The week in higher education – 23 May 2024

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

May 23, 2024
Source: Nick Newman

Scientists at a Welsh university are developing a new beer with an unusual ingredient – “killer bees”. The brew uses yeast extracted from Africanised honeybees, who have earned their nickname thanks to their aggressive behaviour, which sees them swarming in huge colonies to attack humans or animals who threaten their nests. Presumably not wishing to anger the vicious insects, researchers found some already-dead bees on a trip to Namibia and brought them to the UK, the BBC reported. “When we got back to Cardiff, we used the isolated killer bee brewer’s yeast, along with yeast from Welsh honeybees, to make several batches of beer,” explained Les Baillie, a professor at Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. The scientists are now hoping to collaborate with a brewer, meaning so-called “Killer Bee Beer” could soon be available in a pub near you.

Talking about your love of sushi to a Japanese colleague may be a little gauche but is it racist? No, an employment tribunal has ruled, after explaining that linguistics professor Nana Sato-Rossberg was being “hypersensitive” when she accused her then-manager Claire Ozanne of prejudice over what many might perceive to be polite small talk. Citing what she called a “racial microaggression”, Professor Sato-Rossberg launched a claim against SOAS University of London for race discrimination, harassment, victimisation and unfair treatment for whistleblowing. Her manager’s enthusiastic recommendation of her local sushi bar was not what it seemed, she contended, claiming that Professor Ozanne “would not have said to a German person, ‘I like sausage’”. However, according to The Times, the judge ruled that Professor Sato-Rossberg was “predisposed” to finding fault in her colleague and Professor Ozanne – now vice-chancellor of Liverpool Hope University – was merely making acceptable and friendly “small talk”. 

Artificial intelligence may be the future, but it seems students would still prefer a more traditional flesh-and-blood speaker to give some words of wisdom as they say goodbye to campus life. “Sophia”, a “humanoid robot” who delivered the commencement address at D’Youville University in Buffalo, gave a less-than-inspiring analysis of other such addresses, identifying the old Steve Jobs chestnut of “embracing failure” as a common theme, USA Today reported. A petition circulating afterwards stated that graduates felt “disrespected” by the speaker choice, saying it had echoes of the “similarly impersonal” online high school graduation ceremonies many had endured during the Covid-19 pandemic. That said, Ohio State University graduates who sat through what was quickly dubbed the “worst commencement speech ever” might have settled for a dull and robotic address. Instead, self-described “social entrepreneur” Chris Pan led a 60,000-strong stadium in cringey singalongs before launching into a PowerPoint presentation about the wonder of bitcoin – to audible boos from students and parents. Mr Pan later admitted he had “got some help” from the Peruvian psychedelic drug ayahuasca when writing the speech.

Sculptures of historical figures can often be polarising, dividing opinions on whether an individual deserves to be remembered. But one new sculpture set to be unveiled at the University of York appears to have widespread support – that of Long Boi, a much-loved campus duck. The 70cm tall Indian Runner was generally adored by students, so much so that when he went missing last year (now, unfortunately, presumed dead) they crowdfunded more than £5,000 for a statue to commemorate the animal. “I tried to engender the character he seemed to represent to people – he had quite an imperious look to him,” said Neil Mason, the sculptor chosen to make a clay mould of the duck. The artwork is now on its way to Greece, where it will be cast in bronze, the BBC reported. So, whatever the fate of the real Long Boi, his legacy will live on.

To the annoyance of local residents, booming fireworks displays have long been a fixture of end-of-year May Balls at the University of Cambridge. But it seems aggrieved townies will finally have their way, after several colleges scrapped their noisy light shows on sustainability grounds, while others will provide quiet areas for students with sensory needs. “We’d rather have a more sustainable ball than have a ball with one more piece of entertainment,” one organiser of the events told the The Times. Many other events are also going vegan, with students evidently believing that hedonism and environmentalism need not be incompatible.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles