The week in higher education

August 18, 2011




• As the dust settled after the UK riots, higher education did not escape unscathed. Among those caught up in the unrest was University of Exeter student Laura Johnson, who has been charged with five counts of burglary. The English and Italian undergraduate, who appeared before magistrates on 11 August, is reported to hail from a wealthy family, prompting a flurry of stories around the world. Among the newspapers highlighting the case was The Australian, which reported that the "millionaire's daughter...has been accused of being a getaway driver for looters". Exeter said it would await the outcome of the case before deciding on whether to take any action.

• Meanwhile, in a discussion of the roots of the recent unrest, TV historian David Starkey found himself in the familiar position of provoking a furore. Dr Starkey, an honorary Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, told Newsnight on 12 August that Enoch Powell, who in 1968 warned that unease over immigration would lead to "rivers of blood", had been "absolutely right" in some respects. "What has happened is that...the whites have become black," he said. "A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion." Dr Starkey described David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, as "an archetypical successful black man. If you turned the screen off, so that you were listening to him on radio, you'd think he was white." Mr Lammy countered: "His views are irrelevant - he's a Tudor historian talking about contemporary urban unrest."

• Which is the greater reward from a PhD: the discovery that a life of scholarship yields lasting intellectual satisfaction, or racking up nearly £14 million in scratchcard jackpots? Joan Ginther, who gained a PhD in statistics from Stanford University, used her knowledge to win a fourth jackpot in the Texas Lottery since 1993. David Spiegelhalter, Winton professor of the public understanding of risk at the University of Cambridge, told The Daily Telegraph on 13 August that Dr Ginther won on "baited hooks" cards, which display several numbers on the front. "With careful mathematical analysis, the displayed numbers can give some information about whether the card is a winner," he said.

• The leader of the University and College Union has made dire predictions about the clearing process ahead of A-level results day on 18 August - but the head of the admissions service has rejected her views. Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, was reported on 14 August as saying: "With tuition fees set to treble from 2012, demand for places this summer is likely to be unprecedented. I fear that clearing will be the most frantic and stressful in living memory, with thousands of young people...left disappointed." But Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said: "I'm expecting clearing to be broadly similar to last year."

• It rivalled the siege of Stalingrad in length, but now it has ended - the University of Glasgow has finally got an exceptionally hardy bunch of student occupiers to budge. The students began their protest at the Hetherington Research Club in February, angry over cuts to courses and the loss of the postgraduate facility. They finally left on 15 August, saying that Glasgow had agreed to their demands on course cuts and would provide a new social facility for postgraduates. They acclaimed their stand as the "longest-running student occupation in UK history".

• Private colleges have been given leave to mount a legal challenge against a government clampdown on student visas, which they say will threaten their viability. A deputy high court judge ruled that the Association of UK Private Schools and Colleges can ask the High Court to review the plans, announced earlier this year. However, he said that although the association had an "arguable" case for a review, it would face an "uphill task" in persuading a judge that the Home Office had acted unreasonably. The government aims to cut the number of student visas issued by 25 per cent, it was reported on 16 August.

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