The week in higher education

March 29, 2012

• Well done to the University of Manchester for clinching this year's University Challenge title. It is the third time a Manchester team has won the television quiz show in seven years, noted Rebecca Armstrong in The Independent on 21 March. "Without wishing to sound as though I have an educational chip on my shoulder, it cheers this alumnus to note that each win has been against an Oxbridge college," she said. "The main reason this is so impressive is not just that my alma mater has kicked academic butt against its grander rivals, but that the Manchester students beat Oxford and Cambridge despite (the fact) that the city of Manchester has way more fun things to do." Much more willpower was needed to stay away from the tempting drinks offers in Manchester's students' union, she added.

• There were revelations of shocking behaviour from an unlikely source this week - a drunken social event at a university rugby club. The University of East Anglia's rugby team was banned from playing for 18 months after it was claimed members went to a "bad taste" party dressed variously as a Ku Klux Klan member, Gary Speed - the Wales football manager who was found hanged - and Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord, The Daily Telegraph reported on 22 March. Players were also accused of sexist behaviour, leading the students' union to disband the club until September 2013.

• A UK scientist faces up to 16 years in jail in Argentina after his arrest on suspicion of drug smuggling. Paul Frampton, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was stopped at an airport in Buenos Aires after 2kg of cocaine was allegedly found in his suitcase, The Daily Telegraph said on 23 March. Professor Frampton, a Kidderminster-born University of Oxford graduate, said the drugs were planted on him in a "honeytrap" involving a model he met via the internet. The 68-year-old has been in prison since his arrest on 23 January. John Bird, a former neighbour and retired lawyer, said: "He got set up. I would bet my life on it."

• Was George Osborne's "granny tax" a much-needed corrective to the intergenerational injustice detailed in David Willetts' book The Pinch? Although some commentators agreed, debt-laden students may think otherwise after last week's Budget indicated they might have to wait until they are septuagenarians for their state pension. The Observer on 25 March quoted an analysis by longevity risk experts Club Vita that the move to create an automatic link between life expectancy and retirement age meant students graduating this summer will not pick up their state pension until they are 71. Perhaps a copy of Mr Willetts' treatise, subtitled How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And Why They Should Give It Back, is winging its way to 11 Downing Street?

• Universities have long expressed frustration over the damage done to the overseas student market by the Home Office's visa crackdown - but now some tough-talking accountants have stuck their oar in. The National Audit Office published a report criticising the UK Border Agency over the implementation of the Tier 4 points-based system for students in 2009, estimating that 40,000 to 50,000 people entered the UK intent on working rather than studying in the first year. Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said the UKBA needed to ensure that those with no right to remain in the UK were "pursued more vigorously". But Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge warned: "We must ensure that legitimate concerns about immigration do not end up causing irreversible damage to a profoundly successful British export."

• More alumni are donating to UK universities than ever before, according to the latest Ross-CASE report, which surveyed gifts to the sector in 2010-11. A total of 162,913 former students gave to their alma maters compared with 147,266 the previous year, while the amount of philanthropic cash universities raised grew by 8.3 per cent to £560 million. But Kate Hunter, executive director of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Europe, warned that a new cap on tax relief of £50,000 or a quarter of an individual's income - announced in last week's Budget - could put off potential big donors.

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