The week in higher education

July 2, 2009

Tennis ace Maria Sharapova's early exit from Wimbledon was a blow to her fans, but was something more sinister than a lack of form to blame? The Russian beauty, who was knocked out on day three, reportedly hired a minder for the event amid fears she has a stalker known as "The Professor". A description of the middle-aged man was circulated among security personnel at the All England Club, it was reported on 24 June, although it is not clear whether he has any genuine links to academia.

Burping cows were the focus of a research project that attracted media attention on 25 June. The genetics study, led by Stephen Moore, a professor at the University of Alberta, aims to help breeders develop cattle that are more environmentally friendly. Cows are responsible for 75 per cent of methane emissions, mostly from their burps.

A cross-party committee of MPs dedicated to scrutinising government policy on science and technology is to be re-established, it emerged on 26 June. The decision to resurrect the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee follows lobbying by MPs and scientists, who warned that science policy risked being "lost in a black hole" after it was moved into Lord Mandelson's new "super department" for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). However, vice-chancellors have raised concerns about the future scrutiny of higher education policy, which is also part of BIS' remit.

As if universities weren't enough, Lord Mandelson may now take control of the whole country. According to reports on 29 June, the First Secretary is involved in a turf war with Harriet Harman, Labour's Deputy Leader, over who should take the reins when Gordon Brown goes on holiday. Meanwhile, on 25 June it was reported that John Bercow, the new Speaker of the Commons, wants Lord Mandelson to face his own question time in Parliament, dubbed "the new PMQs - Peter Mandelson's questions" by the Daily Mail.

Another week, another media hoax. This time it was an expose of student poverty in Paris Match magazine, complete with pictures of students working as prostitutes and foraging in rubbish bins for food. The hard-hitting piece won the magazine's award for student photojournalism, but when the authors turned up to collect the EUR5,000 (£4,260) prize, they admitted it was a hoax. They said they were attacking the "voyeurism" and gullibility of the press, it was reported on June.

The freeze on student numbers and an 11 per cent rise in demand will leave 60,000 university hopefuls without a place, new research suggests. The Daily Telegraph said on June that the number would include thousands with straight As at A level. Meanwhile, it emerged that medical students are graduating with debts as high as £46,000. The British Medical Association, which released the figures, said that a further increase in tuition fees would end "any pretence of widening access to medical education".

Lord Mandelson got it in the neck from Guardian readers on 30 June after writing a blog celebrating the 40th birthday of The Open University. "He's got a nerve," writes one reader. "The Government has removed the Hefce funding element that is vital to the continued health of The Open University, which will probably mean that it won't be celebrating its 60th anniversary." Another writes: "The best thing the Prince of Darkness could do ... would be to reverse the decision not to provide funding for equivalent or lower-level qualifications."

Confusion over the timing of the next Comprehensive Spending Review is adding to the financial uncertainty facing the sector. Lord Mandelson reportedly said there was "no need" for a review, which sets out spending totals for each government department, until 2011. However, he later said he had "mis-spoken", and the Treasury said no decision had been made, it was reported on 30 June.

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