The week in higher education

November 3, 2011

• To the list of contributions that higher education has made to UK society, add vomit-inducing two-for-one drinks promotions and the drunks urinating on the high street on a Friday night. Phil Withington, a history lecturer at the University of Cambridge, attributed the UK's binge-drinking culture to the growth in student numbers at Oxford, Cambridge and the Inns of Court that peaked in the 1630s. In remarks quoted on October, he said: "Socialising became intrinsically linked with intoxication and drinking establishments and it became OK to be very, very drunk in public - attitudes we have inherited." Any alcopop manufacturers with cash sloshing around really ought to fund an Oxbridge chair in gratitude.

• Sign a statement saying you're not gay and not having sex outside marriage, or face the sack - that was the message to staff at Shorter University in Georgia, US. The Baptist institution will require staff to sign a "personal lifestyle statement", agreeing to reject "all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality", it was reported on 30 October. Donald Dowless, university president, said: "Anybody who adheres to a lifestyle that is outside of what the biblical mandate is...would not be allowed to continue here. Anything outside that, we do not accept." So it's out with gays, but no news on the boring "love thy neighbour as thyself" stuff.

• As the world economy continues to reel from the banking crisis, encouraging news emerges of banks entering student lending and the creation of "subprime" student loans. The University of Surrey has been "holding talks with banks" and "believes parents remortgaging homes or taking out bank loans could make the cost of courses more affordable for some students", The Sunday Times reported on 30 October. If large numbers were to opt out, this could endanger the state scheme and leave it dominated by "subprime" borrowers unable to repay, it said. Hopefully it will be your home that is repossessed if you fail to keep up repayments, not your children.

• Top biologists have a new publishing option following the launch of the Royal Society's first wholly open-access journal. Open Biology aims to compete for high-impact papers against titles such as those in the Cell and Nature stables, it was reported on 31 October. The journal hopes to address researchers' dissatisfaction with the leading journals that are considered essential for career progression but where acceptance is "becoming more and more of a crapshoot", said editor-in-chief David Glover, professor of genetics at the University of Cambridge. With vocabulary like that, he needs to take care over his proofs.

• A TV clairvoyant who describes herself as "Britain's best-loved psychic" turned down the chance to prove her powers in a test devised by an academic. Lawyers acting for Sally Morgan emailed the science writer Simon Singh to refuse the offer, it was reported on 31 October. Chris French, head of the anomalistic psychology unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, had devised a test in which Ms Morgan would be shown pictures of 10 dead women and asked to match them to a list of their first names. The email from Ms Morgan requests that Mr Singh does not contact her or her office again, and states: "You well know that we all have far more important things to do than take part in this or any other 'test' at this point." One didn't need to be psychic to predict that Ms Morgan would turn down the potentially career-ruining test.

• Halloween brought feverish nightmares for Sir Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. Writing in The Guardian on 1 November, he pointed to the Right's resumption of its campaign against the expansion of higher education. "Now the beast is back," Sir Peter says, as conservatives "anticipate a permanent shrinking of a bloated mass system". Increased fees and lower public funding mean "elitist ideologies have re-emerged from the undergrowth", he adds. But Sir Peter predicts the "counter-revolutionary moment will pass" as "higher education for the masses has proved itself".

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