The week in higher education

July 25, 2013

Universities and science minister David Willetts faces a long summer of uncertainty after David Cameron postponed a planned reshuffle that many observers predicted would see his two brains swapped for the frontal lobes of a younger – ideally female – rising star, such as junior education minister Elizabeth Truss. The incumbent’s cause cannot have been hurt by a 17 July editorial in The Daily Telegraph titled “Save David Willetts!”. The newspaper lauded the “exemplary” minister for his role in protecting the science budget and securing investment in high-tech industry as well as for “racking up a list of distinctly Tory accomplishments” on university reform while working “without apparent friction” under the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable. It concluded that if the prime minister gave the boot to the “clever, thoughtful and decent” Mr Willetts, “the loss will be entirely his own”.

See leader, previous page

Four students who were bitten by police dogs during an effort to halt a noisy party have been given £75,000 in compensation. The Daily Telegraph reported on 16 July that the students, from Leeds Metropolitan University, were among “hundreds” of revellers at a house party in the city’s student district in 2007. A party organiser told the paper that one student had been bitten on his testicles. The out-of-court settlement amounts to almost £19,000 per victim. But with average student debt predicted to top £50,000, the four – who have since left university – may still feel that the Student Loans Company has them by the balls. We should all be grateful that a similar incident did not befall the Duke of Cambridge when he studied at the University of St Andrews or there might have been no news in the UK this week.

On the subject of which, bookmakers William Hill beat all the universities to it in cranking out a royal baby-related press release this week. Among the odds it reported were those on which university the new heir will attend. St Andrews – where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met – is the 2/1 favourite, followed by Oxford and Cambridge (3/1), Edinburgh (6/1) and King’s College London (14/1). Oddly, no odds were offered on London Metropolitan University despite its handy location just a night bus ride away from Kensington Palace.

Handily for the potential studies of the future King of England, Kensington Palace is also just a couple of stops down the Piccadilly Line from the proposed site of London’s new “Medical City”. The capital’s deputy mayor, Kit Malthouse, told The Sunday Telegraph on 21 July that he wanted to create a “global brand” that would attract investment from pharmaceutical companies and the City and ensure that advances in research were better exploited domestically. The hub would also “throw its arms” around Oxford and Cambridge, “because that is the golden triangle”. The proposed site on Euston Road, where University College Hospital, the Wellcome Trust and the Francis Crick Institute are already located, would be the medical equivalent of East London Tech City, aka “Silicon Roundabout”. Mr Malthouse said he hoped that a new antibiotic would be discovered on the site. But with only £1 million in seed funding potentially on offer, it remains to be seen if his enthusiasm proves infectious.

Academics were – surely not for the first time – the target in the Mail on Sunday this week as it poked fun at weather experts for failing to predict the UK’s red-hot July. Usually its scorn for academia does not stretch to a professor being confronted by a journalist wearing a sombrero, a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops. But that was what greeted Stephen Belcher, professor of meteorology at the University of Reading and head of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for climate research, who had suggested at a climate summit in June that the UK could be locked into a cycle of washout summers. He avoided the bare-legged journalist’s invitation to “embrace summer”, according to the 21 July story, although the paper did pour scorn on another expert from the Hadley Centre, Peter Stott, who warned that wet weather could still be on the horizon. To judge by this week’s thundery spectacle, it might be unwise to make a laughing stock of the weathermen just yet.

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