The week in higher education

November 29, 2012

• A British scientist caught smuggling cocaine in a bid to impress someone he thought was a former Miss Bikini World has been jailed for almost five years, the Daily Mail reported on 21 November. Paul Frampton, 68, professor of particle phenomenology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was arrested in Buenos Aires in January trying to board a plane to Peru with 2kg of the drug in his luggage, the paper said. He insisted that he had been tricked into carrying the package by criminals who set him up with the lure of a meeting with a 32-year-old swimwear model called Denise Milani. Professor Frampton, who received a double first from Brasenose College, Oxford, thought he had been corresponding with the model online for 11 weeks before travelling to South America to meet her. In fact, Ms Milani had no knowledge of any such emails. Despite insisting that he was the victim of a "honeytrap" sting, emails sent by Professor Frampton to the person he thought was his "girlfriend" said he was "worried about sniffer dogs", adding that the "special little suitcase" was "in Bolivia, worth nothing, (but) in Europe worth millions".

• Will British students soon be heading to Indian universities? Novelist Philip Hensher thinks so after he was impressed by students, teachers and facilities at Jadavpur University in Kolkata - "one of the great student-party cities of the world". Writing in The Independent on 24 November, Mr Hensher compared the fees of between $2,000 (£1,250) and $5,000 charged to foreign students on language degree programmes by Jadavpur with spending "£,000 to get a 2:2 and three years in, ooh, Luton". He added: "If I were 18 now, and thinking about the direction of my life, I would want to be (in Kolkata), where the future is taking shape." This is hardly a ringing endorsement for UK universities, which include among their number Bath Spa University, where Mr Hensher is expected to start in January as professor of creative writing.

• Universities have largely abandoned examinations in favour of "spoon-fed" coursework, according to an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 25 November. Hundreds of courses are now 90 to 100 per cent coursework, with first- and second-year exams abolished for most subjects, while many universities still using exams have scaled them back to only 20 or 30 per cent of assessment, the newspaper reported. Reliance on constant assessment was most prevalent at post-1992 universities, but many research-intensive institutions have also dumped exams - a factor that may have led to grade inflation, the paper added. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that Michael Gove, the coursework-hating education secretary, should be looking to universities to run A levels.

• Students at the University of Oxford are furious that they cannot access pictures of Page 3 girls online, The Sun claimed on 26 November. Those seeking to download the tabloid's topless model section at Exeter and Trinity colleges receive the message: "Forbidden: nudism", the article said. However, could the newspaper be overstating the outrage caused by the ban? Just one anonymous first-year was quoted in the story opposing it. "Page 3 is a national institution," he said, adding unconvincingly: "the girls are wholesome and their quotes are full of philosophical musings".

• Boris Johnson has asked David Cameron to remove foreign students from annual net migration targets, The Times reported on November. Speaking on a trade mission to India, the mayor of London said the government "needs to think" about its policy or risk losing foreign students to the US, Canada and Australia. "Somehow or other we've allowed an impression, false or otherwise, to gain ground that Britain is difficult for Indian students," Mr Johnson said. This marks a somewhat belated intervention by the mayor - seven months after the move was first proposed by Universities UK - particularly considering he is a former shadow higher education minister who might have been expected to speak up sooner. Surely this is not another case of Boris telling an audience exactly what it wants to hear?

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