The Week in Higher Education

December 23, 2010




Much has been said and written about the tuition-fee protests in London, but few commentators have taken the tack of former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. Asked on 16 December for his take on the demonstrations, he said: "I loved it, man. I'm into the violent side of it. I thought it made great fucking TV. I still think (the students) should get a job though." Spoken like a true multimillionaire rock star.

Scrutiny of police tactics during the fee protests has intensified as students launch a legal challenge against so-called kettling. Lawyers acting for five students who were among thousands kept against their will for hours claim that police breached their human rights. However, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Service said on 16 December that the use of containment had been considered by the House of Lords and found not to breach the law. Meanwhile, Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met commissioner, said that anti-government marches through central London could be banned to prevent further disorder. It's democracy, Jim, but not as we know it.

University leaders have a lot on their plates at the moment, with funding crises and student protests aplenty. But that did not stop the International Association of University Presidents from holding its annual World Miss University contest, which was won by a British graduate. Katie Farr, who studied politics at the University of Leeds, insisted on 17 December that the event in Seoul "wasn't all handbags and lipstick. We were all students or graduates - it was intellectually engaging and not cheesy at all."

The government broke the law by imposing an interim cap on immigration during the summer without parliamentary scrutiny, a court has ruled. The cap affecting skilled workers from outside the European Union affected universities, many of which employ dozens of academics on Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas. On 18 December, the coalition said it would consider whether there were grounds to appeal the decision, while continuing to pursue plans for a permanent cap on skilled migrants due to come into force next April.

The prospect of a university without the humanities has been likened to a pub without alcohol. Writing on 18 December, Terry Eagleton, distinguished professor of English literature at Lancaster University, said the humanities "should constitute the core of any university worth the name", and should be studied by all, even those majoring in technical subjects. However, he warned that if there were "no university without humane enquiry", then "universities and advanced capitalism are fundamentally incompatible".

Vince Cable has been accused of forgetting the "dignity of his office and gravity of the times" by agreeing to appear on BBC One's Strictly Come Dancing. Commentator Quentin Letts said he was guilty of failing to "retain the poise demanded at a time of intense political tension". Appearing on the show seemed "faintly disreputable" when juxtaposed with the "deadly serious" opposition to the tuition-fee hike, he said. The brickbats continued on 20 December, when it was reported that Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, had also opposed Mr Cable's appearance on the show. However, former Tory minister-turned-TV dance star Ann Widdecombe waltzed to his defence, saying "if all Vince Cable is doing is one dignified ballroom dance in one Christmas show, I think Nick Clegg should get a life".

The Strictly row was superseded on 21 December when details emerged of a secretly recorded conversation in which Mr Cable said he could "bring the government down" if pushed too far on policy. He told undercover reporters that being in the coalition was "like fighting a war" and that he could use the "nuclear option" of quitting, it was reported on 21 December. He also showed a startling lack of judgement by saying he had "declared war on Rupert Murdoch" and planned to block his efforts to take control of BSkyB. There was mounting speculation as Times Higher Education went to press that he could resign as business secretary.

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