The week in higher education – 17 September 2020

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

September 17, 2020

As the UK moves from sunny afternoons perfect for a stroll in the park towards icy mornings better suited to remaining wrapped in a duvet, the Westminster government has unleashed its latest round of Covid guidance to be greeted with a frosty reception. With much hand-wringing currently taking place over the reopening of university campuses, the government has provided some helpful new ideas such as opening doors and windows or even teaching outside – which the University and College Union dutifully pointed out “was not a practical suggestion for England during the winter months”. Universities minister Michelle Donelan said that the updated guidance would “help university leaders access the information they need and assist their existing plans to keep students and staff as safe as possible”. But the UCU said that shifting most learning online would avoid universities having to try to follow what it called “confusing, expensive and at times silly suggestions” in the guidance.

There are few more widely used keyboard shortcuts than the plagiarists’ favourite: Ctrl+C followed by Ctrl+V. And now the University of Oxford’s renowned Saïd Business School has been accused of using the move for its own nefarious means, according to The Times. Elaine Heslop, who held a senior position at the school, said that it had misled the UK government by charging it £934,000 for creating a programme known as the “major project leadership academy”, which she claimed was “almost identical” to an existing master’s in major project management. “It looked like a copy and paste job,” said Ms Heslop, who is suing the school and university, alleging she was fired after making her concerns known. The business school and university have denied any wrongdoing, stating that the leadership academy had been a successful and bespoke programme, and that there had been a “breakdown in the relationship” with Ms Heslop.

Housekeeping is big business in China. Those employed in the sector in big cities can often expect to take home a larger salary than some of those in traditionally more lucrative industries. One downside to the job, though, is the stigma of it often being associated with illiteracy and bad manners. Shanghai Open University hopes to have the answer, however, as it plans to offer the city’s first undergraduate degree in housekeeping, according to the state-run China News Service. The curriculum will include cooking, baking and cleaning, along with theoretical modules in sociology and psychology. Originally established as a vocational programme, the university is expanding it into an official undergraduate degree. “There is a clear demand for housekeepers with high skills and good service quality. Housekeepers who receive professional training will land better jobs and improve the overall quality of the market,” said Xu Hongzhuo, deputy director of the school’s education department.

Jessica Krug, an associate professor of history specialising in Africa and Latin America at George Washington University, has resigned after revealing she spent years lying about being black. On 3 September, she published an essay in which she admitted assuming numerous black identities, from “North African blackness, then US-rooted blackness, then Caribbean-rooted Bronx blackness”. She is, in fact, a white, Jewish woman from Kansas City. Many commentators claimed her admission only came about because Ms Krug’s deception was about to be exposed in public. “Do not believe for one second that she would have come out with the truth on her own,” wrote Yomaira Figueroa, an associate professor of diaspora studies at Michigan State University. “She made a living and a whole life out of parroting Black Rican trauma and survival. As a Black Rican I am pissed.”

The Taxpayers’ Alliance campaign group has revealed that Sally Hunt, a fierce critic of university vice-chancellors’ pay and former leader of the University and College Union, took home a total of £534,805 in her final year in the role. Ms Hunt, who left her UCU role for health reasons in February last year, received £400,000 in “post-employment payments” as part of her total salary, the group said, as reported in The Times. While leading the union, she said that vice-chancellors “lacked both self-awareness and common sense” over their salaries. The Taxpayers’ Alliance has published the Public Sector Trade Union Rich List, in which education union leaders topped the charts, with six senior staff taking home £1.3 million between them. Coming in a distant second place was Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who took home a frankly derisory £211,286.

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