The Week in Higher Education

August 5, 2010

They are used to being lauded as masters of their trade, but novelists such as Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan have been subjected to a withering attack by a leading critic. Gabriel Josipovici, research professor in the Graduate School of Humanities at the University of Sussex, likened the authors to "prep-school boys showing off" and said it was a "mystery" why they had won so many awards. Scorn was also reserved for graduates of the University of East Anglia's feted creative writing course, which has produced many best-selling novelists: "They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted, but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it - a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow," Professor Josipovici said on 29 July.

Despite being in the midst of a high-profile book publicity campaign, Lord Mandelson seems to be finding time to keep up with his old brief. The former business secretary's interest was piqued by the news, reported in Times Higher Education last month, that the Royal Academy of Engineering would like funding for pure science to be redirected to engineering to boost the UK's economic recovery. Writing on 30 July, he said: "I too once wondered whether we should target more spending on applied rather than fundamental science ... (However), I was not comfortable downgrading 'curiosity' research for the simple reason that, by definition, we could not tell in which beneficial direction it may take us." Strange, then, that it has taken a Conservative universities minister to put the brakes on the drive to make economic impact central to the allocation of quality-related research funding.

Ryan Giggs, Paul O'Grady and Orlando Bloom: just some of the great names to whom British higher education has awarded its honorary degrees. However, an exhaustive Sunday Telegraph investigation revealed on 1 August that Sir David Attenborough has received more honorary degrees - 29 - than anyone else. He fought off competition from human rights lawyer Baroness Kennedy (26) and film producer Lord Puttnam (23) to claim top spot. The newspaper surveyed 101 universities about honorary degrees awarded since 1980 to compile the list, finding that 30,000 had been dished out. Sir David said receiving so many degrees was "an honour". Where does he show off these honours? "They're in a drawer," he said.

Gap years could be squeezed out as the student cap is screwed down tight. It was reported on 1 August that many universities are increasingly unwilling to keep places open for 12 months. Those institutions still willing to countenance gap years are urging students to have a definite plan that shows they are doing "something worthwhile". With many students facing the prospect of enforced gap years after graduation amid a jobs shortage, they may be entitled to ask why there is such a hurry.

Graduates may be more desperate than ever for jobs befitting of their status, but leading employers - and even universities - say they are struggling to fill graduate trainee posts. It was reported on 1 August that the poor quality of applications may be a result of graduates going for too many jobs in their desire to find work. Waitrose said it had received almost 5,000 applications for 20 places on its graduate scheme, yet finding graduates it wanted to employ had been "a struggle". Imperial College London, meanwhile, said that despite receiving 400 applications for six graduate positions, the quality had been "dispiriting and depressing".

Thames Valley University has been granted permission by the Privy Council to change its name to the University of West London. Thames Valley said it highlighted "a strategic shift" for the university, with a "repositioning of its operations" to its Ealing and Brentford campuses in West London. Peter John, the vice-chancellor, said: "This is a natural progression for TVU, which is now a very different institution to that which was granted university status in 1992." As THE has reported, Brunel University objected to the change, arguing that it owned trademarks including Brunel, The University of West London.

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