The week in higher education

September 13, 2012

• Plans to almost double tuition fees in Quebec could be scrapped after a student-led "maple spring" unseated the province's government, The Guardian reported on 5 September. The election of a separatist administration in the French-speaking province of Canada follows months of unrest as striking students clashed with riot police on an almost daily basis over plans to hike fees by 82 per cent. The Liberal government led by Jean Charest, in power for nine years, ran on a law-and-order platform against the students and lost after attracting criticism over the fee hikes and the introduction of laws limiting the right to protest. The victory speech of Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois was overshadowed by the fatal shooting of a party activist in the conference hall.

• Les Ebdon's attempts to start his tenure as director of fair access without negative headlines fell foul of one comment in an interview with The Daily Telegraph on 6 September. After suggesting to the paper that ultimately one poor student should be admitted for each candidate enlisted from the wealthiest 20 per cent of households, Professor Ebdon was attacked in an open letter from a Tory MP. Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South and a member of the parliamentary committee that tried to block Professor Ebdon's appointment, accused him of "salivating" at the prospect of clamping down on selective institutions. In his letter to David Willetts, the universities and science minister, Mr Binley writes that "it seems that our worst fears are coming to fruition". However, such a comment may be nothing compared with the wrath Professor Ebdon will face if he deliberately courts controversy.

• In the latest salvo in the long-running legal battle over the Boston College IRA tapes, a judge granted a temporary injunction to stop police from seizing the recordings, the BBC reported on 7 September. Mr Justice Treacy prevented the Police Service of Northern Ireland from taking possession of interviews with convicted IRA bomber Dolours Price, carried out for a Boston history project. The decision comes after a US appeal court ruled in July that the interviews should be handed over to the police, who believe they cast light on the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972 - and could explain who killed her. The ruling provided a temporary reprieve until a legal challenge is heard by the High Court in Belfast. The decision to allow police access to the tapes is also set to be challenged in the US Supreme Court.

• An 18-year-old is to become the first "manny" to take a four-year BA course at a prestigious childcare academy, The Times reported on 7 September. Michael Kenny is only the second man to attend Norland College, Bath, in its 120-year history. Norland students dress in a distinctive brown uniform, white gloves and round hat reminiscent of Mary Poppins. However, Mr Kenny, who joins the course after teaching English and maths to severely disabled children in an orphanage in Uganda, will wear a specially commissioned uniform that includes a tweed jacket, a cream shirt, beige trousers and matching tie. The institution's BA degree in early childhood studies is validated by the University of Gloucestershire. A fully qualified Norland nanny earns at least £26,400, although some command salaries of more than £50,000.

• Students wishing to see vice-chancellors cast as James Bond villains following the row over higher tuition fees have finally got their wish. A YouTube film to raise awareness of a charity campaign features De Montfort University head Dominic Shellard complete with cat and revolving chair in a clear nod to Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Confusingly, the rest of the video seems to be a spoof of Mission: Impossible rather than Bond. It is being used to publicise an attempt to gather 5,000 students and staff for a "flashmob" to lip-synch along to the Bonnie Tyler hit Holding Out for a Hero. The event will take place on 7 November to raise money for hospice care organisation LOROS and prostate cancer charity Prostaid.

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