The week in higher education

October 6, 2011

• A lecturer convicted of assaulting a police officer has been allowed to keep his job at the University of Manchester. Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, lecturer in terrorism and political violence, assaulted the officer during student protests last year. Although he had protested his innocence, he has now withdrawn his appeal. Manchester said it considered the case closed. Patsy McKie, from Mothers Against Violence, said on 30 September that Dr Guittet should "practise what he preaches in his lectures".

• Up to 6,000 undergraduate places that are being auctioned to low-cost institutions will go to further education colleges rather than universities, the Labour Party has claimed. Figures released on 3 October suggest that of the 20,000 places the government will offer to institutions charging tuition fees of £7,500 or less in 2012, more than a quarter will be snapped up by colleges. The move has caused angst among universities, which argue that it restricts choice by forcing thousands of poorer students to go to a college. However, David Willetts, the universities minister, said: "It is wrong to suggest that courses offered at further education colleges are of lower quality than (those offered by) universities."

• The realisation that a scientist who was awarded a Nobel prize on 3 October had died three days earlier caused panic at the Nobel Foundation, which is not supposed to award prizes posthumously. Ralph Steinman, who was professor of immunology at Rockefeller University in New York, shares the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with fellow immunologists Bruce Beutler, professor of genetics and immunology at the Scripps Research Institute in California, and Jules Hoffmann, formerly of the University of Strasbourg. Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, said Professor Steinman had waited too long for the honour. "To die just days before its announcement is almost too much to bear. He will be remembered as one of the great immunologists of our time."

The Daily Mail's obsession with the dispute over a traveller site at Dale Farm in Essex continued with an article highlighting the academic links of some of the campaigners involved. Those spotlighted on 1 October include Jonathan Oppenheim, a Royal Society research Fellow at the University of Cambridge; Natalie Szarek, a Cambridge graduate whose parents are academics at Case Western Reserve University in the US; and Jacob Wills, whose mother is a professor of Irish literature at Queen Mary, University of London. Among the Mail's observations were that the campaigners had been "slow-roasting tomatoes and carefully separating recycling" at Dale Farm ("something you won't find the travellers doing"), that Ms Szarek was considered "terribly humourless" at Cambridge and that Mr Wills sounded "like Swampy gone all posh".

• A year after two University of Manchester researchers won a Nobel prize for discovering graphene, £50 million has been allocated to accelerate the material's commercial exploitation. The investment, announced on 3 October, was part of nearly £200 million in new science capital spending unveiled by George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, at the Conservative Party conference. Some £145 million is earmarked for high-performance computing and "e-infrastructure". The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board will organise a competition for the award of the funding.

• Remarks on race and the UK riots that landed historian David Starkey in hot water this summer have been cleared by the broadcasting watchdog. Dr Starkey, who said on Newsnight that Britain had undergone a cultural shift in which "whites have become black", provoked more than 700 complaints to the BBC and was censured in a letter to Times Higher Education signed by 102 of his peers. However, in a ruling published on 4 October, Ofcom said it would take no action, adding that Dr Starkey's remarks formed part of a "serious and measured discussion". Dr Starkey welcomed the decision, claiming that the row had been "a storm in a Guardian teacup".

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