The week in higher education

June 3, 2010

Some saw Vince Cable's attack on vice-chancellors pay as a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from the latest round of higher education budget cuts. The business secretary said he was "taken aback" when he discovered that their pay rose by more than 10 per cent in 2008-09, and accused the sector of lacking "realism and self-sacrifice". But the focus was put back on the government by one university head, who responded on May by taking an immediate 10 per cent pay cut. Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, said he wanted to take a lead in responding to the "acute financial pressures" on Britain's universities.

Creationist views should be reflected in exhibits at the Ulster Museum, Northern Ireland's culture minister has said. In a letter to the museum's board of trustees, Nelson McCausland, a born-again Christian, says that about a third of Northern Ireland's population believe either in intelligent design or the creationist view that the Universe was created about 6,000 years ago. He claims he has "had more letters from the public on this issue than any other". Mr McCausland, who is a Democratic Unionist, believes that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel, it was reported on May.

It may not fall within the government's favoured group of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, but a degree in Classics can serve a graduate well. Boris Johnson, who studied Classics at the University of Oxford, made the point during a visit to a girls' school in the capital. The mayor of London said his affection for Latin came from his belief in its benefits beyond the realm of academia. "I won't say it's the route to colossal riches, but I read almost nothing but Latin and Greek for 25 years, and I'm now in charge of every bus in London," he was reported as saying on May.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, is ready to rebel against the coalition government over university tuition fees, it was reported on 28 May. Under the coalition agreement struck between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, Lib Dem MPs will be "allowed to abstain" from voting on fees if the outcome of the ongoing review of fees and funding is one that they cannot accept. The wording of the agreement has led to a furious response from students, many of whom voted Lib Dem because of the party's pre-election pledge to phase out fees over a period of six years. Sir Menzies, chancellor of the University of St Andrews, said: "I have never voted against my party in the past, but this is an issue of some importance."

Sir Peter Scott is to step down as vice-chancellor of Kingston University at the end of the year to move to the Institute of Education as professor of higher education studies. Sir Peter announced on 28 May that he would step down from the post on 31 December. He was due to leave in summer 2011. He said: "I have enjoyed every moment of my time here, and I know I will go on enjoying it for the next seven months."

An interim chief executive has been appointed to head the Student Loans Company, it was announced on 28 May. Ed Lester, a former chief executive of NHS Direct, joins Sir Deian Hopkin, the SLC's interim chairman. Their appointments come after the departure of the previous chairman and chief executive in the wake of processing blunders that left thousands of students without loans at the start of the 2009-10 academic year.

If it was media "impact" he was after, Michael Lynn, professor of consumer behaviour at Cornell University in New York, was on to a winner. His study of tipping behaviour, which found that blonde waitresses with large breasts get the biggest tips, got a predictably high pick-up in the press. He concluded that it made good business sense for restaurants to hire waitresses who earned bigger tips, adding: "Ugly people are not a protected class, legally." Sherry Colb, professor of law at Cornell and an expert on sexual equality, responded on 1 June that she was "disappointed but not surprised" by the study's results.

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