The week in higher education

July 15, 2010

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth got the press hooked on their research about shrimp buzzing on anti-depressants. The researchers looked at the effect of the antidepressant fluoxetine, also known as Prozac, on the behaviour of shrimp living close to water treatment plants. Their findings, reported on 7 July, included the discovery that the crustaceans, which are usually happiest when hiding under rocks or seaweed, were drawn into the open and towards the light by the effects of the Prozac. As always with drugs, there are side-effects: being eaten by fish or birds is a downer for even the happiest of shrimp.

The worlds of Premier League football and higher education collided for a fleeting moment on 8 July. The Daily Mail reported on an LA holiday enjoyed by Chelsea and England fullback Ashley Cole with companions Melissa Naik and Eleanor Hartley, students at the University of Manchester and London College of Fashion respectively. "Since arriving in the US, the pair have been photographed enjoying evenings out with Cole, dressed in short skirts and low-cut tops," the Mail noted breathlessly, providing lots of photographic evidence. Cole is in LA to recover following England's humiliating exit from the World Cup. Ms Naik and Ms Hartley might be advised to stick to higher education, a world in which there is no room for overpaid mediocrities.

An antiques dealer has been cleared of stealing a £3 million Shakespeare First Folio from Durham University. However, Raymond Scott was found guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK, it was reported on 9 July. The 1623 edition of Shakespeare's plays went missing from the university's library in 1998. Interpol's search for the book went cold for a decade until Scott walked into the Folger Shakespeare Library - a leading centre for Shakespeare studies - in Washington DC, and asked staff whether the book was genuine.

The High Court has opened the door to bogus students in overturning a visa crackdown, it was claimed on 10 July. The Labour government introduced rules blocking students from entering the UK to start language courses unless they already had the equivalent of a high-level GCSE in English. But Mr Justice Foskett said the rules had been wrongly established through changes to existing guidelines, rather than through approval by Parliament. Many students come to the UK for language courses and stay on for university, providing a vital source of income. But not everyone shared the happiness of language schools and universities at the court's decision. The Daily Mail reported the story as "Judge opens door to 'bogus' students", while Sir Andrew Green, of the lobby group Migrationwatch, said student visas were "a huge gap in our immigration system".

The government has announced that it will publish a libel reform bill next year, it was reported on 12 July. Lord McNally, the justice minister, made the announcement during the second reading of Lord Lester's private member's defamation bill last week. He said the government was committed to instituting a statutory public interest defence in libel cases. The science writer Simon Singh, who was sued for libel in 2008 after questioning the effectiveness of chiropractic treatments, welcomed the announcement.

On 15 July, the Higher Education Funding Council for England unveiled the chairs of the four main panels for the research excellence framework. They are: Stephen Townley Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton (who will chair the medicine, health and life sciences panel); Dame Ann Dowling, head of engineering at the University of Cambridge (physical sciences, engineering and mathematics); Dame Janet Finch, outgoing vice-chancellor of Keele University (social sciences); and Bruce Brown, professor of design at the University of Brighton (arts and humanities). The implementation of the REF has been postponed for a year by the government to allow concerns over the inclusion of an "impact" element to be fully considered.

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