The week in higher education

September 22, 2011

• Irish travellers, left-wing activists, European "anarchists" and human rights lawyers: the story about an illegal traveller encampment at Dale Farm in Essex has proved manna from heaven for the Daily Mail. As bailiffs prepared to clear the camp this week, the newspaper got in a lather over the intervention of an academic it described as a "UN busybody". Yves Cabannes, professor of development planning at University College London and former convener of the United Nations Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, argued that any evictions from the site, where travellers have breached planning laws, would be "inhumane and illegal". But what really got the Mail's goat was his comparing the Dale Farm clearance to evictions in Zimbabwe and China, which the paper described as an "infernal cheek". Mail readers were similarly unimpressed. A comment posted on 14 September advised the Frenchman: "Go home dear, and take a gypsy with you."

• Three years after he was arrested for downloading a widely available document, a former University of Nottingham student has received £20,000 in an out-of-court settlement. The payment by Nottinghamshire Police, announced on 15 September, ended a lawsuit brought by Rizwaan Sabir, who accused the force of false imprisonment. He was arrested under the Terrorism Act in 2008 after downloading an al-Qaeda training manual from a US government website for use in his master's research. In a statement, Nottinghamshire Police says that although the arrest and detention had been "legal, proportionate and necessary", it had settled to keep its costs down.

• The head of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has called for earlier A-level examinations and a system of post-qualifications applications. It was reported on 15 September that Mary Curnock Cook, chief executive of Ucas, met with vice-chancellors at this month's Universities UK conference to propose the changes. It is expected that the government will publish initial findings on whether to adopt such a system in October. Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said the advent of the internet meant that a PQA system was now feasible.

• Hackers broke into the website of an Irish university and created a faculty profile for fictional antihero Conan the Barbarian. It was reported on 16 September that "Conan T. Barbarian" appeared on Trinity College Dublin's website as Long Room Hub associate professor in Hyborian studies and tyrant slaying. The profile claimed that Professor Barbarian had been appointed to the English faculty in 2006 "after successfully decapitating his predecessor during a bloody battle which will long be remembered in legend and song". A Trinity spokesman said that while the posting was "quite humorous", the institution was serious about identifying the perpetrator, whose punishment would depend on "the full facts of the case".

• The repayments made by graduates on student loans will not exceed the annual amount paid out to new students until 2047, it was reported this week. Estimates made by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which The Daily Telegraph obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that the sum lent to students will reach £191 billion over the next 35 years. Only in 2047 will repayments from £9,000-a-year tuition fees begin to overtake loan payouts and state debt start to fall, the paper said on 19 September. Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Lending increasing sums...will create a debt time bomb that ticks for many decades."

• A £1 million fund has been set up to help universities improve efficiency. The money, announced on 20 September by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education and the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will be allocated for projects in universities and colleges over the next two years. The announcement follows last week's publication of a report by the Universities UK Efficiency and Modernisation Task Force. Institutions are under increasing pressure to save money by restructuring their operations.

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