The Week in Higher Education

January 20, 2011




Student protesters should not expect police officers who oversee their "silly demonstrations" to contribute through taxes for "bone-idle, bourgeois softies to stay in bed all day playing video games and masturbating their way to a pointless 2:2 in media studies". That is the view of columnist Giles Coren, who got worked up about "long-haired thicko student Edward Woollard" in The Times on 15 January. Mr Woollard, 18, was jailed for 32 months for dropping a fire extinguisher off the roof of Millbank Tower during protests in November. Mr Coren criticised "middle-class whingers" for believing that the "bill for their three years of dope smoking, shagging and party-going should be picked up in the main by the less well educated working man and woman".

A London Metropolitan University academic "could provide the intellectual basis for an assault on David Cameron's big society". Maurice Glasman was made a peer in the New Year Honours by Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, and was, on 16 January, being touted by some as Labour's next big thing. Lord Glasman, senior lecturer in political theory at London Met, director of its Faith and Citizenship Programme and the intellectual force behind London Citizens, argues that Labour should support localism as a way to tame free-market capitalism. The party should acknowledge the failures of state socialism, he says. Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips decided that the "hitherto obscure academic" is a disciple of Saul Alinsky, a theorist and community organiser who wants to "subvert Western values". With his academic background, Lord Glasman should be able to cope with mud-slinging.

Universities with high dropout rates could be prevented from charging high tuition fees. Ministers are worried that "an expensive cartel will emerge" with all universities charging close to the £9,000 a year maximum, it was reported on 16 January. They fear that "large amounts of public money could be wasted by students who borrow from the taxpayer for fees but then drop out and cannot repay". Pam Tatlow, chief executive of Million+, responded by calling for fair treatment and adding that dropout figures simply measure "how few wealthier, younger, full-time students a university has".

Scotland Yard has been in touch with universities in London asking them to pass on intelligence about student protesters, according to reports on 17 January. An officer from Counter Terrorism Command working on Prevent, a programme to tackle "extremism", said in an email to university staff that protesters could target finance departments. The officer adds: "I would be grateful if in your capacity at your various colleges that should you pick up any relevant information that would be helpful to all of us to anticipate possible demonstrations or occupations, please forward it onto me." The email was circulated to staff at more than 20 London universities, colleges and postgraduate schools.

Academics at the University of Cambridge emphasised the public benefits of higher education on 17 January. In black gowns, they assembled outside Senate House for three minutes of silent protest to highlight the damage they say is threatened by the government's actions. Charles Jones, reader in international relations, said: "The policies of the coalition government restrict the access of English students to universities and imperil the disciplinary breadth embodied in the very word 'university'. They entirely fail to acknowledge the substantial benefit accruing to the nation as a whole from higher education, and not just to graduates."

As fees are set to rise, the prospects for graduates seem to be declining. There are 6 per cent fewer graduate vacancies being offered by large recruiters than there were in 2007. High Fliers Research, which published the figures on 18 January, noted that there will also be about 50,000 more graduates in 2011 compared with four years earlier. Unemployment among 18- to 24-year-olds is 18 per cent, against 8 per cent for the population as a whole. But the large recruiters' average graduate starting salary is now £29,000 - well above the £21,000 threshold for repaying future fee loans.

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