The week in higher education

May 28, 2009

Another student claims to have sold her virginity to pay her way through college. Alina Percea, an 18-year-old Romanian, says she raised £9,000 from the online sale, having sex for the first time with the winning bidder, a 45-year-old Italian businessman. She said she had been inspired by a similar auction held by a US student in San Diego. "I was pleased the bidding got (to £9,000)," Ms Percea said on 20 May. "It means I can live at home with my parents while I go to university. It will help support us."

The MPs' expenses scandal has reached the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee. This week it emerged that Phil Willis, the committee chairman and Lib Dem MP, claimed thousands to renovate a flat where his daughter now lives. Mr Willis said his daughter was never the flat's "permanent resident", and revealed he had subsequently received a death threat. Meanwhile, fellow committee member Ian Gibson was accused of using expenses to help his daughter on to the property ladder. The Labour MP denied any wrongdoing but offered to resign nonetheless. A third member, the Conservative Nadine Dorries, was reportedly rebuked by David Cameron on 22 May for claiming MPs were facing a "McCarthyite witch-hunt".

Staying with expenses, much has been made of David Willetts' claim for replacing 25 light bulbs. The Conservative Shadow Universities Secretary has since repaid the £135 he claimed. However, his damage limitation operation overlooked his website, which features a link inviting visitors to "find out more about David" - next to a picture of a light bulb.

Some of the country's best-performing schools are advising pupils to boycott Durham University in protest against an admission system they see as "fixed" against them. Durham is among several "elite" universities that use a mathematical formula to favour applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, it was reported on 24 May. As a result, high-performing schools, including state schools, feel their pupils are penalised. Durham said it had to choose between applicants "with identical credentials".

The scandal and intrigue embroiling the election of the University of Oxford professor of poetry took another twist when Ruth Padel resigned after just a few days in the post. The 63-year-old was implicated in a smear campaign against rival Derek Walcott, who withdrew after allegations of sexual harassment made against him years ago resurfaced. Professor Padel stood down after admitting that she had tipped off journalists about the claims against her competitor, saying on 26 May that she had acted "naively".

Further education colleges fear that the recession and the cap on student numbers may seriously affect their provision of higher education. Currently about 10 per cent of higher education is provided by the further education sector, but college principals are concerned that this could be about to shrink significantly. They fear that if universities that franchise degree-level study to colleges end these arrangements, adult education could be particularly hard hit, it was reported on 26 May.

A row has erupted over a cancer expert's claim to have an honorary professorship at Imperial College London. Imperial is reported to be seeking legal advice on ways to stop Karol Sikora, the dean of medicine at the University of Buckingham, from using any title that suggests he has a formal association with it, primarily to distance it from outspoken attacks he has made on the National Health Service. He has recently been vocal in a campaign against proposed healthcare reforms in the US. In a letter to The Guardian on 25 May, Professor Sikora insisted that his links to Imperial were bona fide. "I can assure the rector that I will not knowingly use the Imperial designation as it clearly causes him and his political masters such offence. However, he cannot suppress my beliefs on healthcare," he said.

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