Philip Hensher: Grisly appeal of student life in Perugia

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It was never going to be a piece of information which found its way on to a university prospectus for intending students. After boasting about the size of the library, distinguished alumni, and notable awards, it would be surprising, to say the least, if a prospectus reminded the reader that, "Last year, one of our undergraduates was raped and murdered in the course of a drug-fuelled sex game". One might have thought it the sort of thing that the University of Perugia for Foreigners would rather keep quiet.

One year on, the brutal murder of the British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia seems to have had a weirdly encouraging effect on application numbers. Applications are actually up 4 per cent. Far from being put off by one horrible murder, applicants seem to have been encouraged. Or perhaps the whole story – "Foxy Knoxy", the boyfriend from hell, and the "Ivory Coast drifter" Rudy Guede – has merely brought the existence of the University of Perugia to wider notice.

It does remind me somewhat of those apocryphal tales of couples going into travel agents and saying, "We hear a lot about Iraq these days – is that within our budget?"

What can have encouraged them? The University of Perugia for Foreigners is, I believe, a very good institution, but the city itself faces serious problems. Anyone who visits this beautiful and fascinating place – in search, perhaps, of the works of Raphael's teacher Perugino – will be shocked by the blatancy of the drugs trade, even in the main square in daylight. Perugia also faces many of the problems of any middle-sized city with a large international student population. Public drunkenness horrifies Italians, and they are being given every opportunity to get used to the spectacle here.

The truth is that many students will hear the words "sex game gone wrong", "free availability of cheap drugs", "drunk and disorderly" and think "Stuff Cambridge: that sounds like the place for me."

I'm very sorry for the consequences inflicted on Perugia. But students are no more stupid than anyone else, and are perfectly capable of assessing risk. When I consider my students at Exeter, they look perfectly well-mannered, fairly clean and are a pleasure to deal with. I have no doubt, however, that some of them have indulged in sex games which didn't go wrong, have dabbled in drugs at the weekend, that – heaven forbid – some of them might even have got so drunk that they were sick afterwards. I'm sure that Exeter is no worse for this than anywhere else, and a great deal better than many institutions. But you would be a fool not to recognise these facts of student life, without believing any of them to be desirable or necessary.

I guess most of those boosting the applications for the University of Perugia for Foreigners are not foolish, or reckless. At the very worst, they have taken a sober assessment of the risk and concluded, rightly, that the probability is that, once there, they can indulge in these heavily-trailed leisure activities without any very disastrous consequences.

At best, the horrible and upsetting story of Meredith Kercher's murder will have alerted people to the existence of the University. Without exactly saying, "There's no such thing as bad publicity", one can say that the core values of an educational institute like that one will always survive any bad news of this sort.

I feel sorry for Sarah: world leaders do say the craziest things

In the ghastly wake of the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross episode, a pair of radio disc jockeys from Montreal – Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastien Trudel – show us how it ought to be done.

They have spoken to Sarah Palin – in the guise of French president Nicolas Sarkozy offering some fairly bizarre foreign-policy advice. What has been posted on the internet is highly amusing, I must say. She didn't find it surprising that M. Sarkozy's adviser on American affairs was Johnny Hallyday ("Yes! Good!"). Her manner was charmingly over-the-top American hostess: "We have such great respect for you, John McCain and I! We love you!" She didn't know who the prime minister of Canada was, or rather, didn't know that he wasn't a famous Canadian pop singer, and clearly didn't speak enough French to know when she was being compared to a pig with lipstick on, again.

Sarah Palin has my sympathy. Just as everyone who has ever worked in a public office knows that letters from the public, however ridiculous and mad, have to be answered, so prospective deputy heads of state are always going to be spoken to politely. If she does find herself in the position of vice-president, she will find very quickly that some heads of state talk very much more oddly than these two young men, and it would be unwise to start demanding proofs of identity from every head of state who takes the opportunity to make an obscene suggestion in her direction.

After all, wasn't it Mitterrand who was said to have described Mrs Thatcher as having "les levres de Marilyn Monroe; les yeux de Caligula: et l'air d'une femme mal baisée."

It's so easy now to be lulled into indiscretion

The 13 employees of Virgin Airways who were sacked for making disobliging remarks about their employer and its passengers on Facebook must have been very slightly stupid.

Everyone knows that employees of every organisation harbour rebellious thoughts about the leadership, and general loathing of its clientele. Still, it is going a little far to invent stuff about cockroaches on board planes and to call Virgin's customers "chavs" and then publish it under their own name.

I've noticed a strange mood of inconsequential unreality takes over quite rational people when faced with a computer. There was a famous case of an Australian gentleman who phoned in sick to work and then immediately went to update his Facebook profile to say "is still rat-arsed from last night and has just thrown a sicky", with predictable results.

I've often wondered why internet posters and bloggers are so often anonymous, but there is something calmingly anonymous about the medium itself. And before you know it, you are lured into publishing a private and entirely fantastic conversation about cockroaches in the upper-class gin and tonics.

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