The Week in Higher Education

September 16, 2010

Higher education is in need of a new acronym, it was argued this week. A report from the Council for Industry and Higher Education called for creative, digital and information technology (CDIT) to be made just as much of a government priority for universities as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Universities and businesses "need to learn from and replicate the initiatives and innovation environment which brought the world Google, Amazon and Facebook", the CIHE said on 8 September.

Attention turned to the higher education funding gap and Lord Browne of Madingley's review of fees as Cranfield University hosted the annual Universities UK conference. On 8 September, The Daily Telegraph focused on warnings that universities would be forced to recruit more foreign students unless the cap on tuition fees is raised. Meanwhile, the Financial Times said that one idea explored by Lord Browne would see students "bound over to pay a share of their income in perpetuity" to their alma mater. But The Times said the debate about fees and funding "smacks of too many nerds carried away with their own brilliance". Warning against bringing in a graduate tax "by the back door", it said that "the truth is that any policy sufficiently progressive to satisfy the Lib Dems is likely to be an attack on talent".

A "devastating critique of the pretensions of economists" has won praise - from an economist. The article by Financial Times journalist Gideon Rachman described economists as "pseudo-scientists" who suffered from "physics envy" in their quest for predictive "laws" and called on them to "learn a few lessons from history - or more precisely from historians". On 8 September, Mr Rachman was congratulated on the piece in a letter to the editor from Hugh Goodacre, teaching Fellow in the department of economics at University College London, who celebrated the fact that although he had "to settle for the humble position of teaching Fellow", he had "at last been assigned a course on the history of economic thought". "Please spare a thought for those few beleaguered souls within the profession who are equally critical of the dominant orthodoxy," was Dr Goodacre's plea.

In an unlikely pairing, artists and business tycoons have united to oppose a plan to merge Edinburgh College of Art with the University of Edinburgh. Brian Souter, co-founder of bus company Stagecoach, patron of the arts Alastair Salvesen, and artists Barbara Rae and William Baillie are among 16 signatories of a letter to Mike Russell, Scotland's education secretary, which claims the plans have been "rushed" and "secretive" and amount to a "hostile takeover". The missive claims that the cost of the merger would outweigh any financial advantage gained from sharing facilities and services, it was reported on 9 September.

Baroness Greenfield has waded into the God debate prompted by Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design. In a radio interview, the former head of the Royal Institution was asked whether she felt uncomfortable when scientists made comments about God. "They can make whatever comments they like, but when they assume, rather in a Taliban-like way, that they have all the answers, then I do feel uncomfortable," she said. Her comments prompted the headline "Hawking is like Taliban to dismiss God, says top scientist" in The Daily Telegraph on 9 September.

Meanwhile, Professor Hawking has revealed that the most enduring honour of his career has been an appearance on The Simpsons. The University of Cambridge academic told fellow physicist Brian Cox that after a role as a guest star in the cartoon, many people believed that he was "a Simpsons character" rather than a real person. In an interview on 11 September, Professor Cox, who is based at the University of Manchester, also asked Professor Hawking which living scientists he most admired. He replied: "There are plenty of dead scientists I admire, but I can't think of any living ones." Professor Cox, who is perhaps best known for his television appearances, must have been thrilled.

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