The week in higher education

September 12, 2013

Last week, Times Higher Education reported that management academics at Swansea University may be placed on teaching-only contracts unless they can offer four papers judged to be at least 3* in quality for the research excellence framework. The provision has been introduced by the School of Management’s new deputy dean for operations, Niall Piercy. THE has since learned that the school’s new dean, Professor Piercy’s father, Nigel, wrote a paper in the European Journal of Marketing in 2000 setting out why it is “fundamentally stupid for a business school to try to improve its research assessment exercise score”. In it, Professor Piercy senior complains that an RAE obsession leads to BORED, or “B***** Obsessive Research assessment Exercise Disorder”. Symptoms include leading “people who should really know better” to “judge others only in terms of their ‘RAE four’ papers”, regardless of the “underlying quality of their research and other contributions”, which he describes as “mildly offensive”. Will his son take note and rein in his proposals? Not b***** likely.

The BBC is “dumbing down” science programmes because the corporation is staffed by humanities graduates, according to academic and presenter Lisa Jardine. The professor of Renaissance studies at University College London and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Seven Ages of Science was speaking ahead of the British Science Festival in Newcastle, The Daily Telegraph reported on 6 September. She said the idea that presenters must “mash up the difficult stuff, and particularly science, because people are not able to understand, is a complete fallacy” that arose because “everybody in the BBC is trained in the humanities”. Professor Jardine, who switched from a maths degree to study English at the University of Cambridge, is presumably not volunteering for redundancy from her science-presenting post at the BBC.

The University of Oxford regularly gets a pasting from the press, being blamed for everything from social engineering against private school pupils to the creation of a privileged elite caste that bestrides the UK’s corridors of power. Now, in one of the most damning criticisms yet, it stands accused of spawning the films of Richard Curtis. The screenwriter, responsible for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and his latest offering About Time, had never before revealed the identity of his “muse”, but recently told Time Out magazine that a split from girlfriend Carolyn Morton-Hooper, née Colquhoun, while studying at Oxford, had been his inspiration. “She broke my heart spectacularly, as a result of which I wrote about unbroken hearts for ten years. I owe her my movie career,” said Mr Curtis. “I’ve not spoken to him for years but I’d quite like a word with him now,” Ms Morton-Hooper told The Daily Telegraph on 7 September, sounding as though she wants to ask Mr Curtis either to stop talking publicly about their past relationship or to stop making films.

The academic who created Ukip but left, claiming it had become “racist”, has established a new left-of-centre anti-EU party, with the aim of challenging both Labour and his former party. The “New Deal” party has been registered by Alan Sked, professor of international history at the London School of Economics, who founded Ukip in 1993 but quit five years later, The Sunday Times reported on 8 September. If Professor Sked is a fan of old horror films, he might recall what happened when Frankenstein disowned his monstrous progeny but went on to create The Bride of Frankenstein.

“Too many people study too many useless degrees and too many resources are taken up in the teaching of them,” according to Roger Bootle, managing director of macroeconomics research firm Capital Economics. Mr Bootle, a former lecturer in economics at the University of Oxford, writing in The Daily Telegraph on 8 September, said that the graduate earnings premium would not apply for “Jason who is considering a degree in Beckham Studies at the University of Boothill”. He said “roughly 50pc of youngsters now go to university to get a degree. In my day, the proportion was more like 5pc…Now doubtless 5pc was too low but I am pretty sure that 50pc is too high.” His article was surprisingly light on actual numbers or evidence, but perhaps “pretty sure” is good enough in macroeconomics research these days.

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