The week in higher education

October 20, 2011

• Sir Alex Ferguson has received an honorary University of Manchester doctorate to mark his 25 years as manager of Manchester United. Rod Coombs, deputy vice-chancellor, said on 13 October that thanks to the football club, "everything that comes out of Manchester has an instant recognition factor all over the world". Sir Alex and Manchester United have flourished since the foundation of the Premier League in 1992, when a breakaway elite ramped up their commercial income, hiked charges to customers and enriched themselves at the expense of poorer counterparts. Most celebrity honorary degrees are largely pointless, but this one seems rather pertinent to higher education's new world.

• Shouty actor Brian Blessed will not be the University of Cambridge's chancellor, bringing relief for university leaders and disappointment for the ironists who championed him. Cambridge's official candidate, former Labour science minister Lord Sainsbury, won the approval of the university Senate, it was announced on 16 October. The media had been entertained for weeks by an eclectic list of candidates including barrister Michael Mansfield and shopkeeper Abdul Arain, who was angered by plans for a Sainsbury's store on his patch. But given Lord Sainsbury's status as a philanthropist who recently donated £82 million to the institution, the result was surely never in doubt.

• Every academic has had tough conferences: PowerPoint presentations that won't load, audiences thinking only of lunch, and now, challenges about your alleged past as a police spy. In an article on 17 October, The Guardian claimed that Bob Lambert, a lecturer at the universities of Exeter and St Andrews, had "been unmasked as a former spy who controlled a network of undercover police officers in political groups". The former Special Branch officer turned Islamophobia expert spoke at a conference organised by Unite Against Fascism, where he was challenged about allegedly posing as a London Greenpeace activist in the 1980s, the newspaper said.

Sun readers are rarely offered an exposition of the finer points of academic journal publications. But on 17 October the newspaper considered "what makes the perfect boobs" with reference to research by University College Hospital plastic surgeon Patrick Mallucci published in the International Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery. A page 3 picture of brunette "stunna" Hollie was overlaid with a diagram of the "nipple meridian" and optimum "upward nipple angle: 20 deg". Many women would have contested research by a male plastic surgeon suggesting that the "perfect boob" can or should exist, but Hollie confined herself to observing that "perky ones are the best".

• An academic has pleaded guilty to possessing drugs after the death of a teenager during a party at his home in west London, it was reported on 17 October. Brian Dodgeon was suspended from his job as a research Fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London, following the death of Isobel Jones-Reilly in April. The 15-year-old, a friend of Mr Dodgeon's daughter, fell ill at his house while he and his partner were away. The researcher, who described himself to police as a recreational drug user and "old hippy", admitted four charges of possessing drugs including Ecstasy, LSD and ketamine. The court heard that he had tried to kill himself after the tragedy by jumping off a flyover.

• Lord Sugar has returned to one of his favourite subjects: bashing higher education. The Labour peer renewed his attack as a new series of the BBC One programme Young Apprentice began. "Not everybody needs to go to university. They can go out and start working straight away," he was quoted as saying on 18 October. "We want to show you can start something from nothing and get away from this culture of university, then gap year for two years, then go and get a job at some consultancy, then go on the dole." Studying physics or engineering is clearly a waste of time compared with strategically important Apprentice tasks, such as finding a kosher chicken in Marrakesh.

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