The week in higher education – 13 February 2020

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

February 13, 2020
Cartoon 13 February 2020

The University of Cambridge’s students’ union has warned that having military personnel at its freshers’ fair could be detrimental to students’ mental health. The union has banned any societies from bringing weapons to the event because students could find the presence of firearms “triggering”. It added that any display of weapons would imply an “implicit approval of their use, despite the links between military and firearms and violence on an international scale”, which could be “alarming and off-putting for some students”. Unsurprisingly, the commentators quoted by The Daily Telegraph’s article did not agree. Colonel Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, branded the move “pathetic, to say the very least”, while James Palmer, the mayor of Cambridge and Peterborough, said it was “ridiculous”. Mr Palmer said it showed how “far removed” the students were from “normal working people”.

The former chief executive of an investment firm has been given the longest prison sentence yet in the US college admissions scandal. Douglas Hodge, the former head of the investment management firm Pimco, was sentenced to nine months in prison after pleading guilty to paying bribes to get his children into university. He paid $850,000 (£659,000) to get his children into the University of Southern California and Georgetown University by pretending they were athletes. Another 14 defendants received prison terms ranging from one day to six months, but Hodge, as a serial offender, was dealt with more harshly. Prosecutors said he paid bribes to get four of his seven children into top universities and also unsuccessfully attempted to get another of his offspring into Loyola Marymount University. Judge Nathaniel Gorton told Hodge that he had to “pay a significant and conspicuous price for unconscionable, egregious criminal conduct in order to deter you and others who can afford it from the blatant misuse of your good fortunes”.

In the UK, universities are facing a slightly less dramatic but nevertheless unfortunate admissions issue as oversubscription has forced institutions to offer incentives to students to defer taking up their places. Universities are proposing to fund gap years or to provide money towards accommodation when students do arrive if they postpone their study by a year, The Times reported. Competition within the system has meant that universities offer more places than they have to ensure that all slots are filled. Last year, the University of Nottingham offered 260 medical course applicants £2,000 to defer their studies for a year, while 59 graduate-entry nursing applicants were offered £1,000, the newspaper said. The University of Exeter tempted 40 applicants to its master of science course in applied psychology to delay entry with the guarantee of first choice of accommodation as well as £1,000 towards the cost, and the University of Manchester offered incentives worth £1,000 to 190 management course applicants in 2018 to sit out a year.

With the Bullingdon Club on the edge of extinction, a second exclusive University of Oxford dining club appears to be going the same way. According to The Times, the Pythic Club has been banned from holding activities at Christ Church, Oxford, where it was founded 175 years ago. The move follows an Oxford Student exposé that revealed that the historian Brian Young, who was previously responsible for the college’s academic matters, had been running the secretive “P Club”, and also that Christ Church’s development office had helped to publicise P Club alumni dinners. With its cover blown, the club was forced to register with the college, but was thrown out after students said it did not meet equality and diversity targets.

Banning burgers from campus is the latest student trend, with Goldsmiths, University of London scheduled to go beef-free in August. But University of Edinburgh activists campaigning to prohibit beef from the institution did not have things entirely their own way after a group of agricultural students turned up at the debate to discuss the ban, the Daily Mail reported. Eventually, the students from SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) – who argued that the meat used by Edinburgh was high-welfare Scottish beef – were ejected because they did not attend the university, and the motion was narrowly passed. But the measure was later rejected in a campus-wide vote. One Edinburgh veterinary student was appalled that the farming students had been denied a voice, which was “ridiculous” because the motion “directly affected them”.

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