The week in higher education – 26 October 2017

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

October 26, 2017
Week in HE illustration (26 October 2017)

“Serious questions” must be answered about governance at Edge Hill University, a union said, after a former pro vice-chancellor and his partner were convicted of defrauding the institution of more than £500,000. Robert Smedley, the former dean of education, was found guilty of five counts of fraud at Liverpool Crown Court. His partner, Christopher Joynson, whom Smedley employed as the university’s professional development officer – a salaried post created for him – was convicted of four counts. Police said that Joynson invoiced the university for “hours and hours of work that he had not undertaken, sharing the money with Smedley”. They spent the money on home improvements, including a “luxury kitchen”, police added. “Staff and students will want to know how this was allowed to happen,” said Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union. “Why were there not the proper financial checks in place to stop it happening?”


Time Lords seeking a change of career could do worse than apply for a lecturing job at a London branch campus. New York University in London is recruiting a “part-time lecturer – history of the universe” to teach undergraduates from next January. Teaching will cover topics such as the origin and development of stars, galaxies, planetary systems and the universe itself, as well as the study of the Earth and the development of life on Earth and its potential to exist elsewhere in the universe. Applicants should have a PhD in an appropriate field, as well as proven experience teaching at university level. Whether that experience must have been acquired in the most recent few centuries is not stated.


The UK’s best-paid university leader received an interest-free loan of £31,489 to buy a car, it has emerged. Dame Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, received the loan in 2015-16 as part of her overall remuneration of £451,000, the Bath Chronicle reported. Labour councillor Joe Rayment told the newspaper that the deal was a “slap in the face” to undergraduates who were paying 6.1 per cent interest on their student loans. Of course, it was not long until this development attracted the ire of former education minister Lord Adonis, who has made it his mission to force Dame Glynis out of her job. On Twitter, Lord Adonis nominated himself as the next vice-chancellor, saying that he would do it “just for a month, to clean out the Augean stables. I would do it without pay.” Even on those terms, don’t call Bath, they’ll call you, Andrew.


Good news for those who enjoy the odd tipple – a joint study by researchers at the University of Liverpool, Maastricht University and King’s College London suggests that bilingual speakers’ ability to converse in a second language is improved after they have consumed a little alcohol. While it is well established that booze can impair cognitive and motor functions, scientists agreed that having a drink can also reduce social anxiety and increase the levels of self-confidence often needed to interact in a foreign tongue. Undergraduate psychology students who participated in the study drank just under a pint of 5 per cent alcohol beer, depending on their size, before their Dutch foreign language skills were subsequently rated by native speakers. Those who had enjoyed a drink were also found to have significantly better pronunciation than those who had consumed no alcohol at all. Proost!


As if that’s not enough, US students can legitimately enjoy another form of space-time travel by signing up to the first degree to be offered in marijuana studies. Northern Michigan University is offering the course as part of a four-year bachelor’s of science programme, which combines chemistry, biology, botany, horticulture, marketing and finance classes. It may sound suspiciously like a training programme in how to become a drug dealer, but the university insists that’s not the case. “No one is growing marijuana. No one is violating state or federal laws,” Steve Mitchell, a member of NMU’s board of trustees, told the Detroit Free Press’ website, “but there are a lot of plants that can be studied”. In fact, with a growing number of countries across the globe moving towards legalisation and even promoting pot’s potential medical benefits, it’s about time that the plant was cut some slack.

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