The week in higher education

April 12, 2012

• Higher education has a new and unlikely champion: Noel Edmonds. The man responsible for Deal or No Deal and Mr Blobby has apparently offered to fund the doctoral studies of a Canterbury Christ Church University student who launched an online hate campaign against him, the Daily Mirror reported on 2 April. After tracking down the internet troll to the university's campus, the TV presenter arranged a meeting with the student to discuss a Facebook page titled "somebody please kill Noel Edmonds". According to Mr Edmonds, the student burst into tears and apologised. In a bizarre twist, the multi-millionaire entertainer said he would fund the PhD student if he undertook a project to understand what drives people to troll celebrities.

• It seems that the University of Exeter has a more socially diverse student cohort than previously thought. The university might soon count a serving prisoner among its student body after a 20-year-old undergraduate was found guilty of driving looters around London during last summer's riots. Laura Johnson, from Orpington, Kent, denied charges of burglary and handling stolen goods, claiming she had been too scared to stand up to friends who told her to drive round the capital on 8 August last year, The Independent reported on 5 April. With the millionaire's daughter at the wheel, rioters loaded up her car with stolen electronic items, a court heard. Ms Johnson, who was apparently on course for a 2:1 in English literature, will be sentenced on 3 May.

• Mystery surrounds the death of a French university head in a New York hotel room. Richard Descoings, 53, the Sciences Po director known for his determination to attract students from underprivileged and ethnic minority backgrounds, was found on a bed in the Michelangelo Hotel, The Daily Telegraph said on 5 April. President Nicolas Sarkozy led tributes to the academic, saying that Descoings "contributed more than anyone of his generation to furthering the prestige of France's higher education system".

• They are not known for their erudition, but Wayne Rooney and his Premier League pals might be more intelligent than the rest of the population in certain areas, new research suggests. Academics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm studied the cognitive performance of footballers in Sweden's top league compared with those in lower divisions, The Times reported on 5 April. Tests on creativity, cognitive flexibility, processing speed and working memory - classed as "executive function" - showed that top division players were in the top 2 per cent of the population for this measure. Researcher Torbjorn Vestberg said top footballers were "very clever" but "don't have time for education. That's why they sometimes look stupid."

• Anti-elitism protester Trenton Oldfield became public enemy number one after swimming in front of the Boat Race crews on 7 April. But Alexander Boot of the Daily Mail identified the real villain behind the chaos on the Thames: Mr Oldfield's former university, the London School of Economics. Tracing the Australian's actions back to the institution's "Lenin-admiring" founders, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the Mail blogger concluded that "he acted in the fine tradition of his Fabian alma mater". "I do think that, rather than being punished, Oldfield should be awarded a doctorate honoris causa," added Boot on 9 April. "He does the LSE proud."

• Easter may be a time of chocolate-coated plenty for children, but it does not offer rich pickings for news editors. That may explain why The Guardian led on 10 April with a somewhat flaky story. The story appeared to suggest that the new eLife journal, to be launched this summer by a trio of global funders including the Wellcome Trust, was a response to an "academic spring" that has led 9,000 academics to boycott non-open-access journals. As Times Higher Education readers will know, eLife was actually unveiled last July, while the Cost of Knowledge petition - which relates specifically to Elsevier journals - was launched in January. Open-access advocates will no doubt welcome the publicity regardless, but publishers are likely to sense another attempt to steamroller them ahead of discussions at the government-convened Finch committee on open access.

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