The week in higher education

June 28, 2012

• "Stinking rich" colleges at the University of Cambridge are branching out into some unusual commercial activities, according to The Times columnist Richard Morrison, in an article published on 22 June. Reflecting on the formation of the new Cambridge & Counties Bank by Trinity Hall, in partnership with Cambridgeshire's local government pension fund, Mr Morrison wonders if the move into banking is grounded in the "blithe self-assurance" common in Cambridge graduates. Noting how "academics have seemed as fallible as anyone else" since the 2008 crash took a bite out of the endowments of Harvard and Yale universities, he asks if this "hazardous venture" will make Trinity Hall "as derelict as Toad Hall?" How will other colleges compete, he asks. "Can we expect All Souls to snap up a Premier League football club? Peterhouse to buy a pub chain? Balliol to start backing West End musicals? Well, why not?"

• Left-wing journalist Laurie Penny has hit back at the historian David Starkey after the pair engaged in a heated argument at last weekend's Festival of Education. In her column for The Independent on 25 June, Ms Penny branded Dr Starkey a "Bigotaurus Ridiculus", saying "ancient lizards (like) Starkey and his kind ... have yet to be consigned to history where they belong". Giving her account of their clash at Wellington College on 23 June, she wrote: "Starkey began with a furious ad hominem attack before marching up to me, wagging his finger in my face, shouting abuse, swearing and showering me with flecks of spittle". Ms Penny had accused the medieval historian of "playing xenophobia for laughs" after he said the values of the Asian men in Rochdale who were convicted of grooming white girls for sex were "entrenched in the foothills of the Punjab". Dr Starkey was further riled after Ms Penny asked him if he owned a home in America - suggesting that he might need to explain his tax affairs in the same way that the comedian Jimmy Carr had to. Video footage shows Dr Starkey at one point jabbing a finger at Ms Penny and claiming that she had demanded an excessive fee for a debating appearance. "I think that is as mean and grasping as some runt comedian, and I will not be lectured to by a public-school girl like you," he said.

• The physicist Stephen Hawking famously said that each equation included in his A Brief History of Time would halve its sales. Now findings from the University of Bristol, published on 25 June, have shown that the principle holds true for citations for biology research papers as well. Researchers found that maths-heavy articles were referenced 50 per cent less often than those with little or no maths. Each additional equation per page reduced a paper's citation success by 28 per cent, according to an analysis of 600 papers on evolution published in 1998.

• A court has heard how a gunman smirked after shooting dead an Indian postgraduate student. Kiaran Stapleton, 21, laughed after killing Anuj Bidve, an electronics student at Lancaster University, on a street in Salford on Boxing Day last year, Manchester Crown Court heard on 25 June. Stapleton had a teardrop tattoo inked on his face two days after the shooting, which can signify that the wearer has killed someone, the court was told, according to a report in The Guardian. Stapleton, from Ordsall, Salford, admits the manslaughter of the 23-year-old but denies murder on grounds of diminished responsibility. The prosecution has rejected the plea, and the trial is expected to last up to four weeks.

• Companies will be able to hobnob with university business deans as a result of changes to the structure of the Association of Business Schools. The organisation - which "needs to work closer with business", said Paul Marshall, the chief executive - has introduced a "corporate" membership category so firms "that have an interest in...the ABS for networking purposes" may join for £5,000 a year. Corporate members will not be able to vote or join the executive. Business schools outside the UK that have their own degree-awarding powers and conduct research will now be able to join as "international" members. The ABS will also take on a new assistant director to bolster its work in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

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