The week in higher education – 13 August 2015

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the national press

August 13, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (13 August 2015)

A University of Oxford graduate has created a perfume that attempts to bottle the unique smell of student life among the dreaming spires, The Times reported on 11 August. Ruth Mastenbroek, who studied chemistry at Lady Margaret Hall in the 1970s, said that the eau de parfum, named Oxford and priced at £80 for a 100ml bottle, embodies the “scent of an awakening, the discovery of life’s extraordinary adventures”. Her inspiration came from Gitanes, the French cigarettes smoked by her college friends, which “came to signify what was chic and sophisticated about this world that I knew nothing about”, she told Oxford Today, the university’s alumni magazine, The Times reported. Ms Mastenbroek’s nostalgia will mean little to most university graduates, who must await the day when someone bottles the scent of late-night kebab shops and grimy shared houses.

Who is to blame for poorer students missing out on places at top universities? According to The Independent’s “great Ucas data scandal” front page on 5 August, the UK admissions body is partially responsible by refusing to release “a gold mine” of information that it holds on students from poor backgrounds. This “secret data could transform the battle to give every young person an equal chance” to reach a prestigious university, Alan Milburn, chair of the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, told the newspaper. Ucas is blocking the release of data partly because it may endanger the £12 million raised each year by its commercial arm, Ucas Media, via the sale of products that use student data, critics claim. However, without “proper data” from Ucas, researchers could not understand fully why certain social groups were turned away from university, despite having the right grades, Mr Milburn said.

Students at the University of Sydney are paying impersonators to sit their exams, an internal taskforce has found. Many undergraduate impersonators managed to sit university exams despite biometric identifications being increasingly used, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on 10 August. Other cheating methods used included gaining fake medical certificates to sit exams at a later date and copying multiple choice questions from other students in auditoriums with sloped floors, the university says. All watches have now been banned from exam halls because cheats were using in-built cameras to transmit images of test sheets, adds the report, which found “an average level of cheating of about 5 per cent”.

De Montfort University’s decision to award David Cameron its highest honour for introducing gay marriage has been criticised by its own lesbian and gay society, the Leicester Mercury reported on 7 August. In a 6 August ceremony at Downing Street attended by a 40-strong De Montfort delegation, led by vice-chancellor Dominic Shellard, the prime minister became a companion of the university in recognition of his work to pass the same-sex marriage act in July 2013. But the university’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender society say that they are “disheartened” by the award, on which it was not consulted. Mr Cameron’s coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were the driving force behind the policy change and it was “unfair for him to be focal point of this achievement”, the society said. Cameron had previously voted against the repeal of section 28 and appointed Nicky Morgan, who voted against the gay marriage bill, as equalities minister, it added.

Controversial former Swansea University dean Nigel Piercy has claimed that he was the victim of bullying, rather than the perpetrator, it was reported on 7 August. In an interview after his resignation as head of Swansea’s School of Management last month, Professor Piercy told BBC Wales that intimidation and harassment claims made against him were untrue. “I think I am the victim of it rather than the person doing it,” he said. While he admitted to using disrespectful language “on occasion”, he claimed that people are “a little bit too quick to take offence and a little bit too thin-skinned”. Dr Piercy had previously upset staff at Swansea by stating that its business school was “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s” and that union officers were “unpleasant and grubby little people”. He said that he was planning on calling for a political inquiry into what he saw as the “mismanagement and politicisation” of Swansea, which has declined to comment.

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