The week in higher education

September 26, 2013

So farewell to the “Slappers ’n’ Rappers” and “Pimps ’n’ Hoes” club nights that were once a staple of some freshers’ weeks. Far fewer gangsta rap-themed parties will be happening on campus this year as feminist students confront the misogynistic lad culture that has dominated universities in recent years, The Guardian reported on 19 September. Other instances of women being viewed as sexual prey for male students have also been reported thick and fast via the #FreshersWeekSexism Twitter tag, the paper added. The singer Robin Thicke, whose song Blurred Lines contains lyrics widely viewed as degrading to women, was the focal point for much debate over everyday sexism, with the chart-topping hit banned at several student unions. Yet the article also recalled that Ucas had incurred students’ ire by circulating an article earlier this year from insurer Endsleigh that divided housemates into 13 types, including the “mum figure” who ensures the “house will never run out of things like cling film”, while the “dad figure” would “take control” and “sort out the bills”.

A Canadian billionaire has given £75 million to the University of Oxford to secure the future of the Rhodes scholarship programme, the Financial Times reported on 20 September. John McCall MacBain, who sold his classified advertising empire for more than $2 billion (£1.25 billion) in 2006, said his time as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford was one of the “highlights” of his life and he wanted other students to enjoy the scheme, the paper said. His generous donation will bolster the original endowment made by mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes, which has sustained losses during the financial crisis, with investment returns currently at “historic lows”, Mr McCall MacBain said. It matches last year’s record-breaking donation from technology mogul Michael Moritz, but Oxford’s efforts are a long way behind the world’s richest university, Harvard, which launched its own funding drive on 21 September. Kicking off with a question-and-answer session with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, the university announced its intention to raise $6.5 billion, with $2.8 billion in pledges and donations already in the bag.

The £2 million cost of a study of man’s 8,000-year relationship with the chicken has been branded an “absurd amount of money”, The Times reported on 20 September. In the three-year study, led by Bournemouth University, academics will explore the ancient and cultural significance of the birds and examine bones to look at the development of specific breeds, the paper said. Students will also fly to Ethiopia and Cuba to understand how people interact with their chooks – prompting the TaxPayers’ Alliance to note that the sums involved were “not chicken feed”. The Arts and Humanities Research Council, which awarded the sum, was unabashed. “Today there are well over 20 billion chickens worldwide, yet we still know very little about their social and cultural history,” said a spokesman.

A. C. Grayling drew much criticism from academia when he ushered in US-style private liberal arts colleges to the UK. Now, the master of the £18,000-a-year New College of the Humanities is set to preside over another US influx by chairing next year’s Man Booker prize judging panel, where US authors will be allowed to enter for the first time, The Sunday Times reported on 22 September. But helping to hand the literary prize to an American is unlikely to win the philosopher back many friends among the left-wing intelligentsia still suspicious of his elite educational establishment in London’s Bloomsbury.

Shadow higher education minister Shabana Mahmood’s Labour Party conference was cut short after she fell down some stairs. Ms Mahmood was taken to Brighton Hospital after the accident on 23 September and later tweeted that she was to return the next day for an operation on her leg under general anaesthetic. But the MP for Birmingham Ladywood appeared to be in fine fettle despite her fall, telling her Twitter followers she had already part-written an article on the excellent NHS care she had received.

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