The week in higher education

October 15, 2009

It may be teen vampire fiction, but the Twilight books are apparently as valid a talking point in University of Oxford admission interviews as William Shakespeare's plays. Revealing some of the topics that could come under discussion on 9 October, Oxford said that the popular series, by Stephenie Meyer, got English literature applicants talking. Lucinda Rumsey, lecturer in medieval English literature, said discussing candidates' independent reading allowed her to "see how they think", not "what they have been taught". Other questions included: "What is language?", asked of a modern languages applicant. Helen Swift, lecturer in medieval French, said: "Although I would never launch this question at a candidate on its own, it might grow out of a discussion."

Undergraduates are being encouraged to take sexual-health tests with the promise of free alcohol under a scheme organised by the National Union of Students. The campaign, which aims to tackle rising rates of sexually transmitted infection, has been launched in Birmingham, Manchester and London, it was reported on 10 October. Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald, accused the organisers of being "naive". "Using alcohol to bribe youths into testing is unsuitable; we're trying to curb binge drinking, not promote it," she said.

It has been described as the nation's biggest white elephant, but a Cambridge college has seen the O2 Arena's potential as a cash cow, snapping it up for £24 million. The arena, formerly known as the Millennium Dome, has been bought by Trinity College, the wealthiest Cambridge college and one of the UK's biggest landowners. It expects to see a return on its investment of more than £1.6 million this year, it was reported on 10 October.

A single-bedroom London flat with no bath and a cupboard-sized kitchen is being offered to students for £548 a week. The flat, which costs £28,000 a year, is owned by Unite Group, the UK's largest student-housing firm, a company endorsed by University College London. The sky-high price was reported on 11 October, and led to criticism from student leaders. Ben Whittaker, vice-president for welfare at the National Union of Students, said: "It is often more profitable for private landlords to supply high-end housing for the very few. Universities, responsible for making affordable accommodation available to all students, should take this more seriously."

A 400-year-old mystery over whether Shakespeare was the author of a play about Edward III may have been solved - thanks to plagiarism-detection software. Sir Brian Vickers, distinguished senior fellow at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, used a computer program designed to catch cheats to compare phrases in the unattributed play, The Reign of King Edward III, with Shakespeare's early works. He said the results, based on speech patterns, prove that the Bard wrote the play in collaboration with Thomas Kyd, one of the most popular playwrights of his day. But not everyone is convinced. Stanley Wells, chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said on 12 October: "I'm sceptical that these computer-assisted investigations can prove authorship."

A nuclear physicist who worked at Cern, the home of Europe's huge atom-smashing experiment, has been charged with alleged links to al-Qaeda. The 32-year-old man, who is of Algerian descent, appeared in court in France on 12 October to face preliminary charges of "criminal association with a terrorist enterprise". Preliminary charges allow a judge to investigate before deciding whether to go to trial. As many as 7,000 scientists are involved in particle experiments at Cern, where the Large Hadron Collider is due to restart soon after being shut down last year.

The Nobel Prize in Economics has been awarded to a woman for the first time. Elinor Ostrom, professor at the University of Indiana, shared the prize with the University of California, Berkeley's Oliver Williamson on 12 October. Professor Ostrom's research, conducted in India, Nepal and Kenya, investigates the nature of co-operation.

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