The week in higher education

May 26, 2011

If higher education feels as if it is under a bit of a cloud, look on the bright side - the gloom and doom might mean that you live longer. Research at Yale University suggests that people who were full of joy as children are likely to die younger than their less happy peers. The research found that happy-go-lucky types tend to expose themselves to greater risks and make less healthy lifestyle choices, it was reported on 19 May. It also found that trying too hard to be happy can lead to depression. So there is something to smile about after all.

An academic who specialises in stirring up controversy has been at it again, suggesting that black women are "far less attractive" than those of other races. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, made the claim in a blog on the Psychology Today website. He said he had reached the conclusion after analysing data from an online study of physical attractiveness. The Tokyo-born academic has previously caused controversy with a paper suggesting that poor health among some sub-Saharan Africans was the result of low IQ, it was reported on 20 May. Dr Kanazawa's latest article prompted the National Union of Students' Black Students section to pass a motion calling for his dismissal. But in a column for The Independent, Christina Patterson said: "If men were sacked every time they said something stupid, there wouldn't be too many still employed."

Another provocateur, former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore, had vice-chancellors up in arms on 20 May after making a scathing assessment on the new higher education funding regime. The columnist prematurely heralded the demise of several institutions, provoking howls of protest in the newspaper's letters page. "I was concerned to read Charles Moore's suggestion that the University of Cumbria is at risk of closure," said Graham Upton in one missive. "As vice-chancellor, I can assure you that this is not the case." Mr Moore was also taken to task by Steve Denton, registrar of Leeds Metropolitan University: "You suggest that Leeds Met is 'quite likely to close'. It is not," he said.

Claims of inaccuracies by national newspapers were the order of the day on 20 May, with Sir Martin Harris, the head of the Office for Fair Access, accusing The Times of cooking up a story on the number of universities whose draft access agreements had been rejected. The newspaper claimed that a third of universities had failed to satisfy Offa's widening-access requirements in their draft agreements, which must be passed by the watchdog before a university is allowed to charge tuition fees of more than £6,000 a year. In a letter to The Times, Sir Martin said: "Your article is completely incorrect. We are in the very early stages of assessing these agreements. We have not yet had discussions of any kind with any university, let alone refused any universities initial permission."

The UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation is to be renamed the Francis Crick Institute in honour of the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. The name change will occur in early July, when construction of the landmark centre begins near St Pancras station in London. Sir Paul Nurse, the director and chief executive of the UKCMRI, said Professor Crick embodied the "collaboration, creativity and tenacity" that he wanted to instil in the culture of the new institute, which is expected to open in 2015.

A professor's absent-mindedness resulted in tragedy when his baby daughter died after being left in his car for hours unattended. Lucio Petrizzi forgot to drop his 22-month-old daughter at playgroup on his way to the University of Teramo, where he is professor of veterinary medicine. He realised his mistake five hours later on 22 May and called for an ambulance, but doctors were unable to revive the toddler, who was later declared dead. Prosecutors are considering whether to charge Professor Petrizzi with manslaughter, but his wife defended him as an "exemplary father".

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