The week in higher education – 7 December 2023

The good, the bad and the offbeat: the academy through the lens of the world’s media

十二月 7, 2023
One security man says to another, as they watch a robot dog feed: 'It costs a fortune in dog food.'
Source: Nick Newman

Campus security, like many aspects of university life, is under pressure to modernise, but recruiting an army of robotic dogs to patrol the grounds looking for intruders seems to be a step too far for most. Tech giant AT&T and artificial intelligence company Ghost Robotics have been targeting universities of late, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, as they seek new uses for their robot dog, which has until now been used mainly in military zones. The seven-stone steel beast can swim, run up to seven miles per hour and see in the dark, and AT&T has been hoping to market it to institutions under pressure to innovate and prevent campus violence after a string of mass shootings. No universities have signed up so far, however, the company admitted, with many questioning the ethics of such an endeavour. Discussing the idea on Reddit, some envisaged that if they were ever deployed, the most likely final use for the security dog would be as a side table in a fraternity’s basement.

The fashions of the 1990s may have come back around for the current cohort of undergraduates but, aside from the baggy jeans and crop tops, the world pre-millennium is ancient history for the youth of today. So much so that one student at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania emailed his lecturer, John Penniman, to check on the credibility of citing a paper penned in 1994 for his religious studies class. “I was wondering if it would be acceptable to use sources from the late 1900s,” the email, shared by Dr Penniman on the social network X, says. Those alive at the time were quick to share their memories of that bygone age: “I vividly remember carving law review articles into the cave walls at the law school back in 1994,” said one academic. “I would respond by saying: ‘Yes but be sure to include a link or screenshot of the original and validated cuneiform manuscript,’” said another.

A Chinese university has threatened the ultimate sanction for students who continue to sit at the back of a lecture theatre: calling in their parents. With institutions across the country introducing new ways of compelling their students to engage with what is being taught, one university in Hunan reportedly said that when the first row of seats was not filled, the list of students who sat at the back would be reported to the course tutor. If the rules are violated for the third time, the student’s parents would be informed or even asked to come to the classroom to accompany their child during the class. Another university, Xinxiang Medical University in Henan province, is conducting spot checks, targeting class attendance and the “four nos”: not bringing textbooks, not taking notes, not asking questions and not sitting at the front. No wonder the moves have been criticised as “formalistic” by some.

Academia through the ages has often been seen as a lofty profession, particularly in Cambridge, one of the bastions of intellectual endeavour. But archaeologists excavating the graveyard of a medieval hospital in the city have found the remains of scholars buried alongside orphan children and people known as the “shame-faced poor”, suggesting an altogether different existence for those who dedicated their lives to the quest for knowledge hundreds of years ago. About 10 of the previously unidentified skeletons found at the site of the hospital of St John the Evangelist were deemed to be probable academics due to the symmetry of their arm bones, The Guardian reported. These suggested that, unlike most of the other young male skeletons found on the site, they had not performed much heavy manual work.

Christmas seems to get earlier every year, and so does the annual merry-go-round of students trying to secure themselves accommodation. Dozens of students in Oxford opted to camp outside an estate agent’s office on one of the coldest days of the winter so far to secure a property in the city where demand often far outstrips supply. Despite the lettings company, Finders Keepers, urging them not to, the students set themselves up with blankets, multiple layers of clothing, hot drinks and pizza, The Times reported, but many still missed out on their preferred option despite the heroics. Tales of properties being let before viewings had finished and deals being hatched with existing tenants fuelled the frantic rush, but some said it was all a scam to drive up demand, and enterprising undergraduates would be better placed to wait until May, when properties are usually still available.



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