The Week in Higher Education

September 2, 2010

The Iranian government has fired at least 18 heads of academic and scientific institutions over the past month in a campaign to punish its opponents, according to reports. Science magazine reported on its website on 26 August that Yousef Sobouti, the founder-director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Basic Sciences in Zanjan, had become the latest victim of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's drive to remove university staff who do not share "the regime's direction". He replacement is a nuclear scientist with links with the pro-government Basij militia, which has been involved in the violent suppression of student protests against the regime.

The cap on student numbers may have been imposed by his Labour predecessor, but that did not stop David Willetts getting blasted for the system of "centrally planned quotas". Ignoring the dire state of public finances, Daily Mail commentator Harriet Sergeant argued on August that the restriction on university expansion was "perverse". "Are we living in Stalinist Russia with David Willetts as the Chief Commissar?" she asked. She added: "Education Secretary Michael Gove is promising an imaginative and radical overhaul of our schools. Why not the same for our universities?" Her question may be answered when Lord Browne's review reports next month.

The term "Oxbridge" has become a form of "abuse" at the BBC, it has been claimed. An editorial in Country Life magazine accused the broadcaster of having a "family-size bucket of chips on its shoulder", suggesting that it had developed a "lexicon of abuse" against people who had attended public schools and elite universities. It added that this was true even in lighter programmes, such as Radio 4's The News Quiz. "Why so is a mystery: more of these satirists earned their spurs with the Footlights than on the working men's club circuit," it said on August.

New immigration figures sparked the usual hand-wringing, with reports that a 20 per cent rise was "driven by a student visa loophole". Figures released by the Home Office show that 196,000 more people moved to Britain than left the country in 2009, up from net migration of 163,000 in the previous year. They also show that 362,000 foreign students were granted visas, up 35 per cent. Damian Green, the Conservative immigration minister, said on August that "we must tighten our immigration system to reduce net migration to manageable levels". However, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, urged fellow ministers not to hobble Britain's competitiveness with excessive controls. His argument will be welcomed by universities at a time when income from international students is more crucial than ever.

The drive to get universities to publish graduate destination data may reveal unexpected results, new research suggests. According to a study at the University of Leeds, one in four lap dancers has a degree, while nine out of 10 have at least completed a further education course. The study, by Teela Sanders and Kate Hardy, also found that of 300 dancers interviewed, 14 per cent used their earnings to help fund an undergraduate degree. The researchers concluded that arts graduates were most likely to turn to stripping "after being unable to find other work". But it may be a mistake to think that the dancers are wasting their education. Dr Sanders said on August: "These women do work hard for their money - you don't just turn up and wiggle your bum."

Tony Blair looks set for a spell working in the UK's academy - although he seems to be a turn-off for students. The Tony Blair Faith and Globalisation course, at Durham University, has attracted "only three" students for its inaugural term, it was reported on 28 August. The master's course runs in association with the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which has already begun courses at Yale University and the University of Singapore. The foundation said it "hoped Mr Blair would eventually take part in classes and seminars" at Durham. Part-time teaching when he likes, tiny classes and a huge bank balance: Mr Blair may find he is shunned by academics as well as students.

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