The week in higher education

March 8, 2012

• Sally Hunt, the University and College Union's general secretary, has vowed to fight "fewer battles" while focusing on "members' priorities" after she was re-elected by a landslide. Ms Hunt defeated her only opponent - Mark Campbell, a senior lecturer in computing at London Metropolitan University backed by the UCU Left group - by a margin of 6,835 votes, garnering 73 per cent of the ballots cast in the process. She said the vote was a "clear endorsement" of her reform plans, which include reducing the size of the UCU's national executive committee. The lone blot on her victory copybook was that just 12.8 per cent of ballot papers were returned.

• During the 2010 general election campaign, David Cameron's vision of a Big Society reportedly had all the doorstep popularity of a Jehovah's Witness. Nevertheless, one of the US' leading universities is to benefit from the blue-skies thinking that brought the UK such game-changing ideas. The concept's creator, Steve Hilton - Mr Cameron's most influential policy guru of recent years - is leaving 10 Downing Street behind for an "unpaid" sabbatical to lecture on government at Stanford University. But Big Society fans need not fret: prime ministerial aides say that Mr Hilton - whose love of casual clothes will probably fit in well in California - will return in 2013.

• David Starkey may be one of television's more forthright academics, but it seems he managed to outdo even himself on the BBC's Question Time last week. Not content with attacking a member of the audience over who was to blame for the budget deficit, he then enraged many female viewers by suggesting that they preferred to make decisions with their hearts rather than their heads. His performance was rounded off with a swipe at the French, who he said had seen the D-Day forces in the Second World War more as conquerors than liberators. At one point David Dimbleby, the programme's chair, was forced to shout down Dr Starkey to stop his rants taking up too much air time.

• As Times Higher Education went to press, London College of Communication staff were still in the dark over the future of the institution's controversial leader, Sandra Kemp. Professor Kemp, who has been criticised for her management style and handling of course cuts, was removed from full duties last week and is now thought likely to leave her post. THE revealed last month that Professor Kemp had sought advice from publicist Max Clifford after being criticised last November in a resignation letter by the college's departing head of communications, Gillian Radcliffe.

• The title of controversial academic paper of the week was won hands down by a piece in the Journal of Medical Ethics suggesting that "after-birth abortion" should be acceptable because fetuses and newborns do not have "the same moral status as actual persons". Alberto Giubilini of Monash University and Francesca Minerva of the University of Melbourne argued that killing a newborn baby should be "permissible in all cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled", reported The Huffington Post website. Unsurprisingly, the report triggered a wave of protest but Julian Savulescu, the journal's editor, pointed out that the paper was not an argument in favour of infanticide. "The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth...It is to present well-reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises," he wrote on the British Medical Journal's blog.

• The launch of a £26 million gift to the University of Oxford from Mica Ertegun - the widow of Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun - to fund postgraduate scholarships in the humanities grabbed the headlines, thanks in part to the involvement of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones. But Oxford's vice-chancellor has expressed "deep concern" that the wider issue of graduate education still needs attention. Writing in The Times on 1 March, Andrew Hamilton said arguments that postgraduate study was a "lifestyle choice" rang "increasingly hollow", and that the sector needed support for the UK to retain its competitive advantage.

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