The week in higher education – 18 January 2018

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

January 18, 2018
Week in HE illustration (18 January 2018)

Sam Gyimah can expect to be thrown straight into the deep end of the free speech debate as he starts his new role as universities minister this week. Thanks to his predecessor, he will oversee the promised government crackdown on the “no-platforming” of controversial speakers whose views might sound offensive to student ears. But this is by no means his first rodeo. According to the University of Oxford student newspaper Cherwell, the MP for East Surrey sparked a row during his own student days – when he was president of the university’s debating society – by inviting Saddam Hussein’s close ally to speak at the Oxford Union. The clipping from October 1997 reads: “The Oxford Union caused an uproar at the Foreign Office after inviting the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, to speak.” Mr Aziz, who served under Mr Hussein for more than 20 years, was denied a visa and never did make it to the union.


Did a story on Toby Young’s attendance at a “secretive eugenics conference” at UCL force him to quit the board of the Office for Students? The controversial writer claimed that he stood down on 9 January because the outcry over what he called his “sophomoric and silly” past comments had “become a distraction”. But some critics soon suggested that he had left over an upcoming article in Private Eye about his visit to the London Conference on Intelligence last summer. One paper presented at the invitation-only event argued that racial “admixture” had a negative impact on population quality, while another speaker had previously blogged on the ethics of sexually abusing children in their sleep, the magazine said. However, Mr Young, who has said that he attended in a journalistic capacity, was adamant that the story had nothing to do with his resignation. With UCL now investigating how the annual conference got approval, it is probably the last time the institution, not exactly thrilled about revisiting its role in the history of eugenics in the early 20th century, will hold the symposium.


Many a researcher will surely have thought about quizzing their loved ones to find out if they really did read their scholarly efforts – but one statistician from China must have been especially confident that his partner would take an interest in his paper on refrigerators. Alongside the usual acknowledgements of funding gratefully received for the research, Rui Long, a PhD student in engineering at Huazhong University of Science and Technology, included a subtly placed marriage proposal to his partner, Panpan Mao. The section, in “Performance analysis for minimally nonlinear irreversible refrigerators at finite cooling power”, published in Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications in April this year, reads: “Rui Long wants to thank, in particular, the patience, care and support from Panpan Mao over the passed years. Will you marry me?” Times Higher Education can confirm that she said “yes”. As one Twitter user put it: “Romance is not dead, it’s just behind a paywall.”


Scrapping guaranteed pension payments in the Universities Superannuation Scheme would lead to a recruitment “disaster” for the academic profession, almost a thousand UK professors have warned. The warning comes after Universities UK proposed moving the entirety of members’ earnings on to a defined-contribution model to plug the scheme’s £7.5 billion deficit. University and College Union members have until 19 January to ballot for strike action over the proposal, which the union claims would lead to significantly reduced payouts for members. An open letter signed by more than 960 professors describes the current scheme as one of the main draws of the academic profession. “The USS pension has provided compensation for relatively modest salaries and has acted as a powerful magnet for talented overseas staff,” it says.


A decade-old book by a Canadian professor has shot into the best-seller lists thanks to Donald Trump, The Globe and Mail reported on 8 January. Randall Hansen, professor of political science at the University of Toronto, told the paper that he was looking forward to some unexpected royalties after his 2008 title, Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945, recorded a massive upturn in sales last week after it was mistaken for Michael Wolff’s explosive tell-all, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. “The book is 10 years out and it had been languishing for years and suddenly it was on three bestseller lists,” Professor Hansen said. But the additional sales don’t matter to him, he claimed, stating his hope that some readers of his tome will reflect on the lessons of having an “unstable, deranged demagogue operating the greatest army the world has ever seen”.

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