The week in higher education – 28 March 2024

三月 28, 2024
Pirate with wooden leg says to another pirate 'aye, Jim lad, 'twas the student loan that cost me an arm and a leg'
Source: Nick Newman

One unlucky UK graduate is more than £230,000 deep in student debt, according to new analysis by the BBC. While students today leave university with average debts of £44,940 (before interest starts kicking in), in some “highly unusual” cases, one graduate has repaid in excess of £100,000 while another has accumulated more than £50,000 in interest. Those who have studied multiple or longer courses are, of course, the hardest hit, with thousands thought to owe more than £100,000, junior doctors among them. The NUS described the figures as “an indictment of our education system”, arguing that such debt discourages working-class students from going to university. In light of the “eye-watering” numbers, perhaps it’s time for prime minister Rishi Sunak to take a leaf from US president Joe Biden’s book, who earlier this month cancelled $6 billion (£4.7 billion) in student debt for public service workers. Given recent polls, it’s not like Mr Sunak has much to lose. 

If you’ve ever wandered into a teenage boy’s bedroom, you may have found yourself immediately wishing you hadn’t, after being hit by a foul stench. Now, scientists have figured out exactly what that funk is – cheese, goats and urine, apparently. As well as identifying the smells, researchers at Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg singled out the specific chemicals teenagers release during puberty that give off these unattractive odours, which are so foreign that parents are often unable to sniff out their own offspring, The Guardian reported. They say the discovery could help in creating deodorants that mask such scents – a development that could cause sales of Lynx Africa to plummet. In contrast, they found the chemicals emitting from the armpits of babies release much more pleasant smells, such as flowers and soap. Another reason to wish they didn’t grow up so fast.

Were humans building pyramids 27,000 years ago? No, probably not – despite what Netflix may claim. A study suggesting the world’s oldest pyramid was found in Indonesia, allegedly dating back to before the Ice Age and thus making it the oldest man-made structure in the world, has been retracted after featuring on the streaming service’s show Ancient Apocalypse. Scientists were quick to point out errors in the original paper, which appeared in Wiley journal Archaeological Prospection, warning that its authors could not reliably carbon-date the Indonesian structure based solely on soil from drill samples taken from deep below Gunung Padang. “There was no evidence for the site being a pyramid nor any evidence that there was any human occupation at the site in the lower layers,” said one Cardiff-based archaeologist, with man-made artefacts at the site dating back only 2,000 years. The study’s lead author described the retraction as “unjust”.

The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Greater Manchester. Can you spot the one that doesn’t exist (yet)? The University of Bolton is the latest British institution to attempt to change its name, in this case to the last on the list in a move expected to annoy its neighbours (the first two very real universities). Leaders at the institution want a name that reflects its growth beyond Bolton – it now has campuses in far-flung locations including Trafford, central Manchester and Wigan – as well as one that gives graduates “credibility in the employment market”. But the University of Manchester said that the name change would be “very misleading and confusing”. Our advice? Just don’t follow in the footsteps of Solent University, formerly known as Southampton Solent University, which has once again applied to change its name, this time to…Southampton Solent University. 

One of the biggest elections of the year is being rigged, say critics. No, we’re not talking about the US, but that of the University of Oxford’s next chancellor. The institution’s council plans to vet all candidates, The Times reported, prompting Conservative MP Neil O’Brien to warn against a shift to “eastern bloc-style ‘managed democracy’ in which a small group will choose who (if anyone) will be allowed to go forward for ‘election’”. Perhaps Oxford is trying to avoid a conundrum like the one the University of Cambridge faced in 2011, when local grocer Abdul Arain went up against the likes of philanthropist Lord Sainsbury of Turville and actor Brian Blessed for the coveted role. Lord Sainsbury eventually won in the ballot, but Mr Arain’s legacy lives on – it seems Oxbridge now fears that, in a democracy where anybody can become leader, perhaps a nobody will. 



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