The week in higher education

January 7, 2010

The centuries pass, but for universities some things stay the same: the pursuit of knowledge has always had to fight for elbow room with the pursuit of money. Musing on the topic, Sir Curtis Price, the recently appointed warden of New College, Oxford, referred to its founder William of Wykeham's take on learning. "Only once does he mention scholarship: all the rest is about property, buildings, assets and income," Sir Curtis said on 30 December. "Some things never change and, with the founder looking over my shoulder, I've got my work cut out."

The Government is being put under increasing pressure by its own MPs to promise before the next general election that it will not increase university tuition fees. It was reported on 31 December that 22 Labour MPs, including former ministers Michael Meacher and Frank Dobson, have joined a National Union of Students campaign to resist any increase in the fees cap. Mr Meacher said the current fee was "already more than many can afford". In all, about 50 MPs and 150 prospective parliamentary candidates have pledged to vote against higher fees when the issue is next debated. Lord Browne of Madingley is heading a review of fees and funding, but it is not due to report until after the election.

A New Year's Eve party turned into an enforced two-day drinking session after a group of students from the University of Leeds were snowed in at the highest pub in the UK. The students, members of Leeds' cross-country club, were among 30 people stranded at the Tan Hill Inn in the Yorkshire Dales by 7ft snow drifts. They finally emerged from the pub, which stands at an altitude of 1,732ft, two days later, it was reported on 3 January. Nathan Martin, a member of the group, said: "It's been fun - like the ultimate lock-in."

Cries of "Yes, yes, yes!" look likely to become wails of "No, no, no!" as women learn of new research suggesting that the G-spot exists only in their imagination. The study, by academics at King's College London, found no evidence for the elusive erogenous zone, purported to consist of a cluster of internal nerve endings. The research, to be published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, is based on a survey of 1,800 British women, all of whom are identical or non-identical twins. Identical twins share all their genes, while non-identical pairs share half of theirs, so if one identical twin reported a G-spot, her sister should be more likely to do the same. However, no such pattern emerged, suggesting that its existence is a matter of opinion, it was reported on 4 January.

Dolphins are so intelligent that they should be given "human status", scientists have claimed. MRI scans carried out at Emory University in Atlanta reveal a previously unrecognised degree of "psychological continuity" between dolphins and humans, it was reported on 4 January. Lori Marino, who led the research, said the findings had "profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions", and proved the cetaceans were smarter than chimps.

A Times Higher Education reviewer has won the biography category of the Costa Book of the Year Award for his study of quantum-mechanics pioneer Paul Dirac. Graham Farmelo, senior research fellow at the Science Museum, is now in contention for the overall prize. His book, The Strangest Man, was included on a five-strong shortlist announced on 4 January.

The pressure on universities to reduce their financial reliance on the state has been illustrated by the University of Cambridge's decision to issue bonds for the first time in its 800-year history. Cambridge is planning to raise up to £400 million from the bond issue, following a trend set by Ivy League institutions in the US to turn to the money markets for funding. Andrew Reid, the university's finance director, said on 5 January that bonds were the best way to secure the huge sums required for two major building projects. Last month, the Government announced further cuts to higher education funding, which looks set to decline by up to 12.5 per cent over three years.

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