The week in higher education

April 19, 2012

• Sociology featured heavily in most media outlets this week, although it was down to research showing that stripping skills are on the slide because of the recession. Researchers at the University of Leeds found that standards had dropped sharply since 2008, with many strippers never having used a pole, the Daily Mail reported on 11 April. The survey of more than 200 dancers heard from many older dancers complaining of a loss of professionalism caused by an influx of untrained migrant workers and students. "There's been a real change," said Teela Sanders, who co-authored the report. "The aesthetics of the dancers has (been) overtaken, as have the skills of flirting and chatting."

• An academic will appear in the eighth instalment of the seminal Up documentary series charting the lives of 14 children from different social backgrounds. As a schoolboy in the original 1964 programme, Seven Up!, Nicholas Hitchon said his dedication to school was because he wanted to "find out about the Moon and all that". Since those days attending a one-room village school in Yorkshire, he has gone on to the University of Oxford and has built a successful academic career in the US. The last time we saw him, in 49 Up, he was working as a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's electrical and computer engineering department. The latest instalment of the series - 56 Up - will be screened next month. Despite his unease at revealing personal information, Professor Hitchon told The Independent on Sunday on 15 April that he felt "very privileged" to be part of the series - "but it's come at a big cost".

• Labour MPs are on the attack over the government's decision to indefinitely delay the planned higher education bill. An early-day motion was tabled by Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, on 16 April, calling for "an urgent debate on the future of higher education policy". It notes "with great concern that further changes...including the opening up of degree-awarding powers and public funding to for-profit education providers, might be enacted without an opportunity for full parliamentary scrutiny and transparency". But there is an urgent debate on the future of higher education policy going on: it just happens to be behind closed doors at the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as they wrangle over the costs of relaxing student number controls still further in 2013-14.

• A.C. Grayling's New College of the Humanities has lost one of its star names after Steve Jones, emeritus professor of genetics at University College London, pulled out. Professor Jones, one of the private university's founding partners, told The Daily Telegraph on 16 April that he'd had a change of heart based on the college's £18,000-a-year fees. "Professor Grayling has had to set up his college at what is arguably the worst possible time in terms of the economy," he said. "The fees that he has been forced to apply mean that it can now no longer really claim to be about public education, and for that reason, I have, amicably, withdrawn from it. I don't rule out giving the odd talk there. As the Emperor Vespasian said, when he ordered a new tax on public lavatories: 'pecunia non olet' ('money doesn't smell')."

• One of the five private providers in the UK sector with degree-awarding powers has been sold to a private equity firm. The College of Law announced the sale of its legal education and training business to Montagu Private Equity on 17 April. The sale has been seen by some in the sector as a potential model for university sell-offs, in whole or part, to for-profit investors. Like many universities, the College of Law is a charity with a Royal Charter. In a statement, it says that the "proceeds of the sale will contribute to a significant fund, in excess of £200 million, with which the charity - set to be renamed The Legal Education Foundation - will further its charitable object to promote the advancement of legal education and the study of law for future generations of students through bursaries, scholarships and grants."

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