The week in higher education

June 17, 2010

The Independent drew the ire of the University and College Union by attacking its threat to strike over job security and its stance on pensions on 10 June. In a piece sure to warm vice-chancellors' hearts, the newspaper urged the union to reduce its 4 per cent pay claim and recognise that universities "try very hard not to make compulsory redundancies". On pensions, it said academics "need to be realistic about what future generations can expect". In a letter to the newspaper, Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said union intervention was needed to prevent "unnecessary compulsory redundancies" and called the pension criticism "completely unwarranted".(See THE News, Willetts critical position on final-salary pensions)

Higher education may face funding woes, but the University of Cambridge is doing very nicely, announcing that it had become the first university outside the US to raise £1 billion in its own fundraising drive. The campaign began in 2005 and has reached its goal two years ahead of schedule, with more than 45,000 alumni donating, it was reported on 11 June. The university said the money would be used to subsidise widening-participation places. The sum almost matches the amount cut from the national higher education and science and research budgets since last year.

The president of Universities UK has drawn on biblical metaphor in discussing the sector's funding woes. Steve Smith, writing on 13 June, adopted the language of a gloomy Puritan preacher to warn that universities must negotiate a "valley of death". He said it would be five years "at best" before higher education returns to current funding levels after likely cuts in the emergency Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review. Universities, he said, must plunge down the slope of government funding cuts into the abyss, before ascending the far slope to the increased funding promised by Lord Browne's review - a tough prospect given the Liberal Democrats' opposition to fees. Professor Smith went on to talk about bridges and gradients. Do we need to lobby the government more effectively to minimise cuts, or buy crampons?

More than 200,000 would-be students will be left without places this autumn, according to a report on 14 June. The Daily Telegraph said it had contacted an unspecified number of universities, with some reporting a year-on-year increase in applications of up to 62 per cent. David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, predicted about "220,000 unhappy people". Of those, about 100,000 would be "well-qualified and motivated students who would have been accepted in previous years", he said.

Academics often berate politicians for failing to understand research or base their arguments on evidence - but footballers seem to be even worse. In the wake of Robert Green's goalkeeping error in England's opening World Cup game against the US, team members blamed the erratic flight of the new Loughborough University-tested adidas ball. Quoted in the Daily Mirror on 14 June, Andy Harland, senior lecturer at Loughborough's Sports Technology Research Group, said he had offered to give England players a pre-tournament lowdown on the Jabulani ball, but to no avail. "I can categorically state there is nothing wrong with it," Dr Harland said. "We did years and years of research to get it right." England manager Fabio Capello was among those to blame the Jabulani. But then, Mr Capello's scorn for evidence had already been demonstrated by his decision to select James Milner in midfield ahead of Joe Cole.

Raids by Indonesian police aimed at catching students with pornographic video clips on their mobile phones have been criticised by academics. The raids are part of a police response to the release of videos apparently showing three celebrities having sex, it was reported on 15 June. A police spokeswoman said: "The operation has been conducted to keep the students away from the porn video as it would have a bad impact on them." However, Ade Armando, a communications analyst at the University of Indonesia, dismissed the police response as "silly".

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