The week in higher education

November 5, 2009

Papers including The Daily Telegraph and The Sun rushed to splash pictures of scantily clad University of Cambridge students across their pages last week. The snaps of a near-naked "size-12 stunner", a bikini-clad student in a punt and a third in skimpy gym gear accompanied stories on 29 October about a "Cambridge tiff over student-tabloid totty". The pictures originally appeared in The Tab, a student news website at Cambridge, and were denounced by Natalie Szarek, Cambridge Student Union's women's officer, as reinforcing "harmful" attitudes.

Academia provided picture editors with another opportunity to "sex up" their pages thanks to a study that suggests men find "normal"-sized women most attractive. Reported on 29 October, the research was led by Vinet Coetzee, a doctoral researcher in the University of St Andrews' School of Psychology, and focused on facial attraction. The Daily Mail illustrated its report with a picture of model Kate Moss, who, it said breathlessly, had "cleavage on show". Ms Coetzee, by contrast, focused on the ability of participants in the study to spot signs of ill-health linked to weight problems in the faces of subjects.

It witnessed the death of Richard III and inspired one of William Shakespeare's best-known quotations, but now, more than 500 years after the event, it has emerged that the location of the Battle of Bosworth was two miles away from where it was thought to have been fought. The discovery, reported on 29 October, was made by archaeologists from the Battlefields Trust, which is led by Richard Holmes, professor of military and security studies at Cranfield University. Professor Holmes said: "No historical discovery has elated me more than this one, and I have seldom felt more conscious of being able to touch the past."

A pot of money provided to old universities to help them maintain their historic buildings is under threat as public spending tightens. According to reports on 30 October, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and King's College London will be hardest hit by the plans to cut £40 million from the pot. The proposals being considered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England follow government demands that Hefce saves £180 million in 2010-11.

Alcoholism, drug abuse and lowly temp jobs: some of the fates that have befallen winners of University Challenge, as revealed by a BBC documentary. Far from marching on to ever greater success, some of those tracked down years after they won the quiz show were stuck in dead-end jobs - or worse. Tony Gillham, a winner with Birkbeck, University of London in 2003, spent four years battling alcoholism, it was reported on 31 October. "Drinking is a great leveller. Everybody is equally stupid when they are drunk," he said.

His timing could hardly have been better. David Eastwood faced complaints this week over his £900-a-year membership of an exclusive club while in charge of Hefce, but the scrutiny coincided with a demonstration of selflessness in his new role. On 31 October, it was reported that Professor Eastwood, who left Hefce in April, "billed the taxpayer" for two years' membership of the Athenaeum Club in Pall Mall, London. The sum was highlighted following an examination of quangos' expenditure. However, the revelation came as it was announced that Professor Eastwood, now vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, is donating £40,000 of his own cash to Birmingham's fundraising campaign.

After this year's surge in university applications, the rush is on to secure a place for 2010. Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, published on 2 November, show that applications have already risen by 11.6 per cent, up from 64,438 to 71,883 year on year. David Willetts, the Conservative Shadow Universities Secretary, said the statistics showed that "ministers are sleepwalking into another entrance crisis". "This year, far more potential students than usual have been left without a place, and we can now see the problems are set to be even worse next year," he said.

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