The Week in Higher Education

June 24, 2010

The events of 2014 will determine the course of the 21st century, according to a University of Cambridge academic. Nicholas Boyle argues that the previous five centuries have hinged on events, such as the Congress of Vienna (1815), that took place in the middle of their second decade. Professor Boyle believes that 2014 will decide whether society "enjoys peace and prosperity over the coming decades or suffers war and poverty", it was reported on 17 June. There is no need to wait that long - the Comprehensive Spending Review is this autumn.

Geoffrey Hill has been elected professor of poetry at the University of Oxford, following last year's scandal-hit contest that was greatly relished by the broadsheets. Professor Hill, previously an academic at the universities of Leeds and Cambridge, was voted in by Oxford graduates on 18 June. Ruth Padel won last year's election, only to resign when it emerged that she had alerted journalists to allegations of sexual harassment made against a rival in the contest, Derek Walcott. The post comes with a meagre stipend of £7,000 a year. Furious backstabbing in a bid to win a poorly paid position is, of course, almost unheard of in the academy.

A university in Bangladesh has been closed indefinitely after rioting by students who demanded time off to watch the football World Cup. Students reportedly rampaged through the Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology, demanding that term be cut short to allow them to enjoy the matches. Rezaul Karim, the local police chief, said that after some "very tense clashes", the university held an emergency meeting on 20 June and decided to close immediately. Gratitude, rather than anger, was surely the reaction of any England supporter prevented from watching the dismal scoreless draw with Algeria.

An "average-looking man" who asked 87 women on a date as part of a study found that far more agreed after listening to a romantic song. The female volunteers, aged 18-20, spent five minutes in a waiting room with one of two songs playing. They were then interviewed by a 20-year-old researcher, who finished by asking them on a date. About a quarter of those who had listened to the first, unromantic tune agreed, compared with more than half who had heard a slushy number, it was reported on 21 June. The study by the University of Southern Brittany and the University of Southern Paris concludes that romantic music is the key to getting a woman's telephone number. Being French probably helps, too.

The paper that cost the editor of Medical Hypotheses his job will not have similarly severe consequences for its main author. The ScienceInsider website reported on 21 June that the University of California, Berkeley has ended its misconduct investigation of Peter Duesberg, concluding that he was within his rights when he wrote that there is no evidence of a deadly Aids epidemic in South Africa. Elsevier, the publisher of Medical Hypotheses, retracted the article and terminated the contract of its editor, Bruce Charlton, who had declined to introduce a peer-review system for the journal.

Academics across the UK protested against funding cuts for higher education ahead of this week's emergency Budget. Unions held a national day of action at about 90 universities and colleges on 21 June. On the same date, University and College Union members at the University of the Arts London held their second day of strike action over proposed job losses.

Higher education's pension funds are being bracketed with public-sector schemes in the debate on costs - by the media, at least. The University and College Union points out that the Universities Superannuation Scheme is a private fund, but the message has not reached The Guardian. On 22 June, it noted government pressure on "pay-as-you-go" final-salary public-sector schemes, adding: "Only the local government and university schemes mimic the private sector. They are invested in stocks and bonds. Both schemes operate with large deficits and are negotiating with unions on ways to cut costs."

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