The week in higher education

March 17, 2011

He has hogged the headlines for weeks, was sacked from a sitcom for which he was paid $2 million (£1.5 million) an episode, and was photographed drinking "tiger blood" while waving a machete on the roof of a building where he was holed up with his former nanny and a porn star. But working for actor-in-meltdown Charlie Sheen would be an easier gig than being a university administrator, according to a member of staff at Wayne State University in the US. Tyshaunda Hopkins, assistant to the bursar at the institution, was among 74,000 people who applied for an internship advertised by Sheen on Twitter, it was reported on 11 March. "I can do it," she said. "I have a difficult job right now. I work with difficult personalities. If you can do that, you can do anything."

The vice-principal of the University of Abertay Dundee has been reinstated after an investigation. Nicholas Terry was suspended in January, but returned to work earlier this month, the university said on 11 March. He has now taken over as acting principal and acting vice-chancellor in the absence of Bernard King, who was suspended in a separate probe. Professor King was also convener of Universities Scotland at the time of his suspension. Abertay has not released any details, saying only that Professor Terry's suspension had been "rescinded" following an inquiry into the "issues raised".

Nick Clegg must have thought that his dealings with higher education could only improve after the backlash against the hike in the tuition fee cap. But the Lib Dem leader will have been aghast on 11 March to see a group of historians dealing a blow to his dream of overhauling the voting system to improve his party's prospects in future elections. In an open letter, the group of more than 20 academics argue that the referendum on adopting an "alternative voting" system poses a threat to a sacred principle of British democracy. "For the first time since 1928 and the granting of universal suffrage, we face the possibility that one person's casting ballot will be given greater weight than another," the historians say, urging the public to vote "no". Mr Clegg must be wondering whether the pain of coalition government is worth it.

David Willetts has been taken to task for suggesting that he might write to high-achieving pupils from poorer backgrounds to chivvy them into applying to "elite" universities. It was reported on 13 March that the universities minister wants to encourage state school pupils to be more ambitious. "I would love to write to these people...saying, 'Congratulations, you have done so well, the world is your oyster. Some of our most competitive universities would love to have someone with your qualifications.'" However, Libby Aston, director of University Alliance, accused him of being "outdated and elitist". "We must challenge this assumption that there are just a handful of universities that young people should be aspiring to go to," she said.

Rick Rylance, chief executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has been elected as the next chair of Research Councils UK's executive group. The group brings together all seven research council heads to oversee the activities that RCUK carries out on behalf of the councils. The chair is elected by the chief executives every two years. It was announced on 14 March that Professor Rylance will take over in July from the current chair, Alan Thorpe, the chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council.

Students at the University of Cambridge are claiming victory in a campaign to stop the institution halving the maximum bursary. Under plans tabled last month, the university proposed to reduce the bursary from £3,400 to £1,625. The proposal was part of a new funding package that would also see tuition fees rise to £9,000 a year, with a £3,000 a year fee waiver for the poorest students. However, the university said it would now let students decide whether to take financial support in the form of a fee waiver or a cash sum. Meanwhile, on 15 March, the University of Oxford announced it would also set fees at £9,000, with fee waivers and bursaries.

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