The week in higher education

August 20, 2009

The belt-tightening required during the recession appears to extend to royalty. Princess Eugenie has signed up for £96-a-week student digs for her first term at Newcastle University next month. The 19-year-old royal, who is sixth in line to the throne, will share a lounge and kitchen - but not her three bodyguards - with fellow first-year students, it emerged on 13 August.

Women historians are "too timid" when it comes to writing about significant male figures, a prominent female author has claimed. Helen Rappaport, who has just written a biography of V.I. Lenin, Conspirator, said that female historians should be "bolder" when choosing their subjects. She said on 14 August that too many restrict themselves to studies of "wives and mistresses".

A university is being taken to court after withholding a degree because of rent arrears. The case, brought by student Maria Lavelle against the University of Winchester, has been described as an "extremely important test case" by the National Union of Students. Winchester said Ms Lavelle had signed a contract for a year's accommodation costing £3,541, and must pay the sum before she can receive her performing arts degree. The student claims she moved out after three weeks because the room was too noisy, it was reported on 15 August.

The writer Evelyn Waugh had three gay lovers while studying at the University of Oxford, according to a new biography. Paula Byrne claims in Mad World that Waugh went through an "acute homosexual phase" while at Hertford College, it was reported on 15 August, but that this was "perceived as acceptable as long as it was a phase you grew out of when you left Oxford".

Students are lying about their past to get into university, it was claimed on 16 August. The Sunday Telegraph said that, at one university, up to 15 per cent of candidates who claimed that they had been in care later admitted they had "made a mistake". It suggested the trend was a result of pressure on universities to take the social background of applicants into account when making offers.

On 16 August, The Sunday Times ran two pieces on Lord Mandelson's sense of humour, each espousing a different view. The first, by columnist Cosmo Landesman, asked: "Does anyone know a witty thing Mandelson has ever said in public? He is living proof that gays are just as dull and unstylish as the rest of us." The second was a diary piece recounting a witticism made by the First Secretary at a party. Discussing Private Eye, Lord Mandelson asked guests whether he ever appeared in a feature that depicts Gordon Brown as Josef Stalin. "You're a kind of Trotsky figure," a guest said. "Oh no, I'm far more of a Beria," Lord Mandelson replied. Lavrenti Beria, a Soviet security chief, became deputy prime minister before being executed when the leadership changed.

A-level results week yielded the usual litany of "dumbing- down" and "grade-inflation" stories, which are now as predictable as the increase in pass rates. The Daily Mail reported the claim made by Lord Sutherland, who led the inquiry into the SATs marking crisis, that grades are being "vastly inflated" by the number of resits. The Daily Telegraph covered a survey of teachers by think-tank Civitas, which found that the better marks are not a result of improved lesson standards or candidates, but because exams are easier to pass. On 18 August, a study by the University of Cambridge's exams board suggested that students from private schools were twice as likely as those from state schools to study "tough" A levels such as maths and chemistry.

The enthusiasm of students who secure their places at university this week may be dampened by a report on debt levels released on 18 August. The guide suggests that teenagers who start a degree this year will graduate with average debts of £23,500. In Scotland, where students do not pay tuition fees, debts are predicted to be about half of those elsewhere in Britain.

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