The week in higher education

November 17, 2011

• The "sea of rage" promised by anarchists before last week's student protest turned into something of a damp squib, with police matching or outnumbering demonstrators. The press treated the event more like a war than a protest over fees and cuts, an approach echoed by the Metropolitan police, who warned ahead of the march on 9 November that troublemakers might be shot with rubber bullets. In the event, around 4,000 protesters turned out - less than half the 10,000 promised - and a brief attempt to set up an encampment in Trafalgar Square was quickly squashed. If the newspapers struggled to disguise their disappointment over the lack of violence to report on, it did at least allow space to recount some of the protest chants. Among the more memorable: "You can shove your rubber bullets up your arse" and "Aaron Porter, we still hate you".

• The crackdown on student visas and tough talk on "bogus" colleges may be coming back to haunt the Home Office. First it emerged that even as Theresa May, the home secretary, excoriated many in the private sector for abusing the immigration system, so officials at the UK Border Agency were letting hundreds of thousands of people into the country without the necessary checks. Now the Home Office has been threatened with legal action over claims that it mistakenly said 22 colleges were bogus or sub-standard. English UK, which represents 450 language schools, claimed on 10 November that the suggestion that all the colleges that had lost the right to recruit international students were dodgy could bankrupt the institutions, and demanded an apology and retraction. However, a spokesman for the UKBA said that neither would be forthcoming.

• Further pressure was piled on immigration policy on 11 November, when some of the country's leading scientific lights warned that the government was making a "profound mistake". In a letter to The Times, a group that includes the director of the Wellcome Trust and two former presidents of the Royal Society says the government is "proposing to end the right of migrants to settle in the UK, effectively forcing the vast majority to leave the country after five years. This policy would be a profound mistake, jeopardising our position as a hub for the world's finest scientists and engineers." The letter adds: "Let us be clear; the UK needs these people more than they need us."

• If the government was in any doubt about the disquiet over its immigration strategy, Sir Paul Nurse rammed the message home in an interview on 14 November. As well as being president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul is head of the Francis Crick Institute, a £600 million medical research centre scheduled to open in London in four years, which he said was "predicated in part on being a place that will be a magnet around the world. So to put barriers in the way of attracting the very best in the world makes that policy very difficult to implement." His answer? To categorise scientists alongside premiership footballers and ministers of religion. "It may be that [the government] produces a system that will work," he said, "but it is not starting in the right place."

• The University of West London has been removed from the funding council's "at risk" list after 12 years. The improving health of the institution, formerly Thames Valley University, was announced by its vice-chancellor Peter John, who said in an interview with Times Higher Education six months ago that he hoped it would get off the Higher Education Funding Council for England's dreaded list within two years. It had been assessed as at higher risk of financial failure by Hefce for longer than any other university in the country. In a statement on 15 November, Professor John says: "This is a wonderful achievement for the university and it is testament to the hard work and dedication of my colleagues over the last four years. I am very proud of everyone here at the University of West London."

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