The week in higher education

February 2, 2012

• In a glimpse of how some conservative politicians in the US view their higher education system, a high-profile Republican lamented the loss of the sector to "the Left" on 25 January, urging Americans to withhold funds from colleges and universities. Would-be presidential candidate Rick Santorum accused universities of inculcating liberal-atheist values. "The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the Left holding and maintaining power," he said, adding that if universities taught "Judaeo-Christian principles" they would be "stripped of every dollar". Having studied for a decade at Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh, Mr Santorum is to be congratulated for surviving so long in such dens of iniquity.

• "Even the poker-faced academics at Cambridge have gone gaga for Lady Gaga," claimed the Evening Standard on 26 January. But while the headline sparked hopes of cape-clad dons recreating the Mother Monster's video for Born This Way, the reality was far more pedestrian: one student has received permission from one academic to write a dissertation on Lady Gaga's role in the history of pop art. Amrou Al-Kadhi, a history of art student at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, said his supervisor was won over when he provided him with YouTube links to examples of Lady Gaga's works and "pointed out the Warholian aesthetic apparent in the Telephone music video". But fears that the University of Cambridge may be joining the 21st century appear to be unfounded: Mr Al-Kadhi said that a major initial hurdle was explaining who the recording artist was to baffled scholars.

• Few non-academics can claim to have had success at both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, but Katie Price can add her name to that elite list. Having won over the Oxford Union last year, the former glamour model earned kudos for her performance last week at the Cambridge Union. The author and entrepreneur Ms Price delivered a short speech before going head to head with journalist and author Rachel Johnson, editor-in-chief of The Lady - or, as the Daily Mail billed her on 28 January, "sister of London mayor Boris Johnson". The two debated the motion "the only limit to female success is female ambition". Ms Price and her team successfully opposed the motion to a "landslide victory". The Mail helpfully provided a cut-out-and-keep guide to the two women's views on feminism, including Ms Price's line: "Some people might be famous for creating a pencil sharpener. I'm famous for my tits."

• Changes to the UK's student-visa system have had consequences for private higher education providers that are "swift and probably even more devastating than was predicted", it was claimed on 30 January. A report by the thinktank CentreForum, titled Tier 4 Tears: How Government Student Visa Controls Are Destroying the Private HE Sector, says that enrolments at private colleges have fallen by about 70 per cent as a result of the immigration crackdown. John Sanders, former principal of Cavendish College, which has been forced to close, said there was an "enormous disparity" in the treatment of international students at private institutions and public universities. He added: "The government clearly does not care how it reaches its net migration target."

• From impending apocalypse to a job well done, the national newspapers' take on this week's university application figures was typically varied. For The Independent on 31 January, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures showed "teenagers turning their backs on a university education", with "courses to close and redundancies looming as applications plummet". The Guardian was more optimistic, reporting that "school leavers are still keen on university life", although there had been a "big fall in candidates aged over 30". The Financial Times' evaluation, meanwhile, was in stark contrast to the gloom elsewhere. "On the evidence so far, the government can claim that things are going reasonably well," it reported. "The messy and haphazard reforms are on track."

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