The week in higher education

December 22, 2011

• As the National Union of Students revealed that more students are turning to sex work to cope with the cost of university, the Daily Mail mounted a graphic exposé. On 15 December, it told the tale of Emma Green, who "turned to stripping on a webcam for men and earned £200 a week to fund her studies". The 25-year-old, who studied multimedia design at the University of Glamorgan, said that "some weeks she was living on as little as £40 before stripping and after claiming a student loan, she found herself buried in debt". How noble of the Daily Mail to highlight the case of this unfortunate young woman, and what great journalistic restraint it displayed in using a mere seven webcam pictures of Ms Green, clad in bikini, suspenders, thong...

• With house prices proving resilient in the South East of the country, a new fear stalks sections of the national press: university access. Increasing numbers of students applying to university will undergo "checks on their school and family background under a drive to break the middle-class monopoly on places", The Daily Telegraph said on 17 December. The newspaper suggested that two-thirds of universities would use contextual data in admissions next year. Tim Hands, the master of the private Magdalen College School, Oxford, said he objected to "any attempt to discriminate by school type". One wonders if he feels similarly outraged when he sees figures showing that students from private schools are given a disproportionate 46 per cent share of places at the University of Oxford.

• Theresa May made a foray into the methodology of social science research as she critiqued the Reading the Riots project conducted by the London School of Economics and The Guardian. The home secretary wrote in the Mail on Sunday on 18 December that while she commended the undertaking of the research, "I wholly disagree with many of the conclusions they reached in the resulting report." Ms May argued: "The riots weren't about protest, unemployment or cuts...They were about instant gratification." She added that the research "would have benefited from speaking to a control group of non-rioters". Her comments followed criticism of the project by Margot James, one of the LSE's governors and the Conservative MP for Stourbridge. She said: "For the LSE researchers to automatically conclude that this was anger at treatment at the hands of the police without commenting on the likelihood that a lot of people are going to post-rationalise that behaviour and find excuses for it was naive."

• An academic is suing his former employer, New York University, claiming that he was fired after giving Oscar-nominated actor James Franco a "D" grade. José Angel Santana said he gave the low grade to the star, known for his role in 1 Hours, because he had missed 12 of his 14 "Directing the Actor II" classes while pursuing a master's in fine arts, it was reported on 19 December. Mr Franco was later hired by the university's Tisch School of the Arts as a lecturer on adapting poetry for short films. Dr Santana said: "The school has bent over backwards to create a Franco-friendly environment, that's for sure." Engaged in a spat with colleagues before he even started work, Mr Franco seems a natural academic.

• David Eastwood, the University of Birmingham's vice-chancellor, risked flirting with satire as he urged: "Let's attend again to sausage-making in higher education." Torturing a Bismarck metaphor on law-making in The Guardian on 20 December, he said that the "high-quality meat" is an emphasis on financial aid and access, while "discarded off-cuts will be outdated funding streams such as Hefce's widening participation premium". Professor Eastwood's main purpose was to rehabilitate the Browne Review, on which he served, as "a coherent vision of a student-centred system". But he did not explain why the meaty research and evidence content of the Browne banger was so low compared with the premium sausages from the Robbins and Dearing butchers.

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