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On the naughty step - Conduct that deserves a ticking off

This week: desperate universities

Desperate times call for desperate measures but sending a "balloon- assisted spacecraft" nearly 38km into the upper atmosphere? There have got to be easier ways of getting a marketing message across.

Although we at TES are strong supporters of higher education, we feel compelled to put desperate university marketing on the naughty step. First there were the institutions said to be targeting parents by plugging themselves on parenting website Mumsnet (we all know who really decides where teenagers go to university).

Then there was the news that top universities in England are offering financial bribes, iPods and laptops to coax students who have performed better than expected into their leafy quads. (Unsurprisingly, no such unseemly scramble appears to be taking place in Scotland, where tuition remains free for the Scots.)

And consider the University of Sheffield, a Russell Group institution with an excellent reputation, which really took the biscuit by launching a balloon-assisted spacecraft encouraging students with better grades than expected to set their sights "higher" (geddit?). A press release from Sheffield said that after its voyage, the balloon deflated and the craft was parachuted into the Pennines.

Of course, this greedy rush for high-performing students can be traced back to money and the government lifting the cap on how many high-performers universities can recruit. But was it really supposed to open up a new space race?

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