The week in higher education

August 8, 2013

“Overseas students from wealthy families are renting some of London’s most desirable and expensive flats,” the Evening Standard reported on 1 August. One estate agent said that at the new 65 Duke Street development off Bond Street, where rents start at £1,950 a week, about a third of tenants are overseas students. A review by agents Wetherell and the market intelligence group Dataloft found that foreign students made up 35 per cent of all Mayfair tenants in the £750 to £999 a week price band and 25 per cent in the £1,000 to £1,999 band. A flawed market has helped produce some of the highest prices in the world – but at least England’s higher education system isn’t as dysfunctional as its property system.

A US psychology professor has been “outed as a killer who murdered his family as a teenager and was committed to a mental hospital for only six years after being found insane”. James Wolcott shot his parents and older sister in 1967 when he was 15 years old. After his release, he changed his name to James St James and built an academic career at an Illinois Presbyterian institution, Millikin University. The professor’s past was revealed after a local newspaper investigation, the Daily Mail reported on 3 August. The university gave strong backing to the academic and said that he would stay on. “Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr St James’ efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable,” Millikin said in a statement.

In an excruciating press release headed “Advertising space: the final frontier”, the University of Sheffield said on 5 August that it had “sent a billboard into space advertising its ‘Go Higher’ campaign aimed at attracting high quality Ucas applications from students during this year’s clearing process”. An accompanying video shows a laminated “Go Higher” card attached to a balloon rising above green fields and into the dark stratosphere. “We have launched hundreds of thousands of people into the academic, professional, political and artistic stratosphere over the years and this campaign is a direct appeal to students who have set their sights higher,” said Gavin Douglas, Sheffield’s head of student recruitment, admissions, international relations – and feeble, overextended puns.

River Plate, one of Argentina’s leading football clubs, has set up a university – said to be the first institution of its kind operated by a football club anywhere in the world (although England does have UCFB, a college offering degrees that has a base at Burnley Football Club). Seventy students have entered the recently inaugurated River Plate University, the AFP news agency reported on 5 August. The Buenos Aires club now has an entire educational system, having already set up a kindergarten, a primary school and a secondary school. The university offers four areas of study: sports marketing, sports administration, business administration and physical education. Being an Argentine football institution, it is likely to offer students a hands‑on learning experience.

Liberal Democrat members will be asked to endorse the current £9,000 tuition fees system as the party’s official policy while comprehensively ruling out a graduate tax. The proposal, which is to be voted on at the upcoming Lib Dem autumn conference and which was revealed in conference papers published on 6 August, is likely to encounter fierce opposition from some delegates. Although the majority of Lib Dem MPs voted to treble fees or abstained from voting on the issue in 2010, the party’s current official policy, decided by its conference, remains that it will phase out fees. Conference delegates will also be asked to support plans to create a single higher education regulator, to set up a review looking at the impact of the student loan system on the national debt, to introduce a postgraduate loans system offering loans of up to £10,000 a year, and to remove international students “from the immigration figures”. But do bear in mind that if the Lib Dems end up in coalition after the next election, they might turn around and do the exact opposite of any of this.

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