News round-up: Oxford University professor accompanied to lectures by security guards

Attacks on free speech at our oldest university ­– and a revelation that there are no black academics in the most senior managerial ranks in UK higher education


Oxford University professor given security guards for lectures after threats from transgender activists

Daily Telegraph, 24/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Ewan Somerville

An Oxford University professor has been given security guards to accompany her to lectures after receiving threats from transgender activists.

Prof Selina Todd, a historian who specialises in the lives of women and the working class, said that she has now been provided with “routine security” to ensure she is not attacked.


Sunderland and SOAS cuts expose market dangers, say scholars

Times Higher Education, 24/01/2020, Anna McKie

Moves by the University of Sunderland to close its history, politics and languages courses as part of a shift to a “career-focused” curriculum and by SOAS University of London to curtail research leave because of the “challenging financial environment” have exposed the dangers of England’s market-driven higher education system, academics said.

Sunderland said earlier this month that its governors had agreed that all subjects it taught should be “educationally and financially sustainable” and “align with a particular employment sector”.


Imperial College London head Alice Gast tops universities pay league with £554,000

The Times, 24/01/2020, Rosemary Bennett

The UK’s best-paid university vice-chancellor is now earning £554,000.

Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London, now tops the pay table, even though her full salary package was cut by £21,000 last year.


No top jobs for black academics in Britain’s universities

The Times, 24/01/2020, Rosemary Bennett

The number of black academics in the most senior ranks of UK universities is officially zero.

Last year there were 540 academics in the top managerial jobs and 475 were white. A total of 15 were recorded as coming from an Asian background, five from a mixed background and a further five from another background. The ethnicity of the rest was not known.


Teaching-only contracts up again as REF approaches

Times Higher Education, 24/01/2020, Simon Baker

Almost a third of UK academics are now on teaching-only contracts as the share of staff on such terms increased again last year ahead of the next research excellence framework.

The latest staff data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 31 per cent of academics were classed as teaching-only in 2018-19, a rise of 2 percentage points on the year before.


Students ‘stranded’ in UK after university paused recruitment

Times Higher Education, 24/01/2020, John Morgan

About 180 international students have been unable to start their courses at a private university that “paused” its recruitment this month because of financial problems, with some having arrived in the UK before they received the news.

Richmond, the American International University in London, said earlier this month that it had suspended recruitment for students scheduled to start in January. The university said it had been unable to “secure a long-term funding alternative” after the death of its founder, Sir Cyril Taylor, in 2018 – but it is still recruiting students for its autumn intake.


Grammar schools fail the top university test

The Times, 23/01/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Grammar schools do nothing to boost the chances of their pupils getting into a top university, research suggests.

However, private schools do bring some advantage, increasing the chances of youngsters taking a degree at an elite Russell Group institution.


History a thing of the past as Sunderland University shuts faculty

The Times, 23/01/2020, Rosemary Bennett

Sunderland University has closed its history faculty after only 14 students chose to study the subject this year.

It will also close its modern languages department after no one enrolled for its courses. The combined history and politics degree will also be withdrawn after only 15 students signed up. Research and postgraduate courses in the subjects will also cease.


Minister criticises lack of senior black UK academics

The Guardian, 23/01/2020, Richard Adams

The universities minister has criticised UK higher education institutions for their failure to recruit and promote black and minority ethnic academics, after figures showed that no black staff were employed at the most senior levels.

Chris Skidmore, higher education minister for England, said it was unacceptable that the number of black academics in the most senior leadership roles had fallen from an estimated five in 2017-18 to possibly zero in the last academic year


Number of researchers in REF ‘up 43 per cent’ under new rules

Times Higher Education, 23/01/2020, Jack Grove

More than 20,000 additional full-time equivalent UK academics are set to be entered into next year’s research excellence framework under new rules requiring all staff with “significant responsibility for research” to participate.

Preliminary data on university submission plans published by Research England on 23 January show that institutions expect to submit 74,584 full-time equivalent staff for the 2021 assessment, up 43 per cent from the 2014 total of 52,077.


UK universities issue health warnings over travel to China

The Guardian, 23/01/2020, Sally Weale

UK universities with links to China have issued warnings to staff and students travelling to and from areas affected by the coronavirus, urging anyone with symptoms to seek medical advice.

With concern growing about the spread of the virus, universities in the UK are keeping a check on staff who have recently returned from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, as well as Chinese students who come from affected areas, many of whom will be concerned about loved ones at home


UK universities increasingly reliant on income from Chinese students, analysis shows

Independent, 23/01/2020, Eleanor Busby

A growing number of British universities are becoming increasingly reliant on fee income from Chinese students, prompting concerns among senior leaders, analysis suggests.

Chinese students now represent more than 10 per cent of all revenue at a number of universities across the UK, an analysis by trade magazine Times Higher Education (THE) has found.


Number of black academics in top university roles is ‘officially zero’ as minister says it is ‘unacceptable’

Daily Telegraph, 23/01/2020, Camilla Turner

The number of black academics in top university roles is “officially zero”, new figures show as the higher education minister said the situation is “unacceptable”.

Last year there were 540 senior academics in managerial roles such as vice-Chancellors of heads of faculty, of which 475 were white.


Gap between rich and poor university students ‘remains stark’ as little evidence shows interventions work

Independent, 23/01/2020, Eleanor Busby

The gap in access between poorer and more affluent students at university “remains stark” despite significant investment as there is little evidence on which interventions work best, a new report has warned.

Research by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank said the sector had failed to establish a programme which clearly boosted the number of disadvantaged students attending universities.


Senior UK academics protest over pay and working conditions

The Guardian, 22/01/2020, Richard Adams

Senior academics are refusing to act as external examiners – a vital part of higher education assessments – in protest at pay and working conditions in UK universities, and are urging colleagues to join them, potentially disrupting this year’s results for students.

British universities rely on external examiners to independently validate the results of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, meaning that mass resignations would cause headaches for universities in the setting and marking of exams.


Oxford college rows back on transgender discussion rules following outcry over free speech

Daily Telegraph, 22/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Ewan Somerville

An Oxford college has rowed back on its code of conduct for a transgender discussion following criticism that it was closing down free speech.

Merton College advertised its upcoming “Equality Conversation” event which it says will explore “perspectives on trans intersectionality”.


Oxford college accused of closing down free speech over transgender event rules

Daily Telegraph, 21/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Ewan Somerville

An Oxford college has been accused of closing down free speech over its plans to host a discussion about transgender issues which bans “language which denies the validity of trans identity”.

Merton College has advertised its upcoming  “Equality Conversation” event which it says will explore “perspectives on trans intersectionality”.


Thousands of UK academics ‘treated as second-class citizens’

The Guardian, 20/01/2020, Richard Adams

Thousands of academic staff at British universities are being treated as second-class citizens on precarious contracts, says a report highlighting the “alarming rise of mass casualised labour” in higher education.

The report by the University and College Union claims institutions have created a pool of low-paid staff to teach undergraduates, conduct research and work in libraries, despite having advanced postgraduate or other academic qualifications.


Middle-class high achievers will miss out on Oxbridge places as colleges are under pressure to meet diversity targets, whistleblowers warn

Daily Telegraph, 18/01/2020, Camilla Turner

Middle class high achievers will miss out on Oxbridge places as colleges are under pressure to meet diversity targets, whistleblowers have told The Sunday Telegraph. 

The university’s radical pledge to boost the number of undergraduates from deprived backgrounds will inevitably result in bright pupils from well-off families getting “squeezed out”, according to two senior Oxford dons.


University cancelled seminar by feminist speaker following threats of protest from transgender activists

Daily Telegraph, 17/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Ewan Somerville

A university cancelled a seminar by a feminist speaker, citing “academic freedom”, following threats of protest from transgender activists.

The University of East Anglia has been accused of “no-platforming” Kathleen Stock, a professor in philosophy at Sussex University, who was due to address academics there next week about philosophical issues surrounding diversity and inclusion.


Student accused of sexual misconduct takes legal action against his university

Daily Telegraph, 17/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Yohannes Lowe

A student accused of sexual misconduct during a year abroad is taking legal action against his university over its investigation.

The undergraduate, who was kicked out of the university following an internal probe into the incident, is now seeking to bring a judicial review against the Russell Group institution.


Record numbers of state school pupils offered Oxford places

The Guardian, 16/01/2020, Richard Adams

State school pupils have won nearly 70% of Oxford University’s undergraduate places next year, a record level that represents a remarkable turnaround in the university’s intake over the last five years.

Oxford announced that 69% of the offers it made this week were to British students from state schools or colleges for courses starting in October 2020, of a total of 3,909 sent to British and international applicants.


London state school praised by Stormzy secures 51 offers to study at Oxford and Cambridge

Independent, 16/01/2020, Eleanor Busby

A record-breaking 51 pupils from a state school in one of London‘s poorest boroughs have been offered places at Oxbridge.

Brampton Manor Academy in Newham, which was praised by grime artist Stormzy for its A-level results, has seen a tenfold increase in Oxbridge offers since 2016.


Students awarded first class degrees at record high despite crackdown on grade inflation

Independent, 16/01/2020, Eleanor Busby

More than one in four university graduates are still being awarded first class degrees despite a crackdown on grade inflation.

A record number of students, 28.4 per cent, were given a top degree last year – double the 14 per cent who gained a first a decade ago, Higher Education Statistics Agency data revealed.


Sussex University offers students up to £100 for strike distress

The Guardian, 15/01/2020, Richard Adams

The University of Sussex is offering students up to £100 if they suffered “distress and inconvenience” during recent strikes, becoming the first British university to give compensation to students in the middle of industrial action.

The move is a sign of the increasing efforts by universities to resolve student complaints swiftly and head off action through the courts or regulators that could lead to more damaging penalties.


Nottingham Trent University fights corner for unconditional offers

The Times, Rosemary Bennett, 14/01/2020

A university has published its data on unconditional offers to defend the practice with the figures showing that giving students a “free pass” has no impact on their academic performance.

Nottingham Trent University has now urged other establishments to do the same and fight their corner against the government, regulators and head teachers who want them to stop.



Sheffield University to roll out training on ‘micro-aggressions’

Daily Telegraph, 13/01/2020, Camilla Turner and Ewan Somerville

Sheffield University is rolling out training for students on “micro-aggressions” such as asking Japanese students about sushi and confusing banana with plantain.

The Russell Group institution said that it wanted students to challenge “subtle but offensive comments” directed at their black, Asian and minority ethnic peers.


Labour shadow minister backs axeing fees and blasts free market

Times Higher Education, 13/01/2020, John Morgan

Labour should continue to support abolishing tuition fees in England, while the “free market” sector approach of the Conservatives has “hammered” universities that provide places for local disadvantaged students, according to the party’s new shadow higher education minister.

Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle, spoke to Times Higher Education after replacing Gordon Marsden, who lost his Blackpool South seat at the general election.


One in 12 offers made by a single Oxford college have gone to pupils from two elite private schools

Daily Telegraph, 12/01/2020, Joshi Herrmann and Camilla Turner

One in every 12 offers made by a single Oxford college have gone to pupils from two elite private schools, new data reveals.

Of the 300 undergraduate offers that Magdalen College has made in the past three years, 25 have been to pupils from either Eton College or Westminster School, according to figures obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.