The Week in Higher Education

December 16, 2010




Labour leader Ed Miliband hit back at David Cameron as the two University of Oxford graduates tussled over their days among the dreaming spires. During Prime Minister's Questions on 8 December, Mr Cameron claimed Mr Miliband was being opportunistic and behaving like a "student politician" in advocating a graduate tax, adding: "Frankly that's all you'll ever be." Mr Miliband, the son of London School of Economics political science lecturer Ralph Miliband, reminded Mr Cameron of his membership of Oxford's exclusive Bullingdon Club. "I was a student politician. But I was not hanging around with people who were throwing bread rolls and wrecking restaurants," he said.

The press-cuttings file for higher education was waist-high this week, as the rise in tuition fees went through the House of Commons and student protests in London led to violent scenes on 9 December. Alfie Meadows, a philosophy undergraduate at Middlesex University, underwent brain surgery after allegedly being struck by police with a baton as he tried to leave protests in Parliament Square. His mother, Susan Matthews, an English literature lecturer at Roehampton University, said police at the hospital to which Mr Meadows was taken asked for him to be transferred, as they were unhappy about protesters being treated at the same hospital as officers. The home secretary, Theresa May, blamed the day's violence on "organised thugs, as well as students". Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, saw their limousine surrounded by what was described as "a snarling mob of student fees rioters". Camilla was reportedly poked in the ribs with a stick and royal protection officers were "seconds away" from drawing their firearms.

Vice-chancellors have been "spineless" in accepting cuts to university funding, according to Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats' president. Quoted in The Guardian on 11 December, he said: "I'll be careful not to call them all spineless - but I will call them all spineless." "No other public-sector body ... was in a position where it could say: 'Right, we'll accept our cut...as long as we get to charge our clients.' Imagine if we had headteachers or NHS managers saying that - it's outrageous." A few members of the Universities UK board would probably agree.

Charlie Gilmour, a University of Cambridge undergraduate and adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, was arrested after a series of student protest misdemeanours topped by swinging from the Cenotaph's Union flag - he claimed he had failed to recognise the monument, despite being a history student. A leader in The Observer on 12 December said there was "poetic irony" in the fact that a Pink Floyd song tells of a wounded soldier, his "dreams of heroism shattered. 'Were they really sad for me?' he sings. 'Will they really laugh at me?' His name? Corporal Clegg."

The University of Bedfordshire was at the centre of a media storm after it emerged that the man behind a suicide bombing in Stockholm was a former student. On 13 December, it was reported that Iraq-born Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly graduated in sports science from the institution. The Daily Mail said the case "will raise fresh questions about admissions to UK universities, and the radicalisation of Muslim students when studying in this country". Les Ebdon, Bedfordshire's vice-chancellor, said the impact of the affair would be "serious because it particularly damages our reputation abroad".

The University and College Union has called for a full ballot on changes to higher education's biggest pension scheme, after 96 per cent of those voting in its online "referendum" rejected the employers' plans for change. The UCU asked members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme whether they agreed to employers' proposals, which include an end to final-salary benefits for new members and a pension age of 65 for all members. The UCU said 96.3 per cent rejected the employers' plans, against 3.7 per cent who accepted - 31,480 votes were cast. Total membership of the USS is about 120,000. Sally Hunt, the union's general secretary, said the consultation being mounted by employers and the USS was a "disaster".

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