The week in higher education

May 7, 2009

The first of the annual university league tables has been published by The Independent, topped as usual by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. However, the newspaper's table, printed on 30 April, suggested that new universities were closing the gap on their older rivals, with Nottingham Trent University, Oxford Brookes University and the University of Hertfordshire all named in the top half.

The cap on fees must be lifted and "full-blooded competition" embraced to give students "the best possible education", the Financial Times said on 1 May. Setting out its stall in an editorial, the paper said many universities were "making heavy losses on each domestic student". "By making undergraduates pay more, it will also deter them from wasting their time - and public money - on poorly taught courses or insubstantial subjects," it said. The paper called for the break-up of national bargaining on pay and pensions, which it said hinders competition, and urged the Government to speed up the review of fees. "Delay too long and the real problem will be how to take insolvent universities off the road," it said.

A barrel of sherry and a £5,700 stipend awaits English professor Carol Ann Duffy after she was named the first woman Poet Laureate. The Manchester Metropolitan University academic follows in the footsteps of William Wordsworth and Ted Hughes in the 400-year-old post. She said on 1 May that she was "honoured and humbled" to have been chosen, while her vice-chancellor John Brooks said her selection was "excellent news for Manchester Metropolitan University".

A friend of Melvyn Bragg claims the broadcaster chose ancient Greece as a topic for a recent edition of his highbrow Radio 4 programme In Our Time so he could help him with a politics and history degree he was taking at the University of Oxford. A Daily Mail diarist quoted pal Nick Elliott on 1 May saying: "Melvyn's shows have been a great help. Even my tutors have been listening. But I haven't the heart to tell him I've packed in the course to concentrate on my new grandchildren and racehorses."

The parents of a child born today will need to have an £83,000 fund to pay for future rises in university tuition fees, according to a trust fund provider. David White, chief executive of The Children's Mutual, said on 2 May that raising the cap on fees would lead to "very real concern that parents could jeopardise their own financial security to help their children avoid university debt".

A student hoax that duped national newspapers has been held up as evidence of the hold that the internet has over journalism. Shane Fitzgerald, a student at University College Dublin, changed the Wikipedia entry on French composer Maurice Jarre shortly after he died in March, attributing fake quotes to him. Although Wikipedia's editors removed these additions, which were not referenced, obituary writers for several papers, including The Guardian, picked the quotes up and used them. Mr Fitzgerald apologised for the fakery, but said his purpose was to show that journalists use Wikipedia as a primary source, and that this can lead to inaccuracies. Writing on 4 May, The Guardian's readers' editor said: "Consider the job done, Shane."

Vincent Van Gogh invented the story about cutting off his own ear to protect fellow painter Paul Gauguin - who sliced it off during a row about a prostitute, art historians have claimed. According to researchers in Germany, Van Gogh may have been attacked by Gauguin with a sword after an argument in the town of Arles in Provence. The team at the University of Hamburg have made the claim after studying the evidence for ten years, it was reported on 5 May.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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