The week in higher education

December 15, 2011

• An open letter to The Daily Telegraph on 7 December from nearly 500 professors lamented that the government's higher education White Paper would allow "private, for-profit companies substantial access to publicly subsidised loans and...companies, including private equity firms, to acquire struggling universities". The signatories were led by Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, and Martin Hall, vice-chancellor of the University of Salford - who shouldn't expect a knighthood any time soon. A reply from Tom Burkard of the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank said the letter overlooked the high student satisfaction scores at the University of Buckingham, the UK's "only established private university". It may have been Margaret Thatcher's favourite university, but not-for-profit Buckingham is different from the for-profit private providers discussed in the original letter.

• The world of "private tutors" who write students' essays was probed by The Daily Telegraph, which noted the less-than-inspiring claim by UKBestEssays.com: "We provide piece of mind." Stratos Malamatinas, founder of Oxbridge Essays, said his firm helped overseas students unable to express themselves in English. "British universities are happy to take their money without checking their English," he said. We're sure the overseas agents hired by some universities to recruit students in bulk are scrupulous and attentive in their language checks.

• Education giant Pearson, already keen to secure degree-awarding powers, is said to be lining up a bid for the College of Law. The Daily Telegraph reported on 10 December that, according to banking sources, "Pearson is believed to have received the information memorandum on the College of Law and to be considering participating in the second round of the auction of the legal training company." The college may change hands for up to £200 million, it was reported. Not the sort of money sloshing around at Pearson's potential future rivals in the state-funded sector, who may feel like wildebeest about to compete against some large tigers.

• Hundreds of students were hit by a "phishing" scam that drained a total of £1 million from their bank accounts, it was reported on 10 December. A criminal network targeted students on government loan schemes via email, duping them into providing bank details that were then used to withdraw thousands of pounds at a time, Scotland Yard said. For a fleeting, guilty moment, did a bright idea occur to Treasury officials working on the new student loans system? Their calculations on future graduate earnings must be looking ever more optimistic as incomes continue to shrink, and the government needs to get its money back from those hard-to-track European Union students somehow.

• The human rights group Liberty has criticised universities for "aggressive" action against campus protests, The Guardian website reported on 11 December. The University of Birmingham has obtained a High Court injunction forbidding "persons unknown" from staging any "occupational-style protest" for 12 months unless they obtain prior written permission from the university. Royal Holloway, University of London has "considered a similar order", the newspaper said. Sabina Frediani, Liberty's campaigns coordinator, said: "Universities should be places where ideas and opinions can be explored, and they should be engaging with the students in their care - not criminalising them."

• US universities are buying up.xxx domain names following the launch of a new web domain suffix intended for pornographic sites. The University of Kansas spent $3,000 (£1,925) to register URLs including KUgirls.xxx and KUnurses.xxx to prevent porn-industry firms from cashing in on its name, the Associated Press reported on 12 December. "There's no way we can predict what some unscrupulous entrepreneur might come up with," said Paul Vander Tuig, Kansas' trademark licensing director. The Associated Press helpfully noted that Kansas was buying the sites to keep them out of use, "not because it's planning a Hot Babes of Kansas site".

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