The Week in Higher Education

November 12, 2009

Students' laziness could be laid bare by a new system for recording their achievements at university, it has been claimed. Vice-chancellors met last week to discuss progress in the trial of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), which is set to be rolled out in 2011-12. This will record prizes won by students, additional qualifications gained and other roles held, such as course representative or captain of a sports team. It was suggested on 5 November that students with few achievements to record might not welcome the system.

In the week that the long-awaited review of tuition fees was announced, a US survey offered a glimpse of what the future may hold if the fees cap is abolished. The Chronicle of Higher Education said on 6 November that 58 US institutions now charge fees of more than $50,000 (£29,850) a year. Last year, just five colleges exceeded this mark. The most expensive private US institution was Sarah Lawrence College, which charges $55,788 a year.

With universities unlikely to see more funding from the Government in the near future, many are pinning their hopes on boosting gift income from alumni. But the responses of Guardian readers to a question about giving to universities on 7 November suggest that they could be barking up the wrong tree. "Don't forget that there are broader consequences if universities learn to rely on this kind of thing," one says. "You already 'donate' through your taxes and students through fees." Another adds: "I chuck the letters (soliciting money) straight in the recycling. I figure they've had a fair few grand out of me."

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A company that organises student pub crawls has been blacklisted by the National Union of Students after an undergraduate was told that he faces jail for urinating on a war memorial during a night out. Philip Laing, a 19-year-old student at Sheffield Hallam University, was found guilty of outraging public decency after a seven-hour drinking binge at an event organised by Carnage UK. Richard Budden, vice-president of the NUS, said on 8 November that there was a "real danger to students who get caught up with these nights out".

The University of Cambridge is considering selling the name of its library to the highest bidder. The move, reported on 9 November, prompted Gill Evans, professor of medieval history, to ask: "What message would be sent out if it was called 'Cambridge Tesco University Library'?" The university described its proposal as "the ultimate commemorative naming opportunity". Professor Evans said it was "the kind of thing that really gets people's goat".

The membership of the tuition fees review panel sparked much comment on 9 November. It will be led by Lord Browne, former head of BP, prompting the BBC to ask: "Can someone with a penchant for fine wine, whose Desert Island Discs luxury was a lifetime's supply of 'great cigars', have a natural empathy with the average student?" He is joined on the panel by Peter Sands, chief executive of Standard Chartered bank. A reader of Times Higher Education online commented: "It's so reassuring to see there's a banker on the panel."

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The news that Times Higher Education will no longer work with QS to produce its annual World University Rankings provoked a lively debate online about how to improve on the old methodology. "Although fostering a diverse institutional community is welcome, I have yet to see any evidence that the mere presence of international faculty and students on campus directly contribute to quality," one reader said. Another disagreed: "Knowing about people, cultures, habits, maybe even learning their language a little can have an educational value (especially in social sciences)." Over the coming months, Times Higher Education will work with Thomson Reuters, our editorial board and the wider university community to develop a more rigorous ranking methodology.

To join the discussion, help formulate the new rankings and keep abreast of news updates, visit:

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