The week in higher education

June 25, 2009

•Wales is to get a Chief Scientific Adviser for the first time in its history, it was announced on 16 June. The decision follows years of lobbying and a review into the position last year.

•Bambang Parmanto, the editor-in-chief of an academic journal, has quit after publishing a hoax article. The paper, purporting to be from the Centre for Research in Applied Phrenology (Crap), was accepted by the apparently peer-reviewed Open Information Science Journal, despite being incom­pre­hensible, it was reported on 18 June. It was submitted by Philip Davis, a graduate student at Cornell University in New York, who wished to test the editorial standards of the journal’s pub­lisher, Bentham Science Publishers, which had sent him emails asking him to submit papers. If papers are accepted by the publisher, authors are required to pay a fee to have them posted online.

•It was first reported by Times Higher Education in January, yet academic John Harris’ claim that healthy people should be allowed to take Ritalin to boost their brain power continues to make the headlines. The latest flurry of stories on 19 June followed an article by the professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester for the British Medical Journal. He said that arguments against the use of the drug, which is commonly prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, were “unpersuasive”.

•The quality of science and maths teaching will be severely compromised by sharp cuts in funding for university education departments, academics have warned. The Times Educational Supplement revealed on 19 June that the heads of 13 education departments had written to Sir Brian Follett, chair of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to warn him about the cuts’ “adverse consequences for children and young people, quality teacher training and public policy”. The letter was signed by the heads of education at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol, as well as the Institute of Education.

•They have been labelled “Generation why” – as in “Why did we bother going to university?” – by The Sunday Times: young people who are graduating from university mid-recession and whose prospects of finding work appear minimal. The contracting job market, record numbers of graduates and spiralling levels of debt due to tuition fees have created a perfect storm for the Class of 2009. David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee and professor at Dartmouth College in the US, said on 21 June that the fate of this year’s UK graduates could be “a national tragedy”.

•A drug dealer has been jailed after telling a court that he sold cannabis to help put his child through university. Unmoved by the 48-year-old’s claims, a judge at Carlisle Crown Court jailed Hugh Christie for 16 months, it was reported on 22 June.

•Finals can be stressful at the best of times, but for Kate Archer, they were particularly painful. The pregnant 28-year-old business management and law student at the University of Aberdeen began having contractions during her last paper, but managed to finish it nonetheless. She gave birth to a girl the next morning, it was reported on 22 June.

•As a research topic it was always likely to get press coverage: a study of the similarities between great white sharks and serial killers. A team at the University of Miami used a profiling technique employed by police to track down serial killers to study sharks’ hunting habits. It concluded that they operate in similar fashion, hunting in a small area around an “anchor point”. Reports on 22 June said that in the case of a murderer, this might be their home or office, while for a shark, it may be where prey enter the water.

•As Times Higher Education went to press on 23 June, the Government announced a new task force that will aim to make UK higher education the first choice across the world for online distance learning, and a new £10 million match-funding scheme designed to promote online learning.

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