The week in higher education

March 15, 2012

• Racism is usually blamed on complex factors such as socio-economic background, peer group influence and political propaganda, but one academic study has suggested that rock music also has a case to answer. Researchers at the University of Minnesota asked 138 students to listen to different genres of music and then say how they would distribute money to various student groups. Those who listened to mainstream rock music such as Bruce Springsteen and the White Stripes handed most of the money to white people, the Daily Mail reported, while others who listened to Top 40 pop - made by artists such as Gwen Stefani and Akon - were fairer towards other ethnic groups.

• After the global furore that accompanied his arrest over sexual assault allegations in the US, former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Khan might have expected a quieter time at the University of Cambridge. Instead he was greeted by dozens of protesters angry at his being invited to give a speech to the Cambridge Union on 9 March; many carried placards calling for "justice" for Nafissatou Diallo, the hotel maid who is still pursuing a civil case against him despite criminal charges having been dropped. Ruth Graham, the women's officer for the students' union, accused the debating society of courting publicity by inviting Mr Strauss-Kahn, The Times reported. But Katie Lam, president of the Cambridge Union Society, said he had been invited long before any allegations were made.

• In the not-too-distant past, UK universities were warning of the prospect of a "valley of death" opening up where cuts to funding would be slashed before higher tuition fees could replace the lost income. But this week's report on the financial health of universities from the Higher Education Funding Council for England seems to indicate that the sector appears to be rolling in fields of plenty. Hefce said university finances in 2010-11 were the "best on record", with an operating surplus of £1 billion - or 4.6 per cent of total income. However, funding chiefs still warned of "a large degree of uncertainty" on the horizon.

• The University of Oxford student who caused a media ruckus when it emerged that she had launched her campaign to become an Oxford Union librarian with the slogan "I don't hack, I just have a great rack" has hit back. Madeline Grant said the joke had been "taken out of context" and she claimed Oxford was beset by "casual sexism" due to the fact that it was a destination for many privately educated men from boarding schools. She also told the Daily Mail that regrettably she now had a fan club in Turkey. "There's a horrible website where they rate my marks out of 10. It's creepy," she said.

• Students embarked on "a week of action" on 12 March to protest recent changes in higher education by calling on the government and universities to "come clean" on their plans. The week of protest, lobbying and debate was focused on a national walkout at campuses across the UK on 14 March at noon. Students have also been taking part in marches, rallies, teach-ins, discussions, petition signings and other campaign actions, according to the National Union of Students. Liam Burns, NUS president, said students wanted to demonstrate their anger at ministers who have not made clear their plans for increased marketisation of higher education.

• A teenager has been jailed for seven years for a callous attack on a Malaysian student that became one of the defining images of the London riots last summer. Ashraf Rossli, had been in the UK for a matter of weeks when he was assaulted in Barking, East London, while riding his bike. A nearby resident filmed the attack, which showed his attackers pretending to help the student while rifling through his rucksack. On 10 March, one of the attackers, 18-year-old Beau Isagba - whose punch had broken the student's jaw in two places - was jailed for seven years after being convicted of charges including causing grievous bodily harm.

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