The Week in Higher Education

February 10, 2011




Ever read a quote and felt a sense of déjà vu? On 2 February, the University and College Union's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said the latest cuts to be outlined were "yet another slap in the face for a sector already reeling from huge cuts". Yet another indeed, for in November 2010 Ms Hunt described the axeing of Aimhigher as "another slap in the face for potential students and their families". She used the same phrase in 2009: calls for higher tuition fees were "yet another slap in the face for people who believe in a free and inclusive education sector", while cuts in Train to Gain were "another slap in the face for further education colleges". Either Ms Hunt expands her vocabulary, or the sector ends up with a very sore face.

An 18th-century verse work owed its commercial success to hidden pornographic poems, an academic has found. Claudine van Hensbergen, a University of Oxford researcher, found the three poems bound at the back of the otherwise sober The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon, it was reported on 4 February. The unifying theme of the poems, she observed, "appears to be the dildo". In one, a man lies concealed in a lady's bedroom and sees her pull from her pocket a "Tool,/Much like to that with which Men Women rule", which she "apply'd where I'm asham'd to tell". Although most scholarly monographs sell few copies, that sort of marketing is probably a long way off.

One of the UK's leading rappers has given his backing to student protesters. Lethal Bizzle's song Pow! (Forward) was the unofficial anthem for those dancing to entertain themselves in the police kettle during December's Westminster protests. In an interview on 4 February, the rapper said he was delighted to hear of this, particularly in light of David Cameron's earlier claim that his lyrics encouraged violence. "It's a big 'fuck you' to those sods as well, and to the cuts," Mr Bizzle opined. "David Cameron is still a donut...I've got more power than he has, when it comes to those kids: they're singing my song in his front garden."

Universities have long faced claims of dumbing down, but giving students exam papers with answers attached is a new one. The embarrassing error occurred in a second-year geology exam at the University of Manchester, when papers with the answers stapled to the back were distributed. "Invigilators were told by a student, and staff went round the hall ripping out the answers from all papers - asking the 50 undergraduates to finish the exam," it was reported on 6 February. But after some students stormed out of the exam, the university said the marks would not count towards candidates' final degrees. A fresh exam will be arranged.

Vice-chancellors are determined to change government policy on a subject of huge concern to the sector: visa changes for overseas students. The worries of Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, and Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, over tougher language requirements and damage to economic growth were covered by the Financial Times on 7 February. And the newspaper's editorial called on Theresa May, the home secretary, to "rethink the plan" given its likely impact on the growing "£25 billion industry" that is higher education. Vice-chancellors have coordinated their opposition, explained the issues to the public via the media and put pressure on the government. Thank goodness they haven't let any other big changes slip through without a similarly robust campaign.

An independent national health adviser has been sacked by the government, reportedly for questioning whether money for its mental health strategy was new or came from the existing NHS budget. It was reported on 7 February that David Richards, professor of mental health services research at the University of Exeter, was dropped as a Department of Health adviser after claiming that an announcement of £400 million to improve access to modern psychological therapies involved no new money. The case has echoes of the sacking of David Nutt as an independent drugs adviser by the Labour government, which prompted outcry among scientists.

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