The week in higher education – 27 August 2015

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

August 27, 2015
The week in higher education cartoon (27 August 2015)

The familiar “too many graduates” story did the rounds once again after it was claimed that more than half of university leavers are doing non-graduate jobs. The old chestnut, which usually pops up shortly after A-level results day, was based on a report by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, which used data from a pan-European study conducted back in 2010 to make the headline-grabbing claims reported widely on 19 August. Few commentators bothered to analyse the study itself, which contained almost no information on sample sizes or methodology, and instead looked for who to blame – with New Labour’s target of having 50 per cent school-leavers going to university normally cited as the culprit. One scholar Chris Barton, however, suggested a “trick to silencing those horrified by Blair’s target”, which is to “ask them how many of their children went, or hope to go, to university”. “It sure as hell won’t be as low as half,” said Professor Barton, of Stoke-on-Trent, in a letter to the Independent.

Academics are often asked to provide expert advice on world crises and it was no different when news of One Direction’s split broke. As millions of fans struggled to come to terms with news that the boyband were taking a one-year break from performing, Craig Jackson, head of psychology at Birmingham City University, advised parents worried about their children. “If you think your child is self-harming then challenge with love, make sure they know their feelings are important,” said Professor Jackson in the Daily Mail on 25 August. Professor Jackson was also quoted when it emerged that Zayn Malik had left the band in March. Apparently he has good reason to be concerned. Referrals to children's counselling services soared 20 years ago when Take That first split, he recalled.

Has Will Brooker picked the right 20th century icon to emulate for a year? The professor of cultural studies at Kingston University has set tongues wagging about his project to dress and eat like David Bowie for 12 months. But the Daily Mail’s Craig Brown felt the exercise was “all a bit half-hearted” owing to Professor Brooker’s decision to forego Bowie’s legendary use of cocaine. It was “as though a biographer of Scott of the Antarctic were to think he could ‘inhabit Captain Scott’s head space’ by opening the fridge and sticking his hand in for five minutes”, Mr Brown wrote on 25 August. A less tricky subject to mimic might have been "stocky former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe” whose “no-nonsense, locally styled frocks look more affordable than Bowie’s, while her make-up and wigs are infinitely more straightforward”, he added.

An accommodation sign stolen by a student has been returned anonymously to the University of Bath more than a decade after it went missing, BBC News reported on 19 August. The 3ft-sign for the university’s Derhill Terrace, which was taken in 2005, was sent to Bath with a note signed by a “sorry sign thief”. The note stated the thief had “grown up a lot since graduating” and now worked in management for a “very well-known multinational brand and no longer steals signs”. Bath saw the funny side, probably as its PR team could turn the incident into a silly season advert for the university. Joking that students “take away lots from university”, spokesman Andrew Monk said Bath was “delighted to hear from our alumni wherever they are in the world and, of course, were always very grateful whenever they choose to give back – including when its parts of our fixtures and fittings”.

Food writer Jack Monroe has hit back at the Daily Mail after it mocked her use of her new honorary doctorate, the Huffington Post reported on 21 August. In a diary item that day, headlined “It’s Dr Monroe to you, says tattooed foodie”, the Mail’s Sebastian Shakespeare highlighted the cookery blogger’s decision to change her Twitter handle from “Ms” to “Dr”, despite “never having even completed her A levels, let alone a doctorate”. But Dr Monroe, who was awarded the honorary degree from the University of Essex last month for her campaigning and writing on food poverty, took to her @DrJackMonroe account to blast the “complete bullshit” article for implying that Essex had not fully endorsed her use of the title – dismissing the attack as “shoddy journalism”, the Huffington Post reported.

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