The week in higher education – 12 April 2018

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

April 12, 2018
The week in higher education cartoon (12 April 2018)

The “exaggerated image” of international students as wealthy became a “viral meme”, the BBC Three website reported on 5 April. The meme took off after a tweet “joking about how international students eat gold chains for lunch”. While Twitter wags piled on with images of gold toilet roll and Louis Vuitton-branded fried eggs, others countered that “International students are broke. Don’t let twitter fool you.” The article pointed out that “some international students manage to win funded university places – either in part or in full – via academic scholarships. And others have families who decide to spend their savings on their kids.” Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs, said: “If you popped into any campus you would find one student in a Lamborghini, 50 on the bus, and 20 cooking baked beans over a cheap stove.” Those ratios might need tweaking for the University of Oxford or Regent’s University London, but we take his general point.

The Daily Mail is not known for its gushing praise of UK universities, so academia will have been surprised to see the newspaper’s front-page panegyric to one higher education institution. “Save the Open University!” was the unlikely headline from the paper on 9 April, which devoted two further pages inside to what it called a “ladder of opportunity for millions” and an “inspiring engine of social mobility”. As part of its campaign to save the so-called “University of the Air”, which was started by Harold Wilson’s 1960s Labour government, the Mail pictured two “success stories” helped by the OU, which it said had been a “victim of changes to tuition fees” and could be helped with the reintroduction of public subsidies. Its appeal “Has the Open University changed your life?” suggests that the campaign might not be short-lived, but the Mail will no doubt still find room for its usual bashing of student “snowflakes”, right-on lefty professors and overpaid vice-chancellors.

As the Mail goes a little sweet on one university, is The Sun struggling to find material for its campaign to highlight the behaviour of so-called “snowflake students”? While its attempt to mock the supposedly “Left Loonies” behind “PC-mad” decisions on campus led by its “dedicated wuss”, “Jon Snowflake”, began with some solid targets, the decision by Goldsmiths, University of London to hire a “hate crime officer” does not have obvious humorous appeal. “The winning applicant will be paid £35,000-a-year to tackle reports of racism and sexism,” reported The Sun on 6 April of the new officer, adding that “the move follows several incidents on UK campuses – many genuine grievances, others blamed on the over-sensitive”. As the story highlights alleged incidents of racist chanting at Nottingham Trent University in recent weeks, Goldsmiths’ new role – thought to be the first of its kind – doesn’t look unreasonable.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville has been condemned for hosting what has been described as “six days of XXX-rated debauchery that make Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street look like a Sunday school picnic”. Those looking for steamy scenes on campus may, however, be disappointed by the “Sex Week” organised by a student group titled “Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee” which aims to promote “sexual health and empowerment”. With talks titled “Queer Theory”, “Trans Convo Starter Pack” and “Trans Sex Positivity”, it seems doubtful that the sex education week was akin to “Sodom and Gomorrah Week”, as described by Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on 6 April. Nonetheless, Mr Starnes claimed that the “raunchy shenanigans” represent evidence that the “state’s flagship university is being run by a bunch of sex-crazed perverts with PhD degrees”. The event’s organisers, however, do not seem too perturbed by the attack, stating on their website that “college is about education and thoughtful discussion, and that includes important topics like sex and sexuality”.

Students at a US university have been asked to go on a Netflix binge in the name of their studies, Esquire reported on 4 April. The University of Utah has made the 10-episode Making a Murderer series the basis for a new seminar course that teaches law students about flaws in the legal process. The course follows the controversial convictions of Steven Avery and his teenage nephew Brendan Dassey for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005, which later saw Dassey’s conviction overturned. “This is a really good case study of criminal justice in general and all of the problems we have – including tainting of juries, improper investigation, DNA evidence and contamination of evidence, prosecutorial ethics, when to change venues, ineffective counsel and many other issues,” said Shima Baradaran Baughman, the law professor behind the course.

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