The week in higher education

April 23, 2009

"Everyone knows that student overstaying has been the immigration system's Achilles heel," Phil Woolas, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, claimed in The Times on 16 April. Mr Woolas wrote that the recent arrests of several Pakistani men in connection with an alleged terror plot highlighted the necessity of tighter rules. Most of the suspects were in the UK on student visas and some had overstayed. "The howls of protest from some on campuses suggest that the changes to the immigration system are already having an impact," he said. On 21 April, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, made a Commons statement on the arrests, and admitted to MPs that some student-visa applicants from Pakistan were now being interviewed over the telephone from outside the country.

Scientists are being targeted by MI5, which is looking to recruit a real-life "Q" to design James Bond-style gadgets. Security chiefs have advertised for someone with "world-class scientific expertise and credibility" to discover new ways to track terrorists and develop technological solutions for the problems its agents face, The Sun reported on 18 April. John Beddington, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, said the job "will involve future-gazing to see where technology will be taking us".

University College London may boast the preserved skeleton of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, fully dressed and topped with a waxwork head, but Imperial College London is set to go one better after Jeremy Paxman bequeathed the institution his brain. On 20 April, the combative TV presenter pledged to donate his grey matter to the "brain bank" stored at Imperial, which currently holds 296 brains for medical research. Mr Paxman, best known for presenting Newsnight and University Challenge, announced that he would be donating his brain upon death in response to an appeal for more donors by the Parkinson's Disease Society, which said researchers needed more healthy brains to work with.

Beer goggles do not work, scientists from the University of Leicester claimed this week. It may be the firmly held view of the average barfly that people become more attractive after a few pints, but apparently the evidence fails to back the theory. Vincent Egan, the study's lead researcher, trawled bars to recruit 240 volunteers to take part in his study, asking drinkers at different levels of inebriation to rate the attractiveness of women in a series of photographs, as well as guess their age. The results, he said, suggested that drink did not significantly affect the answers. "There was no great difference - the men were just as undiscerning as ever," he said on 20 April.

On 21 April, the Conservatives slammed the Government for allowing a "lost generation" of young drop-outs to soar in number. But Labour hit back, accusing the Opposition of exaggeration. The Tories pointed to official figures suggesting that there are now 857,000 young people who are not in education, employment or training. John Denham, the Universities Secretary, said: "What the Conservatives don't take into account is that there are far more young people of that age group in our society than there were ten years ago ... It's a real exaggeration to talk about a lost generation, and very damaging."

A quarter of full-time students and 31 per cent of part-time students say that concerns over debt nearly prevented them from going to university, according to the Government's Student Income and Expenditure Survey, which was published on 21 April. Almost three in five full-time students in England felt that financial concerns had affected their academic performance, for example through stress. Over a third of full-time students and half of part-time students who had undertaken paid work during the academic year felt that it had affected their studies. Nearly 60 per cent of full-time students had concerns about competition in the graduate job market.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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