The week in higher education

November 15, 2012

• It seems not even vice-chancellors are impervious to the worldwide pop sensation that is Gangnam Style - the infectious chart-topping hit from South Korean artist PSY. An internet video of a flash mob dancing to the track at the University of East Anglia also featured Edward Acton - the institution's vice-chancellor. Sadly he did not take part in the dance routine but does mouth words from the song, thanks to some clever overdubbing. The flash mob, which took place on 6 November, was organised by private provider INTO, which has a study centre for international students based at UEA. UEA and INTO students taking part in the flash mob performance spent four weeks perfecting their moves under the guidance of Kurt Lee, an INTO graduate and "Gangnam guru". Surely it is only a matter of time before Universities UK's annual conference ends with such a display.

• Universities UK has been hit by a technical glitch that means its presidential nomination process has to be rerun. The process leading to the nomination, unopposed, of Sir Christopher Snowden, the University of Surrey vice-chancellor, as president from August 2013 was flawed as not all vice-chancellors received the email asking them to nominate. John Craven, the University of Portsmouth vice-chancellor, notified Nicola Dandridge, the UUK chief executive, of the problem. The new process opened on 7 November and closes on 16 November but it is thought that no other candidates beyond Professor Snowden are likely to come forward. That would be a relief for Professor Snowden, whose institution announced its departure from the 1994 Group after his initial confirmation as president. He may have feared that the reopening of the process could lead to a stab in the back from 1994 Group vice-chancellors smarting at being left in an ever-dwindling group.

• It is not often that French lesbian poetry is used as ammunition in the war between the science and humanities lobby. But that is exactly the line taken by Sir James Dyson in an interview with The Times on 10 November. Lamenting that so many students were choosing to study humanities subjects rather than science, the entrepreneur and engineer said the UK had become "decadent" and forgotten what had made it wealthy in the first place. He called for more discussion on technology so "little Angelina wanting to go off to study French lesbian poetry will suddenly realise that things like keeping an aircraft industry, developing nuclear energy, high-speed trains, are important". His comments were derided in the newspaper as "outdated" by Mary Beard, professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge.

• Higher tuition fees were the biggest contributor to a rise in the consumer price index measure of inflation in October from 2.2 per cent to 2.7 per cent, according to an Office for National Statistics release on 13 November. No surprise, as reports from researcher Andrew McGettigan and the Higher Education Policy Institute had already noted the inflationary impact of higher fees, arguing that this would increase government spending on pensions and benefits index-linked to CPI - potentially wiping out savings from higher education funding changes. Perhaps the only person surprised will be Vince Cable, the business secretary, who told the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee last month that as fees were "not a cash payment, there's no reason why this should figure in the price index at all ... I don't follow the logic".

• Almost three-quarters of high achievers at independent schools (73 per cent) apply to the most selective universities, outstripping those with similar grades at grammar schools (53 per cent) and other state schools and colleges (42 per cent). The findings came in research, commissioned by the Sutton Trust and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and published on 15 November, which surveyed more than 13,000 students to look at university choices made by those gaining at least three Bs at A level. BIS said that the study identified a group termed the "contingent student", who is "less confident, less competitive and less assertive. This lack of confidence often reflects their home, school or social environment where there is little knowledge of the requirements and benefits of selective universities."

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