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It has not been a good week for the UK's premier institutions of higher learning. First the Tories launched a review of post-secondary education spending with the express goal of shifting the balance toward vocational training and away from university courses for all. Then tens of thousands of academics at Oxford, Cambridge and other top institutions joined picket lines to protest pension changes, as some students began lobbying for refunds because of the disruption.

But Louise Richardson, Oxford vice-chancellor, weighs in on behalf of the sector, arguing that it is one of the things Britain does best. Universities are engines of social mobility and drivers of the economy, she writes, and should be nourished and cherished rather that treated as a political football in a battle for the youth vote.

Beware the undead: An increasing number of zombie companies, which cannot cover their cost of capital, are lumbering through the world's developed economies, weighing down productivity and absorbing resources. Tim Harford explores whether rising interest rates will finally kill many of them off.

Spy saga: This week the Stasi archives found it necessary to deny that it had files on UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn after British tabloids published claims that he was Czech agent. Henry Mance asks whether Britain's enthusiasm for journalism of dubious reliability is the UK equivalent of America's addiction to guns.

Not so sweet charity: In the wake of sexual misconduct scandals at Oxfam and Save the Children, Merryn Somerset Webb takes aim at UK and US tax breaks for charities and charitable giving. She argues that they are essentially undemocratic and divert taxpayer money to support the pet projects of rich people.

Best of the week

Britain’s road to becoming the EU’s Canada by Martin Wolf

South Korea’s Garlic Girls conquer the Winter Olympics by Nathan Park

Millennial insecurity is reshaping the UK economy by Sarah O'Connor

Alibaba’s social credit rating is a risky game by John Gapper

Cecil Rhodes’ statue will gaze down at another kind of scholar by Ann Olivarius

Why workers need a ‘digital New Deal’ to protect against AI by Rana Foroohar

How can we protect workers from AI? FT readers respond

A distracted Trump makes room for Putin by Philip Stephens

Poland’s pollution gives Vogue a less glamorous backdrop by James Shotter

What you've been saying 

A pension scheme design that shares the risk — letter from Nicholas Barr

A defined contribution plan places all risk on individual members, a defined benefit plan all risk on employers. Both designs are what economists call a “corner solution” and, like most corner solutions, are generally sub-optimal. The right essay question is: How should risks be shared? The core of the risk-sharing design is a fully specified set of rules that establish pre-determined actions in the face of a projected deficit and — crucially — a catch-up provision if the funding position improves.

Comment from Leon Napo on ‘Mad Max’ Brexit and other dystopian visions for leaving the EU

'The Prisoner' Brexit: the UK is turned into a vintage 1960's village perfect with its nice little cottages and shiny little shops and pubs. Everything is heavenly and every British person is a number to make things more efficient. No 10 Downing St lords over the country's affairs, as before. Attempting to cross the Channel to the EU mainland invariably results in inflatable white balloons dragging you back to shore unconscious. The UK has actually disappeared from the map, nobody in the rest of the world has any clue as to its current whereabouts.

UK will retake its seat on the relevant global bodies after Brexit — letter from Julian Boswall

The UK will retake its seats on the relevant global bodies after Brexit, alongside the EU, and will have a direct role in shaping future regulations and standards before they get to the EU level. This is in addition to the role that Efta/EEA countries already have in consultative mechanisms with the EU. Furthermore, the Efta/EEA group would inevitably be turbo-charged by the UK’s membership, offering the realistic prospect of reform of the EEA agreement towards the balanced relationship originally promised to Efta states in 1989 by Jacques Delors. Future historians will look back in amazement at the fact that this pragmatic option, which could bring much of the country together, has still not been properly debated in parliament, and has been successfully sidelined by a series of overly simplified soundbites, despite these having been addressed in a detailed exit plan by a key strand of Leave opinion.

Today's opinion

Person in the News: Benjamin Netanyahu: a career close to going up in smoke
The Israeli prime minister faces possible charges of bribery and fraud

FT Collections: The Brexit effect on trade
The drive for ‘global Britain’ is in focus this week. In Northern Ireland the border issue overshadows talks, yet leaving the single market is not the only factor in Unilever’s likely retreat to Rotterdam. Here’s the best of our comment and analysis

Aim-listed life sciences groups seek to make their mark
Several UK companies in the sector have opted to go public in their home country

Britain’s universities are assets, not a problem to be solved
We should learn to cherish our researchers the way we do our athletes and actors

 Free Lunch: Civilising the digital economy
Ownership rights and algorithmic accountability

Ruud Lubbers, Dutch statesman devoted to the European project
He belonged to a generation that redesigned the political structures of the EU

Instant Insight: Labour’s clever move reopens Tory Brexit wounds
Proposals to preserve a customs union will test the loyalty of Conservative Remainers

FT Alphaville: Someone is wrong on the internet: More on gender and "status" in the US 

Opinion today: The American geopolitical void
For re-engagement with Russia, the US needs to have deterrence and dialogue

FT Alphaville: Europeans should stop whining about their appreciating currency 

 The real story in Jeremy Corbyn spy thriller
The tabloids’ right to print nonsense is the British equivalent of the US gun laws

Undercover Economist: Zombie companies walk among us
But simply letting them go to the wall may not be the panacea it might seem

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