The week in higher education

September 8, 2011

• First the dodgy dossier, now the dodgy doctorate: Tony Blair and unreliable material are inadvertently together again. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Mu'ammer Gaddafi, sought out Mr Blair's advice for his allegedly plagiarised PhD thesis at the London School of Economics, it was reported on 4 September. In a signed letter addressed to "Engineer Saif", Mr Blair gave three examples of greater collaboration between government, civil society and business "that might help you with your studies". He told Mr Gaddafi that they must work together to create "progressive coalitions for change that fight as hard on global poverty and climate change as we do on security and terror". Saif Gaddafi is fighting hard with a machine gun in hand these days.

• More Libya news. Heriot-Watt University awarded a degree to a student from the North African nation two years after he allegedly orchestrated an embassy takeover that led to the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher in 1984, it was reported on 5 September. Matouk Mohammed Matouk, an urban design student, was allegedly a leading member of the "students' committee" that took over the Libyan Embassy in London before the shooting. He was deported after the 11-day siege that followed. Documents found at Mr Matouk's home in Tripoli include a letter from Robert Smart, his Heriot-Watt tutor. The missive states: "We are sorry you disappeared recently from the course. Most unfortunate!" Mr Matouk, the former head of Libya's nuclear weapons programme, is on the run following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime.

• Sir Martin Harris has returned to his post as director of the Office for Fair Access three months after stepping down to receive treatment for cancer, it was announced on 5 September. Under the interim directorship of Sir Graeme Davies, Offa approved access agreements for 139 higher education institutions - with one-third charging the maximum £9,000 for all courses. Offa said Sir Martin "is scheduled to complete his term as director at the end of this year. In the recent higher education White Paper, the government announced its intention to recruit a new director this year."

The Times covered a two-day conference on heavy metal at the University of Wolverhampton on 5 September in a piece unlikely to dispel the popular misconception that academics tend towards self-indulgence. Scott Wilson, professor in media and cultural studies at Kingston University, cranked the absurdity up to 11 when he told the newspaper of his experiences playing a Motörhead song to a class. "Someone knocked and said: 'Can you turn it down, there's a physics exam next door.' Turn it down? It's Motörhead. It's my right as a teacher to play the music at the volume it should be," he said, identifying a hitherto unknown facet of human rights law.

• Tuition fees for 2012-13 reached two extremes this week. BPP University College, the UK's only for-profit provider with degree-awarding powers, announced it would offer three-year degrees for £5,000 a year and two-year degrees for £6,000 a year. Its programmes in law, accountancy, business and finance are available at six centres across England. Meanwhile, the University of Edinburgh, one of Scotland's highest-ranking institutions, was branded the most expensive place to study in the UK after announcing headline fees for 2012-13 of £9,000 a year for non-Scottish UK students - a total of £36,000 for its four-year degrees.

• Paul Curran, vice-chancellor of City University London, started a three-year term as chair of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association on 8 September. "I look forward to working closely and constructively with the HE trade unions on both pay and non-pay issues in these challenging times," he said, dampening already soggy pay expectations. The University and College Union is holding an online "consultative ballot" with members over Ucea's offer of a £150 rise for the coming year. Meanwhile, Unison at Middlesex University announced it would join the UCU in balloting for strike action over plans for up to 200 redundancies.

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