The week in higher education

July 28, 2011

• "A shelf stacker at Waitrose has more power in the corporate governance of the firm than I do as an academic at London Met." So said Maurice Glasman, the political theory lecturer and "Blue Labour" creator known as Ed Miliband's "guru", in an interview on 20 July. Lord Glasman, who founded London Citizens and was ennobled on the Labour leader's recommendation, attributed his political awakening to working at London Met, with managers who had "no idea what they were doing" and its racially diverse student mix. "It taught me about the limits of public-sector reform and about the new realities of London," he said. "My friends who were at Oxbridge or Reading or York...just had no idea of the realities. They were having abstract discussions about multiculturalism while I was trying to convene seminars where people could actually talk to each other."

• What prompted a man to try to shove shaving foam in Rupert Murdoch's face during a parliamentary committee hearing? Was it his experiences at "middle-class, conservative" Royal Holloway? The political frustrations of comedian and activist Jonnie Marbles - real name Jonathan May-Bowles - can be traced to his time at university, according to an unnamed "contemporary". "He was very left-wing and interested in all sorts of issues, but he was slightly frustrated being at Royal Holloway because it is middle-class and quite a conservative campus," the friend told the Daily Telegraph on 20 July.

• Hunted down by the US authorities, indicted by a grand jury, facing a maximum 35 years in jail and fines of up to $1 million (£610,000), Aaron Swartz achieved the seemingly impossible: making academic journals look exciting. The Fellow at Harvard University's Safra Center for Ethics is reported to have downloaded more than 4 million academic articles from Jstor, the US online database. Described on 22 July as a self-styled "digital Robin Hood", he used anonymous logins on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology network to amass his scholarly hoard. Prosecutors have accused him of wire and computer fraud, claiming that he intended to "distribute a significant portion of Jstor's archive through one or more file-sharing sites".

• "Human-animal hybrids" are lurking in university labs, according to the Daily Mail. The paper reported on 23 July that 155 embryos containing both human and animal genetic material have been created since 2008. It noted that three labs in the UK were granted licences to carry out the research, but have since stopped creating the hybrid embryos owing to lack of funding. It said its revelation came after a working group of the Academy of Medical Sciences "warned of a nightmare 'Planet of the Apes' scenario in which work on human-animal creations goes too far".

• The campaign to elect Brian Blessed as the next University of Cambridge chancellor is "not a joke", according to a website supporting it. The actor is among a mixed bag of candidates campaigning to replace Prince Philip as chancellor, including Lord Sainsbury, local shopkeeper Abdul Arain (who is unhappy about a Sainsbury's opening on his patch), and lawyer Michael Mansfield. The winner will be decided in October. A group of Cambridge alumni has now set up a website in support of Mr Blessed, arguing that electing a man who left school at 14 would send a strong message, it was reported on 25 July. In a parallel that does little for the gravitas of the post, the last online campaign by supporters of Mr Blessed aimed to persuade him to record a voice-over for a sat-nav system.

• The Home Secretary has refused to accept her own department's advice that curbs on overseas students would cost the economy up to £3.6 billion. Theresa May dismissed the official impact assessment of the policy and asked the migration advisory committee for a "better assessment", it was reported on 26 July. That drew criticism from the Home Affairs committee, which said it was concerned that "the Home Office still does not take evidence-based policy as seriously as it could".

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