The week in higher education

November 24, 2011

• Academics and students were united in their outrage at the treatment of protesters doused with pepper spray at the University of California, Davis. The incident on 18 November led to the suspension of two police officers, who were attempting to remove students from a peaceful protest linked to the Occupy movement. The clearance was apparently ordered by Linda Katehi, chancellor of UC Davis, who has since faced calls to step down. Mark Yudof, president of the University of California System, said he was "appalled" by the images of the students' treatment, adding that "the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest".

• When University of West London student Craig Colton auditioned for TV talent show The X Factor, he told the judges that he worked in a biscuit factory. One can only assume that he was referring to a part-time job rather than his position as a musical theatre student at the university's London College of Music. But if his decision to snub his alma mater upset the university, it did not let on. With the 22-year-old progressing through the rounds, West London last week issued an excited press release about Mr Colton "wowing the judges with a stunning rendition of Lady Gaga". But his luck was not to hold - on 20 November, he was booted off the show. So will it be back to West London, or to the custard creams?

• Universities are cutting more than 5,000 degree courses in 2012, offering 12 per cent fewer than they did this year, an analysis suggests. According to the study of data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, 38,147 courses are being offered next year, down from 43,360 this year. The analysis, reported on 20 November, was carried out by the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions scheme, which says the reduction reflects "the systematic review of course provision by some higher education institutions". Among those known to be radically restructuring is London Metropolitan University, which plans to cut its course offering by 70 per cent. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Many universities are rationalising courses to make it simpler ... for students to choose."

• While much changes in higher education, students' attempts at humour stay the same. Undergraduates in England and Canada demonstrated this last week as they landed themselves in hot water with inappropriate jokes about rape. First, two "agony uncles" writing in The Beaver, a student paper at the London School of Economics, advised a reader that "it's not rape if you shout 'surprise'". Then, students in a marching band at Queen's University in Ontario attracted controversy with a pamphlet that featured the front-page headline "Mouth raping your little sister since 1905". But if the confusion of poor taste with humour was comparable, the punishments were not. Queen's suspended the band and threatened to expel students, while the LSE said that although the article was "disgusting in the extreme", The Beaver was an independent publication and out of its jurisdiction.

• A long-awaited report into the London School of Economics' links with the Gaddafi regime highlights "multiple failings" in the institution's decision to accept a gift from its former student, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, it was claimed this week. The report, which has been delivered to the LSE by its author Lord Woolf but has not yet been published, considers the school's decision to accept a donation of £1.5 million from Mu'ammer Gaddafi's son just weeks after he completed a PhD at the institution. A separate inquiry is considering allegations that his doctorate was plagiarised. According to The Sunday Times on 20 November, the report finds that a Labour Party donor helped to arrange the gift. The newspaper says that the LSE, "an institution with strong links to the Labour Party, also played a key role in the rehabilitation of the Gaddafi regime". It also claims that David Held, the LSE professor who acted as Saif Gaddafi's "unofficial adviser" at the school, "put his enthusiasm for promoting democracy in Libya above perceptions of conflict of interest".

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