The week in higher education

A sideways look at the week’s big stories

January 10, 2013

• David Willetts’ idea for a new target group for university access drew fire from all directions. Worried by an alarming slump in the number of male applicants, the universities and science minister suggested in The Independent on 3 January that white boys from a working-class background be targeted by access measures in the same way as other ethnic and social groups. The Indy’s Joan Smith on 4 January claimed that the move was simply to help ministers identify new “troublesome minorities” whom they would then “blame for their own predicament”. The Daily Mail’s Tom Utley on 4 January called the plan a “slap in the face to hard-working parents who strive to do the right thing for their children”, who would see their university places taken by people “who lack the grounding to benefit from their courses”.

• Discussion of the “postgraduate funding crisis” finally broke on to the front page of a national newspaper. The Observer reported on 6 January how nine vice-chancellors had “condemned the existence of a ‘policy vacuum’ where there should be a funding model for would-be postgraduates”. The lack of a postgraduate funding scheme comparable to the undergraduate state-backed loan scheme is a “catastrophe” for “an advanced economy that needs high level technical skills and workforce flexibility”, Don Nutbeam, vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, told the paper.

• Brazilian football legend Ronaldo is moving to England to study advertising, the Daily Mirror revealed on 7 January. The three-time Fifa Player of the Year has also been offered a work placement with London-based communications giant WPP and will learn alongside the company’s founder, Sir Martin Sorrell. But could the 36-year-old World Cup winner, who retired from football last year, come a cropper on his English-language test? As reported in Times Higher Education last year, more than 100 of Brazil’s brightest state-funded students on the Science without Borders scheme were turned away by the UK Border Agency after failing to meet language requirements.

• “Let’s pick our students by blindfold, says Oxford don”, shouted the Daily Mail headline on 7 January - a predictably unsubtle take on one academic’s thoughtful examination in these pages last week of the Oxbridge interview process. Miles Hewstone, professor of social psychology at New College, Oxford, did say “there was an argument” that the Coptic Church’s method of picking a new Pope might be fairer than the current interview system in his THE piece. But he did not, unsurprisingly, advocate wholescale random selection of Oxbridge entrants. Professor Hewstone called for a full examination of all methods used to pick students, adding that “if we find that interviews do not improve decision-making, we should drop them, too”. Surprisingly, the blindfold method proved a hit with Mail Online readers.

• An unemployed graduate who spent £500 on a billboard in North London saying “Please give me a job” has been inundated with offers, The Guardian reported on 7 January. Adam Pacitti, 24, gained widespread media attention when his approach to job-hunting went viral on Twitter. Mr Pacitti, who graduated with first-class honours in media production from the University of Winchester, told the paper that he had been contacted by “at least 50” companies. However, it is not his first publicity stunt. In 2009, Mr Pacitti blew £6,000 travelling the world to find a girl he claims he saw in a dream. He failed to find his would-be bride but did score millions of hits on his website.

• A new year message from Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, brought exciting news on 8 January. “JISC, the body which champions the use of digital technologies in UK higher and further education institutions, was registered as an independent charity in December, following a review by Hefce, and has changed its name to Jisc,” Sir Alan writes. He goes on to briefly mention the challenges of 2013, such as “the possibility of new pressures on student recruitment” etc., etc. - but we are still reeling from the bombshell that JISC is now Jisc.

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