The week in higher education

July 4, 2013

In a thorough cock-up, the Indian Journal of Surgery has had to retract a paper on “Penile Strangulation by Metallic Rings”. According to the Retraction Watch website, the article tells the eye-watering tale of a lorry driver who saw fit to address his problems with spontaneous nocturnal ejaculation by forcing his gearstick into neutral via the application of two metal rings (internal diameters of 2.5cm and 2cm). The remedy, helpfully illustrated with a photo, led to horrible swelling and hospital admittance. An “indigenous” removal technique proved successful, and subsequent “psychoanalysis” revealed “no abnormality”. But it didn’t end so happily for the two authors, from the Government Medical College in Kota, Rajasthan, because the paper was retracted after it was revealed to be a copy of an earlier report in the Bombay Hospital Journal. Surely the plagiarists ought to be thanked for giving the world a second chance to enjoy such a seminal paper?

The University of Oxford’s biggest donor has been found dead off the coast of Bermuda, The Times reported on  June. The body of James Martin, who made his fortune writing books about the future of technology, was found by a kayaker on 24 June near a private island where he had lived for decades, the paper said. Dr Martin, 79, gave endowments totalling £100 million to Oxford, including the largest sum ever donated to a UK university, which was used to establish the Oxford Martin School. “He was a visionary thinker who urged us to focus on the challenges and opportunities the technology will bring us in the 21st century,” said his friend Lord Rees of Ludlow, Astronomer Royal and former president of the Royal Society. However, his gifts had caused some ructions. Finding room for the school led to large numbers of books being shifted around Oxford’s campus, prompting disquiet among library users.

Michael Gove’s removal of teacher training places from “politically correct” universities may lead to a shortage of up to 5,000 trainee teachers this autumn, The Sunday Times reported on 30 June. Half the vacancies for teachers to train in schools – which the education secretary favours over university-based training – have not been filled, and so far just 7 per cent of places to train “on the job” as a physics or a religious education teacher have been taken, the paper said. Schools are apparently unable or unwilling to train so many – unlike university education departments, which would love to boost their dwindling numbers. As those who run education departments were recently branded “Enemies of Promise” and “Marxists…in thrall to Sixties ideologies” by Mr Gove, that is unlikely to happen soon. “The government is in danger of sliding back to the chaotic situation in 2000 when schools ran into a serious staff shortage, and we had to recruit from all over the world,” said John Howson, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford and managing director of DataforEducation.info.

A photograph of participants at a conference on “women in society” has gone viral because not one person in the image is female. Of the hundreds of delegates pictured at the meeting at Saudi Arabia’s Qassim University, all are men in traditional Arab dress save one who sports a blue chequered shirt, Mail Online reported on 1 July. The image, printed last year in a Saudi newspaper, has been circulated on social network sites. Twitter users branded it “absurd”, “the height of misogyny” and “astonishing”, holding it up as yet more evidence of Saudi Arabia’s gender gap.

The government has announced that there will be more than £100 million to support disadvantaged students into postgraduate study. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council for England said on 2 July that an initial £25 million fund would disburse grants of between £300,000 and £3 million to universities and colleges. Allied to the £50 million National Scholarship Programme – to be relaunched as a postgraduate fund from 2015-16 – and to anticipated resources from universities and businesses, this would create a fund worth up to £125 million. Meanwhile, a Hefce report, Postgraduate Education in England and Northern Ireland: Overview 2013, found that “after a period of steady growth, there have been recent declines in postgraduate student numbers” in 2011-12.

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