The week in higher education

October 4, 2012

• Students arriving for their first day at A.C. Grayling's New College of the Humanities had to brave a mob of protesters, The Independent reported on 25 September. About 30 demonstrators gathered outside the private £18,000-a-year college in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury, where they chanted slogans and displayed placards condemning the institution. Police were called when eggs were thrown at the college's windows. Only 60 students have enrolled for the first year; plans were for a cohort of 180 to 200. Freshers also faced hostility at a student quiz night at a pub. "A lot of the students are stuck-up rich kids," claimed one protester.

• British men are better endowed than those of many nationalities, says a journal paper, The Sunday Times reported on 30 September, but they still rank only 78th out of 113 countries. The average British male can boast an erect penis length of 5.5 inches, just ahead of Australians (5.2in) and Americans (5in), claims the paper by Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, which was published in the peer-reviewed Personality and Individual Differences. According to the paper, the average Briton also beats the French (5.3in) but falls behind the Germans (5.7in) and the Italians (6.2in); while Congolese men top the table at 7.1in. So how did Professor Lynn gain such a wealth of information on such a sensitive subject? "I got the data online," he admits, including from a website that claims to collate academic data on penis length.

• There were mixed reviews for a party conference speech by the latest Labour "guru", Michael Sandel, the political philosopher and professor of government at Harvard University. In the Financial Times on 1 October, Matthew Engel praised Professor Sandel's cool-headed talk on the limitations of the market as a "thoughtful hour" that contrasted with the "humourless, ranty (and) full of fake anger" speeches normally heard. Less impressed was Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail's sketchwriter, who questioned the move to let "Professor Wonk [give] us an egghead sermon about money, morality and the loss of the spiritual dimension from politics when moolah is too much to the fore."

• In his address to the conference, Labour leader Ed Miliband changed tack from his party's previous 50 per cent university participation goal as he chose to focus on vocational education for "those who don't go to university". In Manchester on 2 October, he urged attention for "the young people who are too often the forgotten 50 per cent" and outlined plans for a new "technical baccalaureate" taken at 18. He also attacked Michael Gove, the education secretary, for trying to introduce a "two-tier" system that concentrated on only a narrow elite.

• Tributes have been paid to the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm who has died at the age of 95. Ed Miliband said Professor Hobsbawm had "brought history out of the ivory tower and into people's lives", while Tony Blair called him "a giant of progressive politics history" and a "tireless agitator for a better world", The Guardian reported on 2 October. Professor Hobsbawm, who joined the communist movement as a Jewish teenager in Berlin, came to England in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. He taught at Cambridge and Stanford universities, but his longest association was with Birkbeck, University of London, where he was appointed lecturer in 1947 and president in 2002.

• Public schools should boycott universities that favour state school pupils over the privately educated, leading headteachers have said. At the annual meeting of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Belfast, Chris Ramsey, the group's universities spokesman, urged schools to fight the "arbitrary rejection" of well-qualified candidates from private schools, The Daily Telegraph reported on 2 October. In the latest salvo in the debate over whether universities should accept lower grades from students from poor areas, Mr Ramsey said private schools should steer pupils away from institutions that "systematically" discriminate against them. Action against the University of Bristol almost a decade ago had "definitely had an impact", said Mr Ramsey, the headmaster of The King's School in Chester.

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