The week in higher education

October 13, 2011

• The head of the private New College of the Humanities has said that the institution, which will charge tuition fees of £18,000 a year, will interview candidates rather than determine entry based solely on A-level grades, it was reported on 6 October. Philosopher A.C. Grayling said: "We can get students with a number of A* grades who are not particularly thoughtful and those who are less prepared on paper who are genuinely interesting." Given that those at private colleges will only be able to access student loans to a maximum of £6,000 a year in 2012, the admissions policy may have the happy side-effect of allowing for candidates without top grades but with "genuinely interesting" bank balances.

• One of Labour's rising stars will oversee the party's higher education policy. Chuka Umunna, the MP for Streatham, was appointed shadow business secretary by leader Ed Miliband in a reshuffle on 8 October, replacing John Denham. Shabana Mahmood becomes shadow higher education minister, replacing Gareth Thomas. At the Universities UK conference last month, Mr Denham took umbrage after being told that he was not listed to speak - he eventually delivered a lengthy address once he had been placated by his anxious hosts. Building bridges with Mr Umunna will be a top priority for UUK. After all, its presidents would not want their knighthoods jeopardised under any Labour government.

• The computer giant Apple has a "secret" university project "designed to inject future Apple leaders with the 'intellectual DNA' of the late Steve Jobs". Joining the frenzied hype following the death of Mr Jobs last week, The Times reported on 8 October that the "Apple University" will stress a "handful of key tenets exemplified by the mercurial Jobs, including attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity and secrecy" and will teach disciplines ranging from the fine arts to management. Presumably, students will be encouraged to drop out after six months, just as Mr Jobs did from Reed College in dismay at high tuition fees.

• The return of "Britain's most notorious and debauched student pub crawl" was pored over by a breathless, red-faced Daily Mail. Cardiff hosted the first Carnage UK event of the new academic year, a now-traditional shindig that results in "university students unashamedly smooching in doorways, vomiting in the streets and young girls being carried home unconscious", the Mail reported on 10 October. "With the theme 'Nympho Nurses and Dirty Doctors', many of the mostly teenage crowd wore barely-there outfits." As a measure of its sheer disgust and outrage, the newspaper's website bravely offered readers nine pictures of "barely-there" outfits and general debauchery.

• The academy's citation sensation completed a clean sweep of spot-on Nobel prize predictions on 10 October. David Pendlebury, a citations analyst for Thomson Reuters, predicted the winners of the prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economics (although he tipped the chemistry winner, Dan Shechtman, for physics). Mr Pendlebury has described his method as focusing on highly cited authors and considering whether there were particular discoveries for which they could be credited. A testament to the reliability of citation data, some might argue - but if Mr Pendlebury wants more publicity, he needs to get a psychic octopus involved.

• Critics in the national press have begun to lament the effects of government immigration policy on universities. Dominic Lawson, writing in The Independent on 11 October, drew a contrast between the UK and the US, "where universities are exempt from any immigration cap, in their hiring of academics and researchers". He pointed to the contribution these academic migrants had made to industry in Silicon Valley. Mr Lawson said UK policy "sends out the message to frustrated talent in Russia, China and India that they will be more welcome in the United States than they are here. From the true British patriot's point of view, that can only be bad news."

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