The week in higher education – 6 June 2024

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

June 6, 2024
Cartoon 6 June 2024
Source: Nick Newman

Day after day at the lectern can wreak havoc on a lecturer’s voice, but apparently hoarseness is not an impediment to students’ learning. Researchers at RWTH Aachen University asked participants to listen to presentations by a virtual professor, delivered in either a healthy voice or a hoarse one for a study published in Scientific Reports. The hoarse voice prompted “increased listening effort”, with the participants rating it, somewhat rudely, as “more annoying, effortful to listen to, and impeding for their cognitive performance”. However, the croaky lecture did not have a statistically significant effect on the participants’ ability to recall the information they heard. Which may be some consolation the next time you are battling with a sore throat.

Most cat owners would insist that their fluffy tyrant, regardless of the sofas shredded or mutilated mice left on the doorstep, deserves an award or two. The students and staff at Vermont State University’s Castleton campus certainly feel that way about their resident feline, Max, who has received an honorary “doctor of litter-ature” from the institution. “Max the Cat has been an affectionate member of the Castleton family for years,” the school posted on Facebook. The friendly tabby lives in a nearby house, and first started wandering on to campus about four years ago, the Associated Press reported. Owner Ashley Dow said he even meets up with prospective students waiting to take a tour of the university. “I don’t even know how he knows to go, but he does,” she said. “And then he’ll follow them on their tour.”

Much ink has been spilled on why the UK sector finds itself in financial crisis, but one lecturer has offered a unique take on who is to blame: “willy wavers”. Writing in the i, Jane Ogden of the University of Surrey gained much attention for her condemnation of managers who, she said, let their ambitious vision far outstrip both their skill sets and the resources available to them. “It is well known that management attracts those who shouldn’t go into management and universities are no exception. Just because you are good at research, that doesn’t make you capable of managing a university,” she said. Describing building sprees, recruitment drives and “fantastic overestimations of international student numbers”, swiftly followed by job cuts, Professor Ogden offered a blunt assessment: “People argue it’s a sector-wide problem. And it is, to the extent that the sector is run by people who shouldn’t be running it. We don’t need willy wavers more concerned about their own legacy than the institution in which they have landed between promotions.”

Strikes are usually a topic of discussion at any University and College Union (UCU) event, but it is rare for the union itself to be affected by them. Yet that is what happened at this year’s congress, the flagship democratic event of the year. Staff members who are part of the Unite union walked out due to a long-running battle over concerns about alleged workplace racism, collective agreement breaches and “broken industrial relations”. The one-day strike meant that all congress business was cancelled, leaving a hole in union policymaking. Topics that had been due to be discussed included cuts, pensions and, slightly ironically, how to hold more effective strikes. In an echo of many an employer statement drafted over the years, a UCU spokesperson said the union was “ready and willing to continue to talks” in order to “find an agreed way forward”, adding, “We remain fully committed to finding solutions and working to create the best possible working environment for our staff.”

When students celebrate their graduation, they’re often also celebrating the knowledge that they’ll never have to sit another exam, or submit another essay, or watch the sunrise once again through the windows of the library. Not so for Lucille Terry, an 85-year-old from Cirencester who’s working on her fourth degree: “I like studying. I do enjoy it, it’s not a hardship for me,” she told the BBC. Ms Terry, a retired teacher, graduated from the University of Manchester in 1962 with a degree in pharmacy, and went on to complete two more degrees with the Open University; she expects to obtain her fourth, an Open University qualification in religious studies, philosophy and ethics, when she’s in her nineties. After retiring, she said, she had no desire to “just do crossword puzzles”. And Ms Terry hopes others might follow her example: “The more I can do to encourage older people to do something with their lives, something that challenges the brain, the better,” she said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Thanks for citing my article in the i on willy wavers but I am from the University of Surrey NOT Sussex! Can this be changed? Jane Ogden