The week in higher education – 12 December 2019

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

December 12, 2019
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Some in UK higher education may think that university accommodation providers are taking the piss these days, given high executive salaries and profits at some firms, often reliant on students borrowing from the government for living costs. But there was a more literal iteration of this phenomenon in Scotland when three students had to urinate in freezer bags because they got stuck overnight in a lift in student halls. Firefighters were called after the students, at a college run by the University of the Highlands and Islands, raised the alarm at halls in Inverness, the Daily Record reported on 3 December. However, according to a later statement from the students, the accommodation operator – Cityheart Living – was reluctant to let the fire brigade cut the students out because of the damage it may have caused, and they had to wait several hours until an engineer could free them. The university says it has launched an investigation.

It is a topsy-turvy world we live in when journalists “asking difficult questions” are more of a blight on society than people ranting on social media or politicians who have presided over a failing local council. But that seemed to be the message delivered recently by a vice-chancellor to councillors on Northamptonshire County Council, according to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo on 5 December. Invited to give a “thought for the day” to a council meeting, Nick Petford, leader of the University of Northampton, said it took “courage” to be in the councillors’ position when “hostility” was being “served up 24/7 by unaccountable keyboard warriors venting their spleens on social media, or worse still, meddling journalists asking difficult questions with both eyes set on accentuating the negative”. Last year the council became the first English authority for about 20 years to effectively go bust. But despite these events “playing into the hands of cynics and naysayers”, the councillors were doing “a great job”, Professor Petford said.

Universities around the world are increasingly turning to unusual marketing tactics in the battle to persuade students to choose to study with them. But one such ploy in Australia intended to highlight an institution’s environmental credentials seemed to completely confuse some recipients. MailOnline reported on 5 December how Monash University sent out free bamboo cutlery sets to prospective students accompanied with the hashtag #monashgivesafork. However, the move led to some families mistakenly thinking the delivery was an actual offer of a place, while others took to social media to say that sending out the cutlery was a waste. The Herald Sun reported that someone even tried to sell the set online for A$1,900 (£985) – although it wasn’t clear whether anyone forked out that much for it.

Student support for the recent University and College Union strike over pensions and pay included a “makeshift rave” outside the vice-chancellor’s office at the University of Nottingham. The student Left Society decided to add a new dimension to the student occupation in the Trent Building, bringing in “the cutting-edge drum and bass DJ ‘Orpheus’ hailing from Leeds”, who “supplied nothing short of the duttiest…tunes, bringing unprecedented vibes to the university property”, according to The Tab on 4 December, whose use of the word “unprecedented” made a lot of assumptions about what vice-chancellor Shearer West normally gets up to. According to the Left Society’s president, DJ Orpheus “loved it” and was there to “represent his many friends that were postgraduate students not getting paid to mark work”.

“The organisers of an international student sports competition have called for two Nigerian table tennis players to be returned to their own country after Croatian police wrongly deported them to a Bosnian refugee camp,” The Guardian reported on 5 December. Abia Uchenna Alexandro and Eboh Kenneth Chinedu, students at the Federal University of Technology Owerri in Nigeria, were in Zagreb after taking part in the World InterUniversities Championships, held in Pula, Croatia, when they were stopped by police asking for identification documents ahead of their return flight on 18 November. They were then deported to a camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina, “where thousands of migrants are stuck in tents without water or heating with temperatures as low as −2C”. The newspaper added that the Nigerian students “could not make themselves understood and it took until the end of November before volunteers at the camp contacted representatives of the table tennis competition” to tell them what had happened to the missing pair.

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