The week in higher education

November 22, 2012

• Lord Patten of Barnes, embattled chairman of the BBC Trust and chancellor of the University of Oxford, is under mounting pressure to quit the corporation, The Sun reported on 14 November. The former Tory Cabinet minister has faced condemnation for approving a £450,000 payout of public money to George Entwistle, the BBC's departing director-general, as well as for appointing him in the first place. On his handling of the Savile scandal, Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley, said: "Lord Patten's got all these other jobs on the go and that is the likeliest explanation for why he's been so off the pace. He hasn't been keeping up." Maybe "Ten Jobs" Patten - as The Sun has dubbed him - needs to take a few lessons from the BBC's former director-general, Mark Thompson, Humanitas visiting professor of rhetoric and the art of public persuasion at Oxford, to get the tabloids on side.

• Paula Broadwell's hands-on approach to her PhD subject - David Petraeus - has made headlines across the world. But will the US military scholar, who embarked on an affair with the four-star general while researching her dissertation, be allowed to submit her thesis to King's College London? So asked the Evening Standard on 16 November. Ms Broadwell, 40, paused her studies in September 2011 so that she could turn her notes on General Petraeus into a book, but King's confirmed that she has "recently re-enrolled", the paper reports. However, Mervyn Frost, head of the department of war studies at King's, has told the Boston Globe that she may be thrown out for having an inappropriate relationship with her subject. "We have a very stringent ethical review process," said Professor Frost, which will be revisited "in light of what has happened".

• BP has launched a scholarship programme for "talented science, technology, engineering and maths undergraduates studying at nine selected universities across the UK". Beneficiaries of the scheme to provide support for living costs, announced on 19 November (which could eventually be worth up to £1.8 million a year), will then be fast-tracked for BP's graduate recruitment scheme if they wish to apply. BP's former chief executive Lord Browne of Madingley, who joined the firm straight from the University of Cambridge, chaired the government's 2010 review of higher education fees and funding - producing a rapturously received 60-page document that paved the way for higher fees and drastic reductions in public funding. That BP is now stepping in to ease the financial burden on students, and possibly smooth their path into the company, has a pleasing circularity.

• The undergraduate shortfall at Russell Group institutions this autumn has been put at an eye-watering 11,500 vacancies by one vice-chancellor. Sir Howard Newby, head of the University of Liverpool, revealed the figure at the Girls' Schools Association annual conference, held in Liverpool from 19 to 21 November, The Daily Telegraph reported. Sir Howard said the shortfall "certainly wasn't the intention" of the government's higher education reforms, which have lifted the restrictions on the recruitment of undergraduates with top A-level grades. A certain alliterative phrase involving Baker Street's finest and ordure springs to mind.

• Students were offered "bribes" of up to £1,000 for their university society to attend this week's National Union of Students demonstration, the Daily Mail reported on 20 November. The inducement by the University of Manchester Students' Union was revealed in an email sent to all societies it funds, saying that those that wanted extra cash needed to send at least 10 members to the rally in central London on 21 November. Those that "showed support for the national student movement" would be eligible to have their "bronze award" status, worth £300 a year, upgraded to "silver or bronze", gaining £600 or £1,000 respectively, the email reads. The message was quickly withdrawn by activities officer Tommy Fish after a "storm of protest across the campus", with Mr Fish saying the policy was "a written error". Nonetheless, the email called "into question the motivation of some of the 10,000 marchers" set to take part in the rally, the Mail asserted.

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