

April 2, 2009

The choice of President Barack Obama to deliver a graduation address at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, a Catholic institution, has provoked a "furious reaction from Church leaders", The Daily Telegraph reported on 25 March. Bishop John D'Arcy, whose diocese includes the university, said he would boycott the ceremony in protest against Mr Obama's backing of abortion rights and stem-cell research. "President Obama has ... placed in public policy his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred," the bishop said.

A diversity policy that aims to prevent religious discrimination at the University of Cambridge has come under fire, the Cambridge Evening News reported on 26 March. The university amended its equal opportunities policy to stress that it "respects religious or philosophical beliefs of all kinds", but Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the university, warned that the wording of the policy "might be interpreted to suggest that Cambridge is to promote the equality of evolution with creationism, or of cosmology with shepherds' tales. We must never accept any duty to promote the equality of truth and falsehood."

Dry Island Buffalo Jump, the band made up of academics from the University of St Andrews, has truly arrived. After an appearance in Times Higher Education last December, on 26 March The Independent described the group as "a fully fledged folk-rock band". Appearances on Radio Scotland and a number of successful gigs have cemented their burgeoning fame, the newspaper said, and they are "wowing students with songs about the recession ... and the end of the world".

"Top Oxford administrators get thousands in bonuses," The Sunday Times reported on 29 March. The paper said that the "bonus culture" had spread from City boardrooms to the dreaming spires, after a lack of transparency over such payments was raised in a speech to dons by Don Fraser, professor of earth sciences at the University of Oxford. The university said it was inaccurate to talk about a bonus culture.

According to The Sunday Times on 29 March, the Royal Society's quest for an environment to "create the sort of intensive thinking and activity that has given rise to major scientific breakthroughs" has led it to acquire one of the UK's "finest stately homes". Chicheley Hall, near Milton Keynes, has been purchased for £6.5 million, with help from Norwegian-American inventor and philanthropist Fred Kavli. Plans have been agreed for a further £7 million renovation of what will become the Kavli Royal Society Centre.

The proportion of professors that are female in the UK is slowly edging towards 20 per cent, according to figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency on 30 March. Hesa said that in 2007-08, 18.7 per cent of professors were female, up from 17.5 per cent in 2006-07. The proportion of female academic staff across all grades marginally increased over the same period, from 42.3 per cent in 2006-07 to 42.6 per cent in 2007-08. Some 42.4 per cent of female academics worked part time in 2007-08, compared with 23.1 per cent of male academics. The data also showed an increase in the number of academic staff. There were 174,945 academic employees in 2007-08 compared with 169,995 in 2006-07 - a rise of 2.9 per cent.

Instead of encouraging the brightest students from the poorest backgrounds to go to elite universities, politicians should focus more on getting all students into higher education, the Million+ group urged this week. In a report on 30 March, the group, which represents new universities, said that while 8 per cent of graduates from post-1992 institutions come from professional families, 17 per cent were in professional or managerial careers three and a half years after graduating. It also found that the salaries of Million+ graduates over the same timescale were nearly 15 per cent higher than those with lower qualifications.

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