The week in higher education

July 30, 2009

Lord Mandelson's grip on the Government was made clear when it emerged that he sits on 35 of the 43 Cabinet committees, sub-committees and councils that shape public policy. It was reported on 22 July that the First Minister, who is responsible for higher education, sits on more committees than any other Cabinet member.

Barack Obama waded into the debate about the arrest of a black academic at Harvard University, who was collared by police after trying to force open a jammed door at his own home. Henry Louis Gates Jr, one of America's most prominent black scholars, faced disorderly conduct charges after police responded to a call from neighbours who saw him and a black taxi driver trying to get into his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although Professor Gates proved to the officers that he owned the house, he was arrested during the row that followed. The charges were later dropped. Asked about the incident on 23 July, Mr Obama said the police had "acted stupidly".

Some institutions may cancel freshers' week amid fears that it could lead to an explosion of swine flu cases, it has been claimed. It was reported on 23 July that universities are also considering shutting down parts of their campuses, quarantining infected students in halls of residence, and even delivering lectures via podcasts to contain the illness.

It sounds like a tall story designed to attract press coverage: researchers have found that taller men earn more money than their shorter counterparts. The study by academics at the Australian National University was based on a poll of 7,000 men. It found that a man who is 6ft tall can expect to earn 1.5 per cent more than a man who is 5ft 10in, it was reported on 23 July.

A medical student murdered two elderly women in Siberia so she could study their corpses for her doctorate, according to a report on 23 July. The 24-year-old Russian killed the women with an axe before returning to the scene of the crime two weeks later to document the decomposition of their bodies.

The Queen has received a letter from a group of top economists that seeks to explain why no one foresaw the recession. The letter, which blames "a failure of the collective imagination" for the oversight, was sent to the Queen after she asked the question during a visit to the London School of Economics, it was reported on 26 July.

Graduates are resorting to door-to-door selling and may form part of a future army of "Avon ladies", it was claimed this week. On 26 July, it was reported that some direct-selling companies have witnessed a 200 per cent increase in applications from students and graduates.

Press coverage of the Silvio Berlusconi tapes has been preoccupied with the more lurid details, but for archaeologists they contained far more sensational news. In a recording posted on the website of the news magazine L'espresso, Italy's Prime Minister is supposedly showing an "escort" around his estate in Sardinia. He points to a lake and says: "Underneath here, we found 30 Phoenician tombs from 300BC." Experts said the discovery, in an area where no Phoenician settlements were previously thought to have existed, would be "of the utmost importance".

An article by Hasmita Ramji, a sociology lecturer at City University London, has been retracted from a leading journal due to "substantial overlap" with a 1995 paper by different authors. The action was taken by the British Journal of Sociology after similarities were identified with a previous article by Miri Song, reader in sociology at the University of Kent, and David Parker, lecturer in sociology at the University of Nottingham, it was reported on 28 July.

As Times Higher Education went to press, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service announced its new chief executive. Mary Curnock Cook, director of qualifications and skills at the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, will join Ucas on 1 January 2010.

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