The week in higher education

September 29, 2011

• Any concern that higher education is a low priority for the UK's coalition government will surely be banished by a new advertising campaign that counts universities alongside all things that make Britain "great" - such as animated characters Wallace and Gromit.

• The campaign, launched in New York by David Cameron, also features football teams owned by an Egyptian and an Emirati and a shoe created by a German-born designer, it was reported on 22 September. The prime minister said the aim of the "Great" campaign was to "send the message that this is a great place to do business, invest, study and visit". Provided you can negotiate the increasingly restrictive visa regime, of course.

• Although it shares its neighbourhood in London's East End with more than a few "gentlemen's clubs", such proximity has not stopped lap dancing causing blushes at Queen Mary, University of London. It was reported on 23 September that the institution had been asked by a local councillor to host a debate about the presence of strip clubs on behalf of Tower Hamlets council. But after conducting "due diligence" on the booking, Queen Mary told the organisers that it could not help "due to the risk of adverse attention". It later said that there may have been "overzealous application of the rules".

• In an age in which every scientist doubles as a science communicator, the potentially paradigm-shifting discovery that neutrinos may be able to travel faster than light demanded sober expert explanation. And when scientists at Cern, the European particle-physics lab in Geneva, announced the findings that, if verified, would be inconsistent with Einstein's theory of special relativity, Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics at the University of Surrey, responded with requisite gravitas: "The scientists are right to be...cautious about interpreting these findings," he said on 23 September. "If the Cern experiment proves to be correct, I will eat my boxer shorts on live TV."

• Glastonbury is known the world over for its music festival - but it has also been marketed as a leading centre of higher education. The allegedly world-leading Glastonbury University was advertised on the internet as a "leading private and independent university of world standing" with an engineering programme that was "awarded a coveted five for research in the last Research Assessment Exercise in 2001". The website illustrated Glastonbury's magnificence with a picture of a £32 million library - that belongs to the University of Leicester. The scam, halted by trading standards officers, was linked to Malaysia-based fraudsters, it was reported on 23 September.

• Overseen by a business secretary who rarely mentions higher education and with a new funding regime designed to harness market forces, universities could be forgiven for feeling cold-shouldered by the government. That sense of grievance is likely to be compounded by news that bosses of major companies are to be given a "phone a friend" hotline direct to ministers in an effort to reboot the economy. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, is to "buddy up" with GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, while Vince Cable, the business secretary, will be linked with Shell and BP, it was reported on 23 September. Vice-chancellors will have to restrict themselves to catcalling at the occasional Universities UK event, it seems.

• Half of the UK's universities should be closed and turned into vocational colleges, according to an academic at London Metropolitan University. Maurice Glasman, who teaches political theory at London Met and is also a Labour peer who has been adopted by party leader Ed Miliband as something of a sage, said the change was necessary to improve opportunities for the working classes, it was reported on September. "We don't honour vocation enough, so one of the things I have put forward is a plan to halve the number of universities and turn the others into vocational colleges. I would like to put the law schools and the medical schools into the vocational colleges just so that they are not second class." He added that "you would also invite the private sector to get involved in the funding of these colleges".

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