The week in higher education – 6 December 2018

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

December 6, 2018
THE cartoon 6 December 2018

A team of doctors who swallowed pieces of Lego and timed how long it took to pass through their bowels say that parents should be reassured by their findings, The Guardian reported. In the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, six researchers from the UK and Australia described how they had swallowed the head of a Lego figure in the “noble tradition of self-experimentation”. They assessed their results using two new metrics: the Stool Hardness and Transit (Shat) score and the Found and Retrieved Time (Fart) score. The Fart score – how long it took the Lego piece to pass – was between 1.1 and three days, with an average of 1.7 days. The Shat score was used to demonstrate that the consistency of stools did not change during the experiment. Co-author Grace Leo said that parents should be reassured that small, smooth plastic objects should pass easily if swallowed by children. “[We] could not ask anything of our test subjects that we would not undertake ourselves,” the researchers say.

The US’ National Rifle Association would have us believe that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But what about a good guy with an ice hockey puck? Michigan’s Oakland University has bought 2,500 of the hard circular discs to help staff and students survive a possible mass shooting on campus, the Detroit Free Press reported. The idea grew out of a self-defence session organised by police chief Mark Gordon, who wondered what faculty or students might hurl at gunman if cornered in a classroom. “When you have 20 or 30 people in a classroom and they all throw hockey pucks at the same time, it would be quite the distraction,” Mr Gordon said. While staff and students dream up ever more inventive ways to defy a gun-toting killer on the rampage, legislation to introduce effective gun control in the US is as distant as ever.

Sam Gyimah’s departure as the UK’s universities and science minister will not be mourned by too many academics. Having set himself up as the “minister for students”, many wondered how much of a friend Mr Gyimah was to institutions and their staff before his resignation on 30 November over next week’s Brexit vote. But some scholars will at least be sad to see the retirement of Mr Gyimah’s computer-generated avatar – star of some weird and rather trippy Twitter videos about research in universities since it was launched in June. Tweeting on 1 December, Mr Gyimah announced that his “animoji” had made its last adventure, having been on some “incredible journeys exploring topics like quantum tech, AI & clean power”.

Photos of University of Oxford students camping outside a letting agency are long way from the usual images of dreaming spires, gowns and punting normally associated with the ancient city. With high demand for houses in the city’s so-called golden triangle around Cowley Road, and with supply limited, about 20 undergraduates resorted to desperate measures to reach the front of the queue when the agency released its letting lists. One 20-year-old student told MailOnline how he was “sacking off lectures” to put in a day shift after his would-be housemate sat in the freezing cold for 12 hours overnight. But some students may find their time on the freezing streets wasted. Despite the first-come, first-served principle, highly prized five-bedroom homes were more likely to go to mixed groups, rather than lads-only ones, because they tend to look after properties better, said one lettings manager.

Statues have long been magnets to pranksters: the figure of Henry VIII who stands over the Great Gate at Trinity College, Cambridge lost his sword long ago, although it was reportedly a window cleaner, not a student, who armed the Tudor monarch with the chair leg that he holds to this day. The University of St Andrews is the latest institution to get into a monumental spot of bother, appealing to students past and present for information on the whereabouts of the left hand of a statue of St Andrew that has lived modestly in a car park shrubbery for almost four decades, ITV reported. The university, which wants to restore the sculpture and move it to a more central location, said that the statue had previously stood in the foyer of the North British & Mercantile Insurance Company building in Edinburgh and was touched by staff as they arrived to bring them luck. Let’s hope the disciple is reunited with his digits soon.

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