The week in higher education

May 16, 2013

“Me, ugly? My Jimmy Choos make me feel BEAUTIFUL,” ran the headline in the Daily Mail’s Femail section on 9 May, above an article by Mary Beard, professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, in which she confessed to being “a shoe addict”. Professor Beard disclosed that “buying shoes is such a wonderfully un-stressful treat”, adding that she once spent £300 on a pair of Jimmy Choos “with a galaxy of silver stars all over them”. She also revealed: “I even spotted a student tweeting about Mary Beard wearing Hi-Top trainers in a lecture. How cool is that?” So cool that hopefully the Mail will soon launch a regular series of 1,500-word articles on academics and their footwear.

In a week when the Conservative Party has been riven by rows about Europe, higher education has done its bit to arouse some Eurosceptic fervour. The UK’s Student Loans Company has hired private investigators “to claw back its money after the amount owed by European Union graduates who are not repaying their tuition-fee loans rose to more than £50 million”, The Independent on Sunday reported on 12 May. Borrowers accounting for £41 million have not supplied information about where they are living and how much they are earning. A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that “all borrowers need to know that they cannot evade their obligation to repay simply by moving overseas”, perhaps hoping that saying it will somehow make it true.

The University of Bristol is considering plans to give state-school pupils “priority over candidates from fee-paying schools”, The Sunday Times reported on 12 May. Attendance at state school should be deemed “an indicator of disadvantage”, Bristol’s Tony Hoare is reported to have said in documents obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act. Mr Hoare is “director of what the university calls its ‘widening participation research cluster’”, the newspaper said while holding its nose and dangling the offending job title at arm’s length. “In 2002 Bristol was boycotted by leading independent schools, which were convinced that its admissions policy discriminated against them,” The Sunday Times added. Despite this, the institution still took 40 per cent of its students from private schools in 2011-12 - the fourth-highest level of any university in England.

In David Moyes, Premier League champions Manchester United have clearly appointed a manager who understands the value of higher education. Mr Moyes, who leaves Everton for Old Trafford in the summer, answered questions at the Cambridge Union on 13 May, making a return to the city where he used to play for Cambridge United. Mr Moyes praised Wayne Rooney as a “great street player” and German football for keeping ticket prices low. Whether he touched on higher education was not reported. But David Willetts, the universities and science minister, already receives plenty of guidance from a Scot with a tendency to speak his mind, and will no doubt continue to do so until Sir Alan Langlands hands over the reins of the Higher Education Funding Council for England in the autumn.

“Some of England’s leading universities will benefit from a £50 million investment in cutting-edge research and innovation projects to drive growth,” the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the government announced on 15 May. Sixteen schemes at universities have been allocated a share of the money by Hefce’s Catalyst Fund. David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said the cash “will harness the potential for growth across the regions, focus on our world-class industrial sectors and create a skilled workforce for the future”. Among the projects to be funded is the development of a National Centre of Excellence for Food Engineering, which aims to deliver £1 billion in gross value added to the food and drink industry, as well as encourage more graduates to consider a career in the sector. Horses for courses? Hopefully not.

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