The week in higher education

July 12, 2012

• Congratulations to Princess Eugenie, who has been awarded a 2:1 from Newcastle University. The Queen's granddaughter, who described her time in the North East as a "fantastic experience", read a combined degree in English literature and history of art, the Daily Mail reported on 4 July. The former Marlborough College student is apparently keen to get a job "in the art world", rather than become a "full-time royal", the paper adds approvingly. However, the graduates fighting for scarce and highly prized internships in this field can be reassured that the sixth in line to the throne will not need to exploit her contacts to find gainful employment. "She already has people keen to speak to her, not least because of her results, which were very good indeed," said one royal source, presumably trying to keep a straight face.

• Aside from its "own professor" Brian Cox, academics - or "boffins" as they are routinely called - rarely make it into the pages of The Sun. However, there are always exceptions, especially when they can provide a story linked to E.L. James' racy best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey alongside some titillating images to illustrate the "mummy porn" phenomenon. Enter Ellis Cashmore, professor of culture, media and sport at Staffordshire University, who stepped forward to predict that the success of the raunchy novel would lead to a baby boom as lusty readers sought out sex with their partners. "With the millions of copies it has sold - it makes complete sense to assume that in nine months' time we are going see a baby boom," said Professor Cashmore, who was quoted in the newspaper on 5 July. "It's not a difficult equation: more sex equals more pregnancies, which equals more babies," he added. One hopes he is able to pursue his newfound interest into the demographic effects of erotic fiction - some distance from his usual research territory of race relations and the sociology of sport.

• Is the government gearing up for another screeching U-turn? Noises coming from Number 10 appear to indicate that David Cameron is about to yank the handbrake again, with a flurry of stories hinting at plans to remove non-EU students from net migration figures. Despite his government's insistence that student visa restrictions were key to reducing annual net migration to below 100,000, the prime minister is now concerned that the new rules are "deterring wealthy foreigners from outside the European Union from studying at British universities", The Sunday Times reported on 8 July. But the news has not gone down well at the Daily Mail. A leader on 9 July said the mooted policy change was further evidence that the "Lib Dem tail is wagging the Tory dog", and it urged the PM to honour his "solemn promise" to "bring order to a system which has been rampantly abused by illegal immigrants and even terrorists".

• Secret testimony from a former IRA bomber obtained by academics researching the Northern Ireland conflict can be seized by police, a US court has ruled. Historians and journalists involved in the Belfast Project for Boston College have resisted moves to hand over taped conversations with former IRA and Loyalist terrorists because they had promised not to release the materials until interviewees had died, The Guardian reported on 9 July. But a US appeal court has said the Police Service of Northern Ireland can seize tapes in relation to Dolours Price, who was convicted of bombing the Old Bailey in 1973. Police believe the interview given by Price could shed light on the murder of Jean McConville in 1972 by Republican paramilitaries. But Boston College fears all of its confidential archive is now vulnerable, the paper said.

• The latest set of figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service on university applications for 2012 did not go unnoticed by the national press. "Priced out of a degree" ran the headline in the Daily Mail, as it reported that 15,000 18-year-olds had given up on the "university dream" because of the rise in tuition fees at English universities to a maximum of £9,000. But although the figures showed the numbers of UK applicants were 8.9 per cent lower than last year's, the statistics are very similar to those released after the main Ucas deadline in January. Puzzling then that the story got quite so much coverage. Pre-Olympics silly season, anyone?

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