The week in higher education – 25 February 2016

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

February 25, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (25 February 2016)

Universities minister Jo Johnson has found himself pitted against his brother Boris in the upcoming battle over Britain’s position in the European Union. But while Boris’ support for Brexit dominated most newspaper front pages on 22 February, his ministerial sibling’s tweet a day earlier in favour of staying in the EU gained scarcely a mention in any media outlet. “UK unis and our superb science base key to our future as a knowledge economy,” said the younger Johnson, adding that Britain is “much stronger inside EU”. His stance is sure to have gone down far better with universities than his brother’s position, which was widely viewed as the start of his push to succeed David Cameron as Tory party leader. That was made clear by a letter published in The Sunday Times on 21 February and signed by more than 100 vice-chancellors. The university heads said that “leaving would mean cutting ourselves off from established networks and would undermine the UK’s position as a global leader in science and arts”.

The University of Cambridge is to launch its own line of branded bicycles, the Cambridge News reported on 18 February. “Inspired by the university’s heritage”, the sleek town bike will feature the institution’s “iconic coat of arms and snappy Cambridge Blue detailing”, as well as “soft leather handlebar tape, embossed saddles, cream tyres and glossy paintwork”, said bike manufacturer Bobbin, whose designs are available to pre-order from March. The bikes, which retail between £420 and £780, will also have racks for “carrying luggage, studying material, or picnics”, added the London-based firm. But a few extra additions are needed to really offer the authentic Cambridge cycling experience, some readers believed. A setting that automatically directs you the wrong way down a one-way street and brakes that send riders straight through a red light might help the real student cyclist, some wags commented.

Is Russell Brand thinking about become a student? That was the question put forward by The Spectator’s Steerpike column on 17 February. The comedian-turned-revolutionary was apparently spotted recently on a tour of Soas, University of London accompanied by a university official, who later said that Brand was considering studying there, the magazine reported. Soas – a hotbed of left-wing student politics – might be a good fit for the star, whose radical credentials were perhaps slightly dented by his last-minute endorsement of Ed Miliband before last year’s general election. However, as Steerpike warns, Brand’s track record with higher education isn’t great, having labelled Cambridge students “Harry Potter poofs” two years ago and also questioning the need to study at all. “Good luck with your exams but don’t take it seriously – I have no A-Levels and am now studied for A-Level, it’s all rhubarb,” he tweeted in May 2014.

David Cameron’s attack on universities for not admitting enough black students has been labelled “rank hypocrisy” after it emerged that his Civil Service had an even worse record for ethnic minority recruitment, The Independent reported on 16 February. Last month the prime minister accused higher education of “ingrained, institutional and insidious” attitudes that hold back black people, with the University of Oxford singled out for its record. But a review for the government has now found that the Civil Service’s fast stream recruitment scheme has a “less diverse intake” than Oxford, accepting just 1.8 per cent of black and mixed-race applicants compared with 4.8 per cent of white ones. Even the service’s “summer diversity internship” programme saw private school pupils far more likely to be admitted than state school applicants, The Indy said.

Hip hop mogul Jay Z’s “game-changing” contribution to modern literature is the subject of a new undergraduate course, the news channel CBS19 reported. Students at the University of Texas at Arlington will be asked to examine the cultural impact of songs from the multimillionaire rapper’s self-described “four classic albums” – Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint, The Black Album and Vol. 2 – which include songs such as Izzo and 99 Problems. “It’s so cool to think about how his work has stood the test of time and is still inspiring students,” said the course’s organiser, Kenton Rambsy. “Jay Z’s music is poetry,” he added, saying it “makes sense to think about how he’s changing the game in terms of what we think about when we call something literature”.

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