The week in higher education – 30 November 2017

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

November 30, 2017
Week in HE illustration (30 November 2017)

Durham University students are not known for their harmonious relations with local residents. And when Trevelyan College rugby club sent out a Facebook invitation to a miners’ strike-themed social event – with forwards to dress as miners in “flat caps, filth”, backs as members of Margaret Thatcher’s government – it went down pretty much as you would expect in an area with a rich mining heritage. The Durham Miners’ Association was “appalled” to hear about the event, while Twitter users said that the organisers had a “complete lack of respect for local history” and “ought to be ashamed”, the BBC News website reported on 26 November. The rugby club swiftly cancelled the event. “Durham University and Trevelyan College utterly deplore this event,” said university pro vice-chancellor Owen Adams, who added that the club’s activities on and off the field had been suspended indefinitely, pending disciplinary proceedings, and that a “programme of education” about the Durham coalfields would be launched at the institution.

“The building is designed to break down barriers – having a bit of gentle anarchy is good,” Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse told Times Higher Education of the £700 million Francis Crick Institute building when it opened last year. But now, some of the 1,250 people who work at the central London lab “have complained that the open plan design, intended to assist informal collaboration, means some areas set aside for thinking and writing up research are too noisy”, The Guardian reported on 21 November. “Chattering members of the public and colleagues celebrating PhD awards have been cited by those who, anecdotal evidence suggests, have been struggling to adapt to working alongside the building’s cavernous atrium,” it added. Hopefully, with the Crick conducting noise tests in response, the anarchy can soften into the gently stimulating variety that Sir Paul – the institute’s director – envisaged.

The election watchdog has launched a new probe into whether Vote Leave, the Brexit campaign spearheaded by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, gave £625,000 to a University of Brighton fashion student “to avoid a £7million spending limit in the EU referendum”, the Daily Mail reported on 20 November. “Vote Leave handed cash to activist Darren Grimes and Veterans for Britain as it neared its £7million spending limit ahead of the EU referendum,” the title said. “Both spent the cash they were given with Aggregate IQ,” a Canadian advertising firm. Both insist that they chose Aggregate IQ independently. Mr Grimes’ campaign, BeLeave, managed to attract only 6,300 Facebook likes and just 3,700 Twitter followers, it has previously been reported. And the thanks that Vote Leave receives for supporting this fine example of student entrepreneurship is a grilling from the Electoral Commission.

Dame Glynis Breakwell’s grip on the helm of the University of Bath took another blow after more than a dozen members of the institution’s senate expressed no confidence in her. Although the embattled vice-chancellor still narrowly survived the secret vote by 19 to 16 – which followed the publication of a critical report from England’s funding council into Bath’s governance – the pressure on her to go appears unrelenting. One crumb of comfort might have been an opinion article by the economist David Blanchflower in The Guardian on 22 November that argued that UK vice-chancellors were actually underpaid and that universities would be led by “monkeys” if “you paid peanuts”. But unless Dame Glynis suddenly decides to accept peanuts for the next year, is it difficult to see this story disappearing.

Receiving the blessing of Donald Trump and being popular on a university campus sounds like an impossible feat to achieve. But that is precisely the position enjoyed by two turkeys that are the latest to survive the US Thanksgiving holiday thanks to the annual televised tradition of a bird being pardoned by the president. This year’s main star of the show, called Drumstick, and its “understudy” Wishbone, will take up residence at farm facilities at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (commonly referred to as Virginia Tech), the current final destination for the pardoned birds, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. There they will join the turkeys pardoned last year by Barack Obama – Tater and Tot – who are apparently “minor celebrities” at Virginia Tech.

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