The Week in Higher Education

March 3, 2011




Aaron Porter has been accused of errors of judgement as president of the National Union of Students, but after announcing that he is to stand down, it seems he has made one more mistake: giving an interview to the London Evening Standard. In an article published on 24 February, Richard Godwin, a columnist at the paper, donned his bovver boots to dish out a kicking. Mr Porter was an "innocuous man" and a "poet of doublespeak" seen by some as "second only to Nick Clegg as a hate figure", Mr Godwin said. "Speaking to Aaron Porter is weirdly like speaking to a spokesman for Aaron Porter...He has a remarkable ability to stifle interest." Finally, he observed that the 26-year-old "doesn't have time for a love life and still lives with his parents", before ending: "Mr Porter is currently looking for work." Ouch.

The London School of Economics will have hoped that cutting ties with the Libyan regime last week would limit the damage done to its reputation. But the move did not stop fierce criticism of the school's links to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who has an LSE doctorate and who donated £1.5 million to the institution. On 28 February, the spotlight was shone on a recent video that reportedly shows academics at the school feting Mu'ammer Gaddafi. Other reports raised questions about the LSE's wider reliance on cash from authoritarian regimes, particularly non-democratic Middle Eastern governments. In a leader on the topic, The Times said: "Third-world politicians seeking respectability after 30 years of domestic repression can now endow a chair or name a lecture theatre at the LSE as proof of their commitment to scholarship and pluralism."

The troubled University of Gloucestershire will be hoping to stay on the road to recovery after the appointment of a new vice-chancellor. Stephen Marston, director general for higher education funding and reform at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was unveiled as Gloucestershire's new leader on 28 February. His appointment follows Patricia Broadfoot's retirement last year amid rows about the university's financial difficulties. Acting vice-chancellor Paul Hartley will remain in post until 31 July. Gloucestershire posted a deficit of £6.3 million in 2008-09, and £1.2 million last year.

Scottish universities could face an annual funding gap of £93 million because of changes to the way universities in England are funded, an expert group has warned. The calculation, reported on 1 March, was made by a group including representatives from Universities Scotland and the Scottish government. From 2012, universities in England will be able to charge annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 to offset a cut in the teaching grant. But the share of the Scottish block grant earmarked for higher education will be reduced in line with the UK government's cuts, resulting in a funding gap that Scottish universities, which do not charge fees, will not be able to fill.

A week after dismissing allegations of plagiarism in his PhD thesis, Germany's defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has resigned. As Times Higher Education reported last week, Mr zu Guttenberg was accused of copying entire passages without attribution in his law dissertation at the University of Bayreuth in 2007. Following an earlier announcement that he had asked for the doctorate to be retracted, the minister told a press conference on 1 March that he was stepping down. The decision came after Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was sent a letter signed by 20,000 academics complaining about Mr zu Guttenberg still being in his job.

Following hot on the heels of the University of Oxford and Imperial College London, the University of Exeter plans to set undergraduate tuition fees at £9,000 from 2012. The decision, announced on 2 March, is particularly significant because Exeter's vice-chancellor, Steve Smith, is also president of Universities UK. While UUK has been accused of kowtowing to the government over higher education cuts, Professor Smith appears to have ignored ministers' pleas for vice-chancellors to show restraint when setting fee levels.

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