The week in higher education

May 31, 2012

• Sharp-eyed readers who wondered why, in our 17 May issue, we reported that only one of two academics at Queen Mary, University of London who wrote a critical letter to The Lancet had apparently been charged with misconduct may rest assured that equity has prevailed. John Allen, professor of biochemistry, has since confirmed to Times Higher Education that he too is in trouble over the letter, which criticised the metrics-based redundancy programme under way in two of the university's schools. Queen Mary will investigate whether he and lecturer Fanis Missirlis sought to bring the two figures overseeing the restructuring into "disrepute", which could result in dismissal for gross misconduct. Dr Missirlis has already been placed "at risk" of redundancy for not meeting the metrics criteria. Both academics deny the misconduct allegations.

• An economist has accused Nick Clegg of misrepresenting his research. Gary Solon, professor of economics at Michigan State University, said he was surprised to hear that the deputy prime minister had quoted his work to question the link between income inequality and poor social mobility, The Guardian reported on 24 May. Referring to Mr Clegg's speech at a Sutton Trust conference last week, Professor Solon said that he had been "misquoted and misrepresented" as he had argued the opposite of the government's claim. "Sounds like if I could have voted in the UK, I would not be voting for [Mr Clegg]," he said. A spokesman for Mr Clegg described the relationship between inequality and social mobility as "complex".

• Universities were expected to be a focus in another report on social mobility. Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary who will report on access to the professions, has found that of the 115 universities in the country, on average only 19 are targeted by leading professional employers for their graduates, The Observer reported on 26 May. "Those universities are the more socially exclusive...so those recruitment practices merely enforce the social exclusivity of the professions. It is an interesting argument that of the 115 universities, only 19 are capable of producing excellent graduates," Mr Milburn said. The report, the first of three expected from the social mobility tsar, was scheduled for publication on 30 May.

• As newspapers roll out countless stories on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, it seems that historians are keen to jump on the media's royal bandwagon. Most illuminating was Sir Roy Strong's revelation in The Daily Telegraph on 28 May that the "make-do-and-mend Queen" was impressed that Kate Middleton is "not afraid to wear the same dress twice". Sir Roy, former head of the National Portrait Gallery, said this thriftiness resonated with the Queen, who had made sacrifices after the Second World War. It takes a skilled historian to link the pain and privation of the Second World War with a young woman wearing a dress twice.

• A University of Exeter student who drove looters around London during last summer's riots has been jailed for two years. Laura Johnson left behind a privileged upbringing to embrace a world of "cannabis, alcohol and violent gangster rap music" shortly before taking part in the crime spree, The Daily Telegraph reported on 26 May. Sentencing her, Judge Patricia Lees said Ms Johnson had been caught up in the "thrill" of the mayhem and lawlessness, and had not been coerced into helping the knife-wielding robbers. Despite the two-year sentence, the 20-year-old could be out within seven months. Exeter said it "will now consider the outcome in order to determine the best way forward with regards to Laura's studies".

• South Africa and Australia are to host the biggest radio telescope ever built, it was announced on 26 May. The nations had bid against each other to host the £1.2 billion Square Kilometre Array, but both will now set up fields of satellite dishes to probe the Universe's origins. The SKA will be 10,000 times faster and 50 times more sensitive than any previous telescope, The Independent said. Expected to be completed in 2024, the SKA's 3,000 dishes - each 15m across - will have the data-collecting area of 1 million sq m. Its project centre will be based at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, part of the University of Manchester.

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