The week in higher education – 3 May 2018

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

May 3, 2018
week in he 3 may 2018

Sajid Javid was appointed the UK’s new home secretary on 30 April. At the top of his to do list is trying to address the Windrush scandal, which led to the resignation of his predecessor, Amber Rudd, although it was the fact that she had “inadvertently misled” MPs over what she knew about targets for removing people who were in the country (supposedly) illegally that toppled her. Mr Javid will have a Migration Advisory Committee report on the impact of overseas students in the UK, scheduled to report in September, landing on his desk at some stage – although probably buried under an avalanche of Windrush and post-Brexit immigration material. While Ms Rudd was seen as attempting to liberalise Theresa May’s regime on overseas students by setting up the review, it remains to be seen whether Mr Javid – who as business secretary said in 2015 that overseas students should “study and then…leave” the UK – has any interest in the subject at all.


The Sun took a hypothesis outlined in an academic paper then developed its own methodology to answer a question implicitly posed by that academic paper – albeit the question was “How much fart is on your plane at any given time?” Back in 2013, Jacob Rosenberg, clinical professor at the University of Copenhagen, published a paper that looked at the reason behind the higher levels of flatulence experienced by airline passengers: the lower pressure in an airliner’s cabin means that gases expand. For reasons not immediately evident, five years later, on 27 April, The Sun’s digital travel editor ran a series of calculations – involving flight duration, passenger numbers, cabin air capacity and air filtering – to work out which are “the fartiest planes”. It said of Qantas’ new non-stop Perth to London flight that “for the 17-hour flight on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that takes 236 passengers, 217 litres of farts accumulate in the air – halved because of air filtering to 108.5 litres”. For any university staff required to fly between Australia and the UK, there is something to bear in mind – or to try to forget.


There was more malodorous news from Melbourne, where 500 lecturers and students were evacuated from RMIT University’s library after reports of a smell initially suspected to be gas. But it turned out to be a “rotting durian that had been left in a cupboard”, the BBC News website reported on 29 April. The durian “is a tropical fruit known for its strong, stinky smell”, the website added, and is widely banned from hotels and public transport across south-east Asia. “Firefighters said the smell had moved through the building via the air conditioning system,” according to the report. The university’s investigations should surely focus on whether the durian was deliberately left in the cupboard: whether the fruit was a plant in more ways than one.


The vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham has announced plans to make the institution the UK’s “first drug-free university” – with students signing a contract pledging not to take drugs on university property and “asked to leave” if they “persist”. Sir Anthony Seldon unveiled the idea in The Sunday Times on 29 April, in an article that covered his own experiences with marijuana at school: “I smoked a joint and felt I was going out of my mind. It was terrifying, all the more so because I was with a group of friends on a boat moored on the Norfolk Broads, where we had gone for a reading week.” As well as committing what is known as an “accidental Partridge”, Sir Anthony’s article chimed with recent ministerial contributions by implicitly suggesting that universities should be seen as in loco parentis for their students – an important topic behind many key debates relating to universities and students at present. The intervention may not earn him much gratitude from the rest of the sector.


Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin is heading for Harvard Business School, the official Bundesliga website reported on 28 April. The 29-year-old German-born Turkish international tweeted that he was “pleased to inform you that I’ve been admitted to @HarvardHBS! Super excited about the programme and delighted to meet legendary @anitaelberse”. Anita Elberse, the Lincoln Filene professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, she teaches an MBA course on the Businesses of Entertainment, Media, and Sports – and the footballer tweeted a picture of himself reading her book, Blockbusters: Hit-making, Risk-taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment. While Mr Sahin – who will combine his studies with his football career – could be a role model for mature and part-time students, he will probably also confirm the impression that prestigious universities’ MBAs cater mainly for the super-rich.

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