The week in higher education

December 20, 2012

• Theresa May's speech on immigration and the student visa system contained so much nuance and balance that some people might be confused about where she stands. So a Home Office press release helpfully spelled out the messages from her 13 December speech, itemising the "misconceptions" that the home secretary was correcting. One such misconception was that "all foreign students coming to this country are good for the economy. Fact: Many so-called students have been applying for low-grade courses at bogus colleges in order to work here in low-skilled jobs." Another misconception was that "foreign students are only temporary visitors, so they're not really immigrants. Fact: One in five foreign students are believed to stay here for more than five years." The nation's vice-chancellors may feel they had already grasped Ms May's argument but doubtless their rivals in Australia and Canada will be grateful for another public reminder of the UK's stance.

• An undergraduate en route to an exam "sparked chaos" on a railway line when she chased a train for a mile along the tracks, including a dash along a 15-arch viaduct, after leaving her dissertation and revision on board. When her card was declined by the on-board conductor's machine, the 34-year-old decided to hop off the train to buy a £10 ticket from a machine at Burnley Central. "As the train set off, the unnamed woman panicked, leapt off the platform and ran on to the line after the train in the hope of catching up with it at the next stop," the Daily Mail reported on 14 December. Did this show that £9,000 fees have forged a hard-as-nails dedication to study among undergraduates? Or maybe it was just, as passenger Percy Lane, 68, from Colne, described it, "the most idiotic thing I've ever heard".

• The University of Leicester has apparently struck gold after its researchers uncovered what may be the skeleton of Richard III in a council car park - a find that has resulted in positive headlines worldwide. However, a less favourable story in The Daily Telegraph on 15 December reported allegations that circumstantial evidence confirming the body as that of the medieval monarch is being "held back" ahead of a press conference next month, when Channel 4 is also broadcasting a documentary about the project. The university said all its findings would be announced at the press event and insisted it had no knowledge of any information being withheld for the documentary. But a "source with knowledge of the excavation" told the newspaper: "Unfortunately, an awful lot of stuff is being kept from the public." Archaeologists? Engaged in a cover-up? Never.

• It may sound like a surreal mugging but University College London alumni are currently being stalked by an undead philosopher intent on tapping them for £100. Once again, alumni have been emailed by UCL fundraisers apparently possessed by the institution's spiritual father, Jeremy Bentham. The gift of a paper lantern version of Bentham's head was proffered at Halloween, followed last week by a paper model of his pet cat, The Reverend Dr John Langborn. UCL's zombie Bentham writes to his victims: "Many days have passed since I sent you a request for help accompanied by a flattened paper globe representing my head. I confess I had been hoping it would inspire you to step forward and play your part in protecting the traditions of UCL at this time of heightened need." Perhaps allowing the philosopher to rest in peace might actually result in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of UCL alumni.

• It was a mystery when the University of Chicago received a package addressed to its most famous fictional academic, Indiana Jones, bearing mock-ups of Egyptian stamps. Inside was an ornate replica of the journal of Abner Ravenwood, cited as Jones' Chicago mentor in Raiders of the Lost Ark. After attracting media interest, the university was able to clear up the mystery on 17 December. An eBay seller identified only by his username, Paul from Guam, who produced the journal, had posted the package to a customer in Italy. When it fell out of its original outer packaging in transit, the dedicated US postal service delivered it to the fictional address on the inner packaging.

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