The week in higher education

December 8, 2011

• A journalism lecturer and former News of the World reporter arrested in connection with the phone-hacking scandal says she has "never been involved in the interception of telecommunications". Bethany Usher, a senior lecturer in media and journalism at Teesside University, was arrested and bailed until March, it was reported on 1 December. She says she quit journalism after growing disillusioned with newspapers that "saw human suffering as fodder to fill pages". Prior to her arrest she tweeted in response to evidence from a former News of the World staffer to the Leveson inquiry into media ethics. "Just a shame that decent journalists feel need to get out of tabloids. Academia is far nicer," she said.

• Philosopher A.C. Grayling has already defended his New College of the Humanities against academic critics - and now he is defending it in the Intellectual Property Office. New College, Oxford has applied for a trademark in anticipation of a similar move by its £18,000-a-year namesake, The Daily Telegraph reported on 2 December. Those expecting the Oxford college's application to cite more than six centuries of academic excellence may be surprised to hear that it focuses instead on protecting the name for use in "university services" and on products including "blouses, dressing gowns and toothbrushes".

• It must have been a dream come true: finding a fellow PhD student willing to pay £150 an hour for tutoring, £600 for essays and "working papers", and fly you around on a private jet. The downside for LSE doctoral student Philipp Dorstewitz, now a Maastricht University lecturer, was that his tutee was Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The Daily Telegraph reported on 2 December that one email from Dr Dorstewitz read: "Hey Saif, Just finished your papaer [sic] on Mill...The other one follow [sic] shortly." Dr Gaddafi has kept his doctorate despite allegations of plagiarism - but his waving of a machine gun and vowing to quell the rebellion with rivers of blood suggests he gave John Stuart Mill's arguments on liberty a cursory glance at best.

• Universities' social and economic value is akin to that of sandwich shops, said novelist Philip Hensher as he discussed the LSE-Libya scandal on 2 December. Writing in The Independent, the University of Exeter creative writing professor predicted some institutions would go bust. "If a sandwich shop consistently serves you stale bread and poisoned prawns...you throw it in the bin and go next door," Mr Hensher said. So a university charging £,000 for a degree that is unimpressive "in many employers' eyes" would "deserve to go out of business". But the analogy can stretch only so far. Which failed sandwich shop left thousands out of work, a hole in its regional economy and damaged the job prospects of those left with worthless lunches?

• On 4 December, The Sunday Times reported the plight of Alexander Kachkayev, a Russian student who said he was told by the head of his university in Tomsk to vote for Vladimir Putin's United Russia party in parliamentary elections or jeopardise his future. "He said we should take our mobile phones into the polling station and take a picture of our ballot to prove that we had voted as told," Mr Kachkayev said. "If we refused we would be punished with lower marks...and even risk getting kicked out of university." The Tomsk vice-chancellor may score well on willingness to engage with undergraduates but seems less hot on the "students as consumers" agenda.

• Vice-chancellors "risk joining bankers as objects of public disdain" as a result of their "largely craven" response to the government's reforms, Sir Peter Scott has warned. The former vice-chancellor of Kingston University said the response had been at odds with anger raging elsewhere. "No longer confined to the 'usual suspects'...it is gradually becoming established as the dominant response among the academic rank-and-file and high-profile public intellectuals," he said on 6 December. "Not so long ago, the much despised 'chattering classes' shared the politicians' low opinion of universities; now they are rallying to their defence."

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