The week in higher education

October 11, 2012

• Being human resources director at much-ridiculed security firm G4S must be difficult, leaving one yearning to work somewhere with a spotless reputation - the University of Oxford, perhaps. Julian Duxfield, UK and Ireland human resources director at G4S, has been named director of human resources at Oxford with effect from Hilary term in January 2013. G4S' disastrous handling of the security contract for the London 2012 Olympics led to the armed forces being called in to cover staffing shortfalls. But although the debacle has dented the firm's reputation, the contract was not Mr Duxfield's responsibility. "The London 2012 contract was run as a discrete, stand-alone contract with a separate management team which did not include Julian," said a G4S spokesman, soothing any troubled minds amid the dreaming spires.

• He has been called many names since he became head of the Office for Fair Access, but thick-skinned Les Ebdon, former vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, may have a new sobriquet - "Handicapper General". The title is a reference to Harrison Bergeron, "a short story by the American writer Kurt Vonnegut...set in the year 2081 in which a government official is charged with forcing handsome or beautiful people to wear masks ... or attaching weights to those who are fast or athletic", reported The Times on 3 October. Although Professor Ebdon was not named, it was clear who Chris Ray, high master at the fee-paying Manchester Grammar School, had in mind as he addressed the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference in Belfast. It's certainly snappy, but calling the professor the "world's most dangerous Baptist" still holds top spot in Times Higher Education's book.

• A row has broken out over archival material on early students held by a college with links to the trade union movement. Writing in History Workshop Online on 4 October, Hilda Kean - who served as dean of Ruskin College in Oxford until 2011 - claimed that the "admission records of some of the trade union students who attended Ruskin in its first decades" (it was founded in 1899 to provide educational opportunities to working-class men) had been "physically trashed". The material was, she argued, "like gold dust" to labour and social historians. However, Audrey Mullender, Ruskin's principal, said information on the students had been digitised, with documents destroyed only where "we shouldn't have retained (them), to comply with data-protection regulations". She added: "Most of the material is pretty thin ... and not what we would now call student files."

• A description of student life by Independent scribe John Walsh on 5 October as "three years of hoggish indulgence, erotic experiment and cyberspatial plagiarism" drew a stinging rebuke from an academic. In a letter printed three days later, David Punter, professor of English at the University of Bristol, branded the comments "nasty, absurd and envious". "Obviously I don't know that much (any longer) about erotic experiment, although any bunch of late teens not thus engaged would seem to me clearly weird," noted the Gothic literature expert. "But I do know that many of my students have been clever, engaged, even committed to that old-fashioned thing, the life of the mind." His only complaint concerned undergraduates' lack of political engagement.

• Parts of the sector were given reason to cheer at the Conservative Party conference as chancellor George Osborne announced an extra £200 million for the Research Partnership Investment Fund, which is designed to encourage collaboration between industry and universities on capital projects. However, the move drew criticism from smaller institutions for its focus on large-scale projects. The conference also prompted speculation in The Guardian on 6 October over what education secretary and ex-journalist Michael Gove would do if he got his hands on university policy. In a profile on the potential prime minister-in-waiting, Decca Aitkenhead looked back at Times opinion pieces written by Mr Gove and found he had "surprisingly little" to say about education. But one line from a column in 2000 - "Too many people go to university" - may prove a reliable guide if his ill-disguised ambition to oversee higher education is realised.

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