The week in higher education

September 20, 2012

• An archaeological dig by university researchers in a council car park has apparently uncovered the skeleton of Richard III, The Daily Telegraph reported on 13 September. Academics from the University of Leicester are awaiting DNA tests to confirm whether the fully intact skeleton they have discovered belongs to the medieval king, who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. However, the skeleton's spine is curved to such a degree that the person in life may have been labelled a "hunchback" - a trait accentuated in Shakespeare's depiction of Richard, the last Plantagenet monarch. Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester's mayor, is in no doubt about the find, despite the archaeologists' caution. "They can't say it, but I can. This is as near a certainty as we can get that we've found him," he said.

• The fridge has been named the greatest innovation in food and drink by the Royal Society. A panel of distinguished scientists, including Nobel prizewinning physiologist Sir Tim Hunt, decided that refrigeration beat pasteurisation and canning as the top invention in food history, The Times reported on 14 September. But the decision clearly irked the paper's restaurant critic Giles Coren, who said it was made by "cone-headed boffins who think that making food last forever is more important than eating anything even vaguely fresh or nice". The gastronome fumed: "These are men and women who got where they are by doing 48-hour lab shifts living off cold baked beans spooned from the can, instant tea with UHT milk and whatever ancient takeaway they found at the back of the college fridge."

• PR Own Goal of the Week goes to the University of Sheffield after its attempts to suppress a critical story on its employment practices backfired. When student paper Forge Press splashed on claims that Sheffield was creating a subsidiary that would pay new catering staff less than existing workers, the university withheld permission to distribute the paper at its halls of residence. The ban was quickly rescinded on 14 September, but there was enough time for young Forge hacks to kick up a stink about the move. As a result, the story - first revealed by Times Higher Education last month - gained far more publicity than it might have done otherwise. Jacqui Cameron, head of marketing for Sheffield's accommodation and commercial services, told local newspaper The Star: "We believe our new students should not be faced with misinformed and misrepresented stories about our university upon first arriving in their new home."

• Only 60 students will start at A.C. Grayling's New College of the Humanities next week, The Sunday Times revealed on 16 September. This important detail was tucked away at the end of a six-page glossy magazine feature on the trailblazing institution, which is meant to herald a new dawn of private higher education providers. Despite acres of column inches devoted to the college - including the front page of the newspaper when it was launched 15 months ago - it seems that students are unconvinced, with only about half of applicants taking up offers made to them. Achieving an overall 1,000-strong student body looks a long way off, but Professor Grayling is unperturbed: he wanted to "keep things small" in the institution's inaugural year anyway, he told the paper.

• The biggest open secret in politics is finally out. In a leaked letter obtained by the Daily Mail, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, told Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, that he wants more foreign students to come to the UK, the paper reported on 17 September. Mr Willetts also backs the removal of students from net migration figures. In the letter, he admits that border officials do not know how many students are leaving the UK each year, but adds that he does not "believe we can justify keeping students in the net migration target on this point alone, given the widespread concern that this could result in a reduction in the number of legitimate students". The leak came after Mr Willetts announced at the Universities UK conference on 13 September that the government was looking at ways to "disaggregate" students from the net migration figures.

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