The week in higher education

July 26, 2012

• About one in seven state schools did not send a single pupil to a Russell Group university in 2009-10, the Financial Times reported on 18 July. Some 330 schools - 15 per cent - sent no children to one of the group's 20 research-intensive universities (rising to 24 members from 1 August). Almost two-thirds of schools and colleges - 1,395 - failed to send a single student to Oxbridge, with grammar schools doing better in this respect than non-selective comprehensives. Perhaps most interestingly, the Department for Education data indicate that the Russell Group is now seen by the government as an official statistical category that alongside Oxbridge can be used to grade the quality of schools.

• The so-called "university of the seas" has taken a "major step forward", exclaimed the Daily Mail on 19 July. In a stirring front-page piece titled "All aboard for a UK flagship", the paper said that David Cameron and Ed Miliband had given their "wholehearted support" to plans to build an £80 million yacht that would "provide educational opportunities to thousands of young people". Their enthusiasm for the new Britannia did not extend to committing public funds to the project. But the initiative's cheerleaders, led by universities and science minister David Willetts, will be pleased to hear a university has signed up to "help in the design of seafaring courses and accreditation". So which one of the UK's world-famous maritime centres is on board? Southampton? Belfast? Plymouth? No, it is that well-known nautical powerhouse, the University of Worcester.

• If universities teach business so well, why do so many dropouts become captains of industry? To the list that includes billionaires Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Dell we can now add Ajaz Ahmed, the British founder of digital advertising firm AKQA. Mr Ahmed has just sold an 80 per cent controlling stake in the business, valued at £348 million, to advertising giant WPP. In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph on 22 July, Mr Ahmed, who dropped out of a business studies degree at the University of Bath in 1994, claimed that "university crushes the entrepreneurial spirit". It sounds like his alma mater will be waiting a while to receive Gates-style donations from the newly minted tycoon.

• KFC is to offer its own degree course, The Daily Telegraph reported on 23 July. The fast-food chain has teamed up with De Montfort University to offer a BA honours degree in business management to staff. Martin Shuker, KFC's managing director in the UK and Ireland, said the firm is investing £800,000 in the initiative, which will train at least 60 restaurant managers by 2017. Some traditionalists might not be keen on Colonel Sanders' foray into higher education, not least because of the bargain-bucket price: £9,000 for a three-year course, with KFC covering half the fees. They also might find it hard to stomach students' expected extracurricular activities: staff are expected to continue to work 45 hours a week throughout the course, the paper reports.

• A British scientist charged with drug smuggling in Argentina has given more details about his claims that he was the victim of an online honeytrap. Paul Frampton, professor of physics at the University of North Carolina, was arrested at Buenos Aires airport in January with a suitcase containing 2kg of cocaine in its lining. The 68-year-old physicist said he had flown to Bolivia to meet Denise Milani, a Czech-born glamour model, whom he believed he had met on an internet chatroom, The Daily Telegraph reported on 24 July. After waiting for 10 days for the 32-year-old former Miss Bikini World to no avail, the University of Oxford graduate said he was given a suitcase by a man and told to fly to Buenos Aires. He was arrested three days later as he boarded a flight home. There is no suggestion Ms Milani was involved in any way. Appearing finally to apply his vast intellect to his predicament, he told the Argentine newspaper Clarín from prison: "I was convinced I was chatting to a 'she', but after a couple of weeks in prison, I realised it was a man, a criminal posing as a model." Professor Frampton's ex-wife Anne Marie said the academic had the "emotional age of three". "The only thing he understands is science," she added.

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