The week in higher education – 28 January 2015

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

January 28, 2016
The week in higher education cartoon (28 January 2015)

A student’s extreme efforts to stop her room-mate from stealing her food have become an internet hit, the Daily Mirror reported on 22 January. Fed up with items disappearing from a communal fridge, the student at an unnamed Chinese university created an elaborate “fake food” dish, which consisted of a piece of cardboard coated in breadcrumbs to look like a tasty chicken cutlet. The step-by-step guide to making the phoney meal has been viewed thousands of times across the world, although it is not known how the practical joke ended after the alluring dish was placed in the fridge. Given the cardboard flavour of some overcooked student meals, it is possible the kleptomaniac housemate may not have realised the difference.

Life in academia can sometimes feel like being on a treadmill, hard-pressed lecturers have claimed. Slow down for a minute and you’ll be thrown off the back of the (academic) conveyor belt, unable to get back on. But that fear is perhaps now a more literal one at the University of Warwick, where a new “treadmill desk” has been trialled, the Coventry Telegraph reported on 19 January. Staff will be encouraged to use the revolutionary new piece of office furniture, which will be trialled in different parts of Warwick’s campus. “People can do 10 to 15 minutes on the treadmill and still do work,” explained Lisa Dodd-Mayne, Warwick’s director of sport and active communities, who said that the machines are intended to get people talking about fitness.

We at Times Higher Education of course always knew that our pages are regularly leafed through in the corridors of power, but the proof came last week when David Cameron himself weaponised quotes from these very pages in his weekly exchange with Jeremy Corbyn. Mr Cameron, who had been put on the spot at Prime Minister’s Questions on 20 January by the Labour leader over the government's decision to scrap maintenance grants for poorer students, advised Mr Corbyn to turn to THE to “read a lesson from someone, frankly, I rather miss: Mr Ed Balls”. Referring to John Morgan's interview with Mr Balls, Cameron recounted how the former shadow chancellor had admitted that Labour “clearly didn’t find a sustainable way forward for the financing of higher education”. Whether that was an effective riposte – alongside claims that the scrapping of grants had helped fund the uncapping of undergraduate places – we will have to leave others to judge but it is always a pleasure to see THE mentioned at the dispatch box.

Billionaire tycoon and presidential hopeful Donald Trump used a visit to Liberty University to unveil yet another daft policy proposal, the Salon website reported on 21 January. Having wooed the audience at the evangelical university in Virginia last week by stating that “the Bible is the best”, Trump began to outline how he might “protect Christians”, the site explained. “You’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me,” said Trump. “The notion that the president can dictate how department stores handle Christmas greetings is ludicrous,” said Salon columnist Sean Illing. Sadly, this isn’t the most ludicrous policy announced in recent times at Liberty University, which is known for its not-so-libertarian policies of no drinking, no dancing and no kissing. In the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino, California, last year, president Jerry Falwell Jr announced that he would end a rule that stopped students from carrying guns at Liberty in what he described as a measure to improve campus safety.

One of the UK’s most “ban happy” students’ unions has now outlawed its members from dressing up as Mexicans, gangsters and mentally ill people, the Daily Mail reported on 22 January. The new rules on fancy dress costumes introduced by the Edinburgh University Students’ Association follow a series of scandals involving students “blacking up”, the Mail said. “You may not intend to hurt anyone when picking out your costume…but it’s important to consider the impact your choices will have,” a new guide for students explained. However, hundreds of people have signed a petition against the crackdown by the union, which also bans costumes of “camp men”, Native Americans, Pocahontas and transgender Olympian Caitlyn Jenner. “The university that produced David Hume is banning fancy dress,” said Tom Slater, coordinator of online magazine Spiked’s Free Speech University Rankings, who added that “campus censorship is hitting epidemic proportions” in Scotland.

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