The week in higher education

December 10, 2009

Scientists investigating the effects of pornography were stumped when they failed to find any 20-year-old men who had not already been exposed to X-rated material. The researchers, at the University of Montreal, hit a dead end when they put out a call for "porn virgins", it was reported on 2 December. Simon Louis Lajeunesse, who led the study, said: "We started our research seeking men in their twenties who had never consumed pornography. We couldn't find any." Despite the setback, the study went ahead, finding that single young men view pornography for an average of 40 minutes three times a week. Those in relationships watched it for an average of 20 minutes 1.7 times a week.

The tabloids may have chosen to dwell on rumours of marital strife, but Tiger Woods' car crash also outed the golf superstar as a fan of physics. Pictures taken in the aftermath of the crash show a paperback edition of Get a Grip on Physics, by the veteran science writer John Gribbin, on the floor of his damaged car. The book deals with the basics of physics, from its earliest developments to cosmology. Dr Gribbin said on 3 December: "I can only guess that Tiger has been interested in stories about the Large Hadron Collider and wanted to learn more."

Graduates from leading science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses will be offered a "£40,000 Tory bribe to be a teacher" it was reported on 4 December. The Conservative Party has announced plans to make student loan payments on behalf of graduates with a first or a 2:1 degree in the subjects if they train as teachers. The proposals are aimed at getting better-educated people into teaching. The party has not said which universities graduates would need to have attended to qualify.

Overweight students are being prevented from graduating from an American university as part of a drive to address the US obesity epidemic. Under the scheme introduced at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, all students have their body mass index tested, and those with a score of more than 30 - a widely used definition of obesity - are required to take a term-long fitness class. Those who fail to complete the course are not permitted to graduate, regardless of their academic performance, it was reported on 5 December.

Vice-chancellors have been taken to task over their lavish lodgings, which are often provided free of charge despite their six-figure salaries. The Sunday Times reported on grace-and-favour homes enjoyed by university heads on 6 December, highlighting the £6 million Kensington flat enjoyed by Sir Roy Anderson as rector of Imperial College London. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said vice-chancellors "do not inhabit anything like the same world as their staff".

Picking up litter, dredging canals and maintaining public gardens could become part of undergraduate degrees under plans endorsed by a minister. The proposals, put forward by the think-tank Demos, would require students to do 100 hours of community service as part of their degree. Demos also suggested that interest rates on student loans should rise to generate the £450 million a year needed to run the scheme. It was reported on 7 December that David Lammy, Higher Education Minister, has backed the proposals, but Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said Mr Lammy's support for the "barmy" plans was "astonishing".

The leadership of the Student Loans Company is to be "strengthened and reorganised" following a review of the fiasco that saw thousands of students start university this year without funding in place. The review was led by Sir Deian Hopkin and has a series of recommendations, including that the SLC leadership should commit to delivering a "cultural shift" throughout the organisation, and that its board should "challenge the company's leadership more effectively over both performance and risk". On 8 December, David Lammy, Higher Education Minister, said: "I am now clear that decisive action is required to change the service."

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