The week in higher education

January 14, 2010

An academic's claim of unfair dismissal against Kingston University has been struck out. Howard Fredrics, who was a senior lecturer of music, also claimed wrongful dismissal, public-interest disclosure and disability discrimination against his former employer. All the claims were rejected by the London South Employment Tribunal on 6 January. As Times Higher Education reported last week, Dr Fredrics is wanted by police after being found guilty in his absence of harassing Sir Peter Scott, Kingston's vice-chancellor. In a posting on THE's website, Dr Fredrics said that he and his wife had been forced to flee the country after "death threats from an extremist terror group".

In a move seen by some as a financial necessity and others as a "triumph of the beige", Baroness Greenfield has been ousted as head of the Royal Institution. The colourful neuroscientist, who has shaken up the 200-year-old institution since taking over in 1998, plans to sue for sexual discrimination after being made redundant on 8 January. Lady Greenfield oversaw a £22 million refurbishment of the RI, which was criticised by some as being over the top and financially imprudent. There has also been speculation about an internal rift, with supporters describing her as the victim of an "old boys' club" culture. Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said it was "absurd to believe that the RI can survive without a strong director".

As the big freeze continued, Durham University headed off plans staff may have had to give work a miss, warning that absences due to the weather would have to be made up or taken as holiday. The tough line was laid down in a memo from Jack Boyd, head of human resources. The University and College Union responded on 8 January, warning that the directive could result in staff putting themselves at risk in their efforts to get to work.

Some foreign students will have to provide a bond of up to £2,000 a year under Tory plans to tighten border controls. The proposals, published on 9 January, would affect international students at private colleges that are not registered at Companies House. Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said current rules had led to "tens of thousands of bogus students in the UK and hundreds of unregulated colleges providing student visas, but little education".

A 14-year-old maths whizz looks set to break a 237-year-old record by becoming the youngest University of Cambridge undergraduate since William Pitt the Younger. Arran Fernandez, from Surrey, has been offered a place at Fitzwilliam College. Meanwhile, thousands of others are facing a battle to win places next year as institutions raise entry requirements in the wake of spending cuts. It was reported on 9 January that 19 out of 20 "leading" universities have increased the grades needed to get on to popular courses.

The Liberal Democrats have been urged to "come clean" with students after leader Nick Clegg confirmed that the party's much-heralded plan to scrap tuition fees would take six years to implement. Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, accused the Lib Dems of being "as clear as mud" on the policy. "If scrapping fees in the next Parliament is no longer an affordable promise, Nick Clegg needs to be crystal-clear about what he will be promising students. Woolly long-term pledges won't wash," he said on 11 January.

The Russell Group decided to fling the kitchen sink in the Government's direction on 12 January when it went all out to fend off cuts facing the sector. Ramping up the rhetoric, it warned that after 800 years spent building a world-renowned higher education sector, "it looks like it will take just six months to bring it to its knees". As THE has reported, universities face cuts of £915 million over three years. The group said this would be "devastating" for staff, students and economic recovery and competitiveness. There was a danger that a "gold-standard" system could be reduced to one that is "silver, bronze or worse", it added. David Lammy, the Higher Education Minister, described the analysis as being "as surprising as it is misleading".

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