The week in higher education

April 9, 2009

Women historians have been blamed for turning history into a bizarre soap opera. David Starkey, the historian and well-known television and radio presenter, said women had "feminised" history, focusing too much on the love lives of key figures such as Henry VIII at the expense of their achievements. He said the fact that the Tudor king had been "absorbed by his wives" was "what you expect from feminised history ... Unhappy marriages are big box-office". Lucy Worsley, chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, hit back in the Daily Mail on 1 April, accusing Dr Starkey of misogyny. "There's more to history than dead, powerful white guys," she said. "To judge Henry without his wives is nonsensical."

One in four colleges aimed at bringing foreign students to the UK is bogus, Phil Woolas, the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, has said. Fake colleges were the "biggest loophole" in the British immigration system, he stated on 1 April, adding that stricter visa rules were therefore warranted. "The new system will benefit major institutions, colleges and private universities, but the backstreet bogus college is being exposed," he said.

"Richard Dawkins disagrees with Pope" is about as newsworthy a revelation as the Pope being Catholic. Nevertheless, the outspoken biologist, best known for his atheist views, grabbed the headlines on 2 April when he called Pope Benedict XVI "stupid" for claiming that condoms may have made the African Aids epidemic worse. "If people take his words seriously, he will be responsible for the deaths of thousands, perhaps millions, of people," Professor Dawkins said.

The race for the job of professor of poetry at the University of Oxford is "hotting up", according to The Observer on 5 April. The post is decided by an election of members of Oxford's convocation of degree holders. It looks set to be filled by either Nobel laureate Derek Walcott or "metropolitan favourite" Ruth Padel. The Observer reported that each poet had secured more than 80 "nominators", but that Mr Walcott was "probably ahead by a nose". Polling day is on 16 May.

Another Sunday and another news item lamenting admissions "bias" at the UK's leading universities. This time, The Sunday Times highlighted the case of a private school pupil who was rejected for an oversubscribed course at Durham University, despite obtaining four As at A level. The newspaper reported that Durham had applied a mathematical formula "that gives an automatic advantage to pupils from poorly performing schools". "It is a farce if middle-class parents are scrimping and saving to send our children to private schools, only to find out that when it comes to university entrance, it actually works against them," the unnamed boy's mother told the newspaper.

The University of Cambridge's 800th anniversary celebrations will be marred by "a bitter row over plans to axe more than 150 jobs at Cambridge University Press", according to The Guardian on 6 April. CUP, first given a grant to print "all manner of books" by Henry VIII, was due to play a "leading role" in the anniversary celebrations, but "the carefully choreographed world of Nobel prize-winning scientists, King's College choristers and Footlights comedians has been shaken by news that scores of local printers' jobs are under threat," the newspaper reported. Managers at CUP said "structural change in the printing industry" had forced the redundancies.

Comments by Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, that the UK is trying to send too many of its young people to university led Michael White, political pundit at The Guardian, to suggest that he might be right. On 6 April, Mr White wrote that the policy could share the fate of old "Soviet steel targets": there is "no point pumping the stuff out at great expense if the world has moved on and no one wants to buy it", he said.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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