The week in higher education

June 9, 2011




Statistics showing that the number of applicants from continental Europe to UK universities has risen 5.8 per cent this year provoked a shudder at The Daily Telegraph on 3 June. Invoking the spectre of thousands of English students missing out on university places as French, Germans and Italians snapped them up, the newspaper warned that this threatens to "stoke up ill feeling". "In the past, extremist parties have exploited the concerns of those working-class Britons who resent it when people coming into this country from EU member states appear to receive preferential treatment," it said. No mention was made about newspapers exploiting the fears of middle-class readers.

A female professor has won an employment tribunal after discovering that she had been paid between £8,000 and £21,000 a year less than her male peers. Liz Schafer, professor of drama and theatre studies at Royal Holloway, University of London, agreed a settlement with the college after the tribunal panel found "no evidence" of standards, grading or criteria attached to pay reviews, it was reported on 4 June. Professor Schafer said: "Universities need to get a system (of transparent pay scales) very quickly or there will be a queue of female professors waiting to take them to a tribunal."

Universities are often being urged to improve their links with business, but few would interpret that as appointing a local grocer to replace the Duke of Edinburgh as chancellor. Abdul Arain, who runs a grocery store in Cambridge, plans to run against Lord Sainsbury of Turville for the chancellorship of the University of Cambridge when Prince Philip retires at the end of the month. Mr Arain, who needs 50 nominations to qualify as a candidate, said on 5 June: "People laughed when they discovered I was putting myself forward, but why not me? If we all ate apples all the time it would be boring; sometimes it's nice to have a banana. Luckily, I sell both."

A former tutor of David Willetts has said that he has "no confidence" in the universities and science minister - before praising him for his "high intelligence". Peter Oppenheimer, emeritus professor at Christ Church, Oxford, said on 5 June: "He was a highly intelligent and thoughtful person, very able - but no politician. He has got the kind of open-mindedness that enables him to see the value of a whole range of points of view, especially that of the last person he talked to." The remarks follow recent criticism from an unnamed Liberal Democrat who accused Mr Willetts of thinking "like an academic, not a politician".

The government has been warned that it could face a hole in its higher education budget totalling "several hundred million pounds" as a result of its policy on tuition fees. A report published on 7 June by the Commons Public Accounts Committee also says that the public should be given earlier warning of potentially failing institutions as part of a "new system" of oversight. The PAC report says it is "unclear" whether the Higher Education Funding Council for England's "light-touch" regulation would be "fit for a more uncertain financial environment". A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that many universities would offer extensive fee waivers and bursaries, so the total cost to the state of the new regime would not be known "until late next year".

Despite hiring a top public relations firm to oversee its launch, the £18,000-a-year New College of the Humanities quickly came under sustained fire. Accusations that the private college will be a haven for the rich were followed by incredulity that its courses will be based on University of London syllabuses already available for a fraction of the cost elsewhere. "So-called 'stellar dons', some of them superannuated, the remainder now to be drawing top salaries from several institutions, will exploit the resources of the University of London for their private enrichment," said Rod Edmond, emeritus professor of English at the University of Kent on 7 June. "La trahison des clercs comes to mind."

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