The week in higher education

August 6, 2009

Barack Obama displayed his everyman touch when he moved to defuse an escalating race row by inviting a black professor and a white police officer for a beer at the White House. Henry Louis Gates Jr, a Harvard University professor, was arrested during a row with the officer, who questioned him after he was spotted trying to force open a jammed door at his own home. In an attempt to defuse the row, President Obama invited both men to a "beer summit" with him and Vice-President Joe Biden on 30 July.

A professor has been accused of marking examination papers without reading them properly, then forging the signatures of colleagues who were supposed to have checked the grades. Annmarie Surprenant, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Manchester, is being investigated by her employer after concerns were raised by a colleague. The allegations, reported on 31 July, focus on 80 undergraduate science papers, which it is claimed showed little sign of rigorous marking. Concerns were raised after the papers were apparently marked and second-marked in less than 48 hours. Professor Surprenant was unavailable for comment.

Hundreds of university leavers will get public money from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to fund gap years to keep them off the dole, it was reported on 1 August. About 500 members of the so-called "lost generation" of graduates - the first to emerge with the debt of tuition fees while facing a dearth of jobs during the recession - will be eligible for a share of £500,000 put up by the Government to help them take part in overseas expeditions.

Crack cocaine addicts are being recruited to take part in a research project by the University of Cambridge. Regular users of the Class A drug will be paid compensation and travel costs in return for taking part in brain scans and blood sampling, it was reported on 1 August. Researchers defended the payments, saying it was proving difficult to attract suitable volunteers.

A Cambridge college is in talks to buy the O2, formerly known as the Millennium Dome. It was reported on 2 August that Trinity College, the wealthiest of the Cambridge colleges, is considering a £20 million bid for the entertainment complex.

There was renewed speculation on 3 August that Lord Mandelson - whose remit includes higher education - could one day replace Gordon Brown as Labour's leader. The Daily Mail said that the First Secretary's prospects of standing for the leadership had been boosted by lavish praise from Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader. There are rumours that Lord Mandelson is being lined up for a safe seat at the next general election, the paper reported.

Lecturers fear that a recent spate of student protests over teaching quality could proliferate in the new academic year. It was reported on 3 August that student activists are warning of new campaigns in the autumn, focusing on issues such as the quality of feedback and lecturers' time-keeping.

The University of Wolverhampton is to cut about 250 jobs - about 11 per cent of its total staff - after the Higher Education Funding Council for England asked it to repay £3.5 million. As Times Higher Education reported online on 3 August, the clawback follows a Hefce audit that uncovered inaccuracies in the university's student-data returns. In a statement, the university says it needs to make savings of £8 million, which it put down to rising pay costs, a change in funding methodologies, a cap on expansion and efficiency savings required by the Government.

Unemployed graduates will be keeping an eye on a lawsuit in the US in which a former student is suing her alma mater in an attempt to retrieve her tuition fees. Trina Thompson, , is suing Monroe College in New York to reclaim $70,000 (£41,000), claiming that its career service did not do enough to help her find a job, it was reported on 4 August.

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