The week in higher education – 14 January 2015

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

January 14, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (14 January 2015)

Newcastle University has been criticised for allowing bodies donated to medical science to be used for the training of beauticians, the Daily Mail reported on 5 January. At a two-day course at the university, beauty therapists inserted needles into the face of a human cadaver to hone their Botox techniques and also undertook a “limited amount” of dissection work, the paper explained. Consultant plastic surgeon Fazel Fatah said that it simply “beggars belief” that non-medics had such access, which was an “abuse of donated cadavers whose study is meant to promote health and science”. “Donating a body to science is such a sensitive issue that you would not expect a beautician to be prodding and probing…to enhance people’s faces for vain reasons,” added Antonia Mariconda, from the campaign group Safety in Beauty. Newcastle said that it was “indebted” to those who bequeath their bodies, which were mainly used by trainee medics, but also by “other practitioners who require knowledge of anatomy and physiology”.

Following its exposé of controversial advocacy group Cage’s involvement in talks on university campuses, the Daily Mail ran a further piece on 9 January claiming that an Islamic cleric who “defends domestic violence” was among extremist speakers “touring British universities unchallenged”. The newspaper said that Egyptian Fadel Soliman – who denies supporting domestic violence – addressed events at which he referred students to online lectures where “he speaks in favour of hitting women and outlines the Islamic case for sex slavery and polygamy”. The Mail raised it as another example where universities may be in breach of the government’s Prevent laws. However, the immense difficulty of finding anyone, except the same handful of usual suspects, who actually has a good word to say about Prevent (widely pilloried by academics and students alike) was a noticeable part of the coverage.

Students at a US university were shocked to find one of main characters from the new Star Wars film posing as one of their classmates, The Independent reported on 8 January. Britain’s newest film star John Boyega, 23 – who plays Finn in the blockbuster – was spotted on an educational poster belonging to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, part of a line-up of smiling attractive teens, The Indy said. “I was a bit surprised to see Finn from Star Wars on a poster at my university,” one student reported on social media. While some might look to the pictures to solve the riddle of Finn’s mysterious backstory in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they are actually explained by some modelling undertaken by Mr Boyega in his teens. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…I did an education-themed stock photo shoot with a bunch of teenage students,” says photographer Chris Schmidt, adding: “it turns out John Boyega did quite well afterwards”.

A university lecturer has defended a controversial arts project that consists of her not setting foot outside Glasgow for an entire year. Ellie Harrison, lecturer in contemporary art practices at the University of Dundee, told activism blog Common Space that she had faced a “barrage of personal attacks” since she was awarded £15,000 by Creative Scotland for the "Glasgow Effect" initiative, condemned by many as patronising, classist and a waste of money. Ms Harrison told the site that she had become something of a “middle class punchbag” but did not regret the title of the research, which she hoped would raise awareness about social and health inequality. “I sincerely hope that the discussion provoked by ‘The Glasgow Effect’ will be constructive for our city, if it helps in any way to highlight and address persistent inequalities and to democratise the artworld,” said Ms Harrison.

Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook has hit out at the “deafening policy silence” regarding the growing gender attainment gap. Writing in The Daily Telegraph on 6 January, the admissions body head said action was needed to “secure equal education outcomes for boys” after new figures showed that girls are a third more likely to start a degree. “Each time Ucas releases statistics on equality of access to university in the UK, the gap between the entry rates for girls and boys gets a bit worse,” said Ms Curnock Cook. “Most schools will track the achievement of their boys and girls, [but] there seems to be little focus on the gender gap in education policy,” she concluded.

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