THE WEEK IN HIGHER EDUCATION
More than two-thirds of union members who took part in a ballot have supported strike action over the pay offer to staff at UK universities, but on most campuses the turnout failed to hit the 50 per cent threshold required for walkouts. As Times Higher Education went to press, the University and College Union said that at only seven institutions did members back strike action in a ballot with more than 50 per cent turnout, including the universities of Brighton, Huddersfield, Nottingham and Sheffield. Staff are also set to walk out at Heriot-Watt and Leeds Arts universities, as well as the Courtauld Institute of Art. Staff at three providers in Northern Ireland, where the turnout threshold does not apply, also backed strike action: Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and St Mary’s University College. The ballot was called over the offer from the University and Colleges Employers’ Association of a minimum pay rise for 2018-19 of 2 per cent, rising to 2.8 per cent for the lowest paid.
Problems encountered by overseas academics trying to get visas for UK-based international conferences are a dire warning of how the country could lose its “competitive edge” in science if Brexit is mishandled, according to the Wellcome Trust. The Guardian reported that a major conference on psychiatric genetics held in Glasgow was marred by absences resulting from the failure of important contributors and attendees to gain visas. The disappointment in Glasgow came on the heels of similar problems dogging a global health symposium held in Liverpool earlier in the month, the newspaper said. “The current system is creaking and causes problems for researchers [outside Europe] who want to travel to conferences to share their ideas, but is also a foretaste of what could come in future if we try to expand the current system to cover citizens from countries in the European Economic Area,” said Beth Thompson, Wellcome’s head of UK and European Union policy.
News, page 9
The German budget supermarket chain Lidl has shaken up UK food retailing in recent years by introducing shoppers to the delights of lowprice luxuries such as lobster and prosecco. Now it hopes to drive up interest in a taste that has fallen somewhat out of favour: modern language study. Lidl is helping to fund studies in German at the University of Oxford by offering to sponsor a master’s degree student and competition prizes for undergraduates, The Daily Telegraph reported. It was welcomed at Oxford as something that will raise the profile of German, which seems to have suffered most as interest in modern languages has waned. “The perception of German is that it is harder, that it is less useful and it is something for the elite. In many schools, it’s only an option for the top set,” said Vicky Gough, the British Council’s schools adviser. Lidl may find it rather harder to change that perception with a little Oxbridge gift than to build a new supermarket on a brownfield site outside a small town.
Widening participation staff in universities face a new challenge: genetics. A King’s College London study reported by The Times found that 57 per cent of the distribution of offers made by higher education institutions to prospective students could be explained by genes. The research also showed that genes explained half the difference in whether or not a person went to university at all, as well as the grades they got when they arrived. However, admissions staff should not give up all hope, according to Ziada Ayorech, one of the King’s researchers, who said that the interplay between genes and society was complex. “People hear ‘genetically influenced’ and think ‘genetically determined’. But it’s not like that,” she said.
An edition of a student newspaper at the University of York had to be recalled after it caused uproar by using its back page to ask students to send in naked pictures of themselves. The “Send Nudes” call in York Vision was intended to “combat poor-quality, low-effort naked pictures”, with the newspaper pledging to make “comments on what they like and tips on how to up your game”, according to the online version of the request, which has since been removed, The Times reported. Nouse, a rival student newspaper, later published an apology from York Vision, which said that the page had been intended “to advertise a future lighthearted piece”. The last laugh, however, went to someone commenting under the Times report who suggested that the student hacks should be told that “no nudes is good nudes”.