The week in higher education

March 18, 2010

Lord Mandelson now has another title to add to his collection, which has drawn comparisons with Gilbert and Sullivan's Grand Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else. The First Secretary, who counts universities among his many areas of responsibility, has been made an honorary freeman of Hartlepool, it was reported on 12 March. He was the town's MP for 12 years.

Universities should compensate for a future dearth of government funding in the UK by bidding for the billions of dollars Barack Obama has pledged for research, David Lammy has said. The higher education minister said on 12 March that "the huge financial stimulus for US research that President Obama has announced" could be either a "threat or an opportunity ... British universities can lament the fact that we can't afford a cash injection on that scale. Or they can, as I've repeatedly urged, try to get a piece of the action."

The "hyper-masculinity" of Jack Bauer, fictional hero of the television series 24, has helped to desensitise the Western world to terrorism, an academic has said. Klaus Dodds, professor of geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London, said on 12 March that "Jack Bauer was the pin-up for the neocons of the post-9/11 era ... What 24 did was to help viewers understand the need for assertive action in the face of the threat of a 'ticking bomb'. So torture, as we have seen, no longer seems outrageous." He was following up remarks on the topic by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5.

The government's "social mobility tsar", Alan Milburn, has said he would like to see the cap on tuition fees lifted, breaking the pact of silence on the topic adhered to by the Labour and Conservative parties in the run-up to the general election. Mr Milburn, who is a former Labour Cabinet member, made the comments in a lecture in London on 12 March.

The bulging pay packets of vice-chancellors came under the spotlight on 13 March, when it was reported that in 2008-09 they received average pay rises of 8.5 per cent. The salaries of many university chiefs now top £300,000 a year, and about 80 earn more than the prime minister. For a comprehensive analysis of pay in the sector, including the rising sums paid to vice-chancellors, see Times Higher Education on 1 April.

Never one to avoid the limelight, David Nutt - who was sacked as the government's drugs tsar last year - has developed an alternative to booze that he says offers a "safe way to have fun". The "Nutt slammer" is a liquid based on benzodiazepines, drugs that include Valium and temazepam, it was reported on 14 March. Professor Nutt is developing the drink, which he says will give a similar kick to alcohol but without the harmful effects, at Imperial College London. He said it could be available by the end of 2012, and an antidote will allow people to sober up instantly. "Modern science can now provide a safer way for us to have fun," he said.

The science budget will be protected if Labour remains in power, Lord Mandelson has said. He was quoted on 15 March saying that the government had "no plans to cut science spending. We have made a colossal investment in science, and we're not looking to reverse that." His comments come after Adam Afriyie, the Conservative shadow science minister, said he would "hold a party" if a Tory government "managed to maintain science expenditure at the level that Labour leaves it".

One in seven female students has been the victim of serious sexual assault or serious physical violence while at university, according to the National Union of Students. The NUS conducted a literature review and an online survey of 2,058 female students on their experiences including harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault. Some 14 per cent of respondents said they had been the victim of serious sexual assault while at university or college. In a majority of cases the perpetrator was also a student, according to the study, which is published today.

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