The week in higher education

March 22, 2012

• A British student has been "sold down the river" by the government, his mother has said, after his extradition to the US was approved by Theresa May, the home secretary. Richard O'Dwyer faces up to 10 years in prison, if convicted by a US court, after prosecutors accused him of breaking copyright laws by directing users to pirated copies of films and television shows via his website, TVShack. Julia O'Dwyer said her son, a Sheffield Hallam University student, who is alleged to have made £147,000 running the site, had been betrayed, The Times reported on 13 March. She said she did not expect David Cameron to raise her son's case during his visit to the US last week, adding: "The man's wet, isn't he? He should be sticking up for UK citizens but until it happens to a member of Parliament...he'll do nothing." Her son's lawyer, Ben Cooper, claims that the TVShack site did not infringe copyright law because it did not store material itself, but rather pointed users to other sites in a similar manner to search engines such as Google.

• Student loans may be the government's solution to funding higher education - but it seems their use may not end there. Sir Richard Branson says school leavers who opt not to go to university should be eligible for student loans to start businesses, the Financial Times reported on 13 March. The Virgin tycoon told the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Liverpool that the scheme would be a "great way of kick-starting thousands of new businesses". Sir Richard added: "Businesses don't need much money to get going and a student loan is enough money to get those that can grow into multinational businesses going." The scheme would need to be backed by the government, he said, as the Student Loans Company cannot underwrite risk for businesses.

• After an often controversial decade at the head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury has announced that he is stepping down to take charge of a University of Cambridge college. Rowan Williams will stand down in December and take on the role of master of Magdalene College, Cambridge in January 2013. Dr Williams will be the 35th master of the institution, replacing art historian Duncan Robinson, who has held the post for the past 10 years. Welcoming the appointment, a college spokesman said: "His very distinguished record, both as a scholar and a public figure, will provide for the whole community a model of the high standards of achievement to which Magdalene is committed." Dr Williams said: "I am very grateful to the college for the honour they have done me, and look forward to being part of such a lively and intellectually rigorous community."

• A report in The Guardian on 20 March that the University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London are to share lecturers as part of a teaching, research and outreach collaboration appeared to catch the institutions at odds. Although a spokeswoman for Queen Mary confirmed that the universities would share lecturers in third-year undergraduate history, English and computer science seminars - and look to include other subjects in the future - a spokesman for Warwick said that no decisions had been made. But in a joint statement on the tie-up, the two institutions did say that "cross contributions to undergraduate teaching" would "ensure that the universities' students benefit from the partnership by having access to an even broader range of leading academics".

• The decision by the University of Cambridge's disciplinary court to suspend a PhD student for seven terms for his role in a protest against the government has sparked trenchant criticism. A letter sent to Times Higher Education signed by 35 scholars and authors, including novelist Philip Hensher and poet Sean Bonney, says that the suspension of Owen Holland had set "a dangerous precedent which threatens to stifle debate within our academic institutions". Mr Holland has been told he cannot return to his studies until the end of 2014 after he disrupted a speech at Cambridge by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, by reading a poem criticising coalition policy.

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