The week in higher education

November 1, 2012

• While the furore over Jimmy Savile continues to rage at the BBC, The Guardian's Hugh Muir questioned why St Mary's University College, Twickenham has "not seen fit" to remove the priest Laurence Soper from its list of honorary fellows. Writing on 24 October, the diarist puzzled over the seeming indifference to the actions of the priest, who is wanted by police in the UK and continental Europe over a number of paedophile allegations. "Students and staff have been calling for his removal from the list for several weeks," Mr Muir said. He added that St Mary's "is already in turmoil following the unrelated suspension of theology professor Anthony Towey, who dared to criticise plans to merge his department". He wrote: "The incident prompted several resignations, including that of another honorary fellow, the historian Eamon Duffy. It's not supposed to be a drama college, is it?"

• Meanwhile, the University of Leeds looks set to rescind the honorary degree it gave to Savile in 1986. It will also review payments it currently receives from his charitable trust, which used to help fund the rather unfortunately named Lure programme (Leeds Undergraduate Research Enterprise). Leeds' former favourite son, who died in 2011, gave more than £400,000 to the university in the last five years of his life and pledged £300,000 in 2008, with payments due to finish in 2013, the Leeds Student reported earlier this month. In his "V-C's Week" update on 26 October, Michael Arthur, Leeds' vice-chancellor, said that two committees would consider whether it would "draw down" the remaining cash and whether the serial abuser should retain his honorary degree. Professor Arthur said that "measured decisions taken with appropriate 'due process' is the correct way to handle such matters". Should the UK's most reviled paedophile continue to hold an honorary doctorate of law? It is likely to be a short discussion.

• David Willetts, the universities and science minister, has hit back at the Higher Education Policy Institute's claims that his reforms will not save taxpayers a penny. In an editorial in The Independent on 25 October, Mr Willetts dismissed the newspaper's "unishambles" headline on the Hepi report as "spin". The funding regime would tackle the deficit, "ensure our universities have the resources they need" to remain world-class and "support social mobility", he said. He added that Hepi "muddles up fees and loans", stating that "students are not obliged to take out a loan for the entirety of their course". The notion that students will dig into their own pockets to pay annual fees of £9,000 upfront rather than rely on state-backed loans is one of the minister's more curious beliefs in the system.

• It is not going to win any academic awards, but a study into the world's most seductive song was awarded almost a full page in the Daily Mail on 25 October. Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing is the song most likely to get your partner in the mood, according to a survey by Daniel Mullensiefen, a musicologist at Goldsmiths, University of London. The 1980s hit could aid would-be Lotharios thanks to the song's "high chest voice" and "less use of vocal vibrato", Dr Mullensiefen said. Gaye's Let's Get It On, Serge Gainsbourg's Je T'Aime and any song by Barry White had similar seductive effects, as did, bizarrely, Ravel's Bolero - used by Torvill and Dean during their gold medal-winning ice-skating routine at the 1984 Winter Olympics.

• The suggestion by Lord Rees, master of Trinity College, Cambridge, that students should be able to transfer to Russell Group universities after two years elsewhere received a sardonic response from one lecturer. In a letter to The Independent on Sunday on 28 October, Chris Barton, emeritus professor of law at Staffordshire University, wondered if students shining in "media studies and the like" could possibly "pick up difficult subjects such as sociology...at a real university". "These guinea pigs would be socially and intellectually out of place...and could gang up and cause trouble to their betters," he warned. A better idea would be "to threaten to send Russell Group slackers to one of those ghastly former polytechnics to study something vocational", he suggested helpfully.

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