The week in higher education

April 16, 2009

Barack Obama's stratospheric rise from political obscurity to the White House is well documented, but now his influence might go beyond earthly boundaries. John Holdren, the US president's chief science adviser, said the Obama Administration was considering a plan to deflect the sun's rays as a last resort in the bid to tackle global warming. This entails firing sulphur dioxide particles or other materials into the stratosphere, deflecting the sun's rays into space. "We might get desperate enough to want to use it. It has got to be looked at," Mr Holdren said on 9 April.

In a week when at least one student and several men on student visas were arrested on suspicion of terror offences in the North West of England, the Daily Mail reported that the former head of MI5 has been invited to join the council of Imperial College London. Columnist Richard Kay wrote on 9 April: "If the battle against Muslim extremism starts in our universities, then Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller could be a new secret agent. Her new contract with Imperial might also be fertile ground for recruiting future spies. Dame Eliza herself was tapped-up at a drinks party while teaching at a girls' public school."

A government ban on expanding student numbers will coincide with a surge in applications, leaving tens of thousands of hopeful sixth-formers without places to study. According to The Times, the figure could be about 50,000, but Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, told the Daily Mail on 10 April that the number of people who wanted to study but could not could be as high as 200,000. David Willetts, the shadow Universities Secretary, said a "cruel trick" was being played on young people, who were being encouraged to aim for a university education even as the expansion of opportunities was being curtailed after a budget cock-up.

It may be an authoritative documentation of the history of man, but that did not stop Homo Britannicus being shelved in the gay and lesbian section of a university library. The mix-up at the University of Manchester tickled the book's author, Chris Stringer, an expert on human origins at the Natural History Museum in London. He said on 10 April: "It's very amusing, and I suppose there's a chance that a gay student with no interest in archaeology might take it off the shelf and be converted to the subject. To be fair, if you google the title it does come up alongside a lot of gay references. It's that homo word again."

Christian pilgrims who flock to Jerusalem to retrace Jesus' final steps in Holy Week may have been walking the route of the "way of suffering" in the wrong direction. According to archaeologist Shimon Gibson, who is based at universities in Israel and America, the modern-day re-enactment of the walk from the point where Jesus was condemned to death to the site of his crucifixion has been "completely wrong". In the Daily Mail on Good Friday, 10 April, Gibson said pilgrims walked across what he believed was the real site of the crucifixion "without realising its significance".

Details about experiments on primates must be released by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the information commissioner has ruled. After a three-year battle, animal-rights campaigners have forced universities to release the information, which institutions claimed could make them targets for attacks. The commissioner, whose decision was announced on 10 April, said that he "could see no evidence to suggest the current threat would increase" with the release of the details.

Drunken sex games involving student officer cadets are being investigated by military chiefs, the Daily Mail reported on 14 April. An inquiry was ordered after "lurid accounts of drink-fuelled debauchery and sexual liaisons" between members of a university officer training corps emerged, it said. The newspaper said that students from the universities of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam were involved with the Territorial Army unit at the centre of the investigation.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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