Word of Mouth
Thursday 01 October 1998
There has been a minor academic earthquake at Kingston University. It is likely to create a few after-shocks but, in the end, I imagine it will be seen for what it is - a courageous move in the right direction. Peter Scott, the vice-chancellor, who has been playing things fairly low-key since his arrival in January, has started to show his cards. And he holds a few trumps.
He has appointed two new part-time pro-vice-chancellors to take charge of research and life-long learning, and a dean of students as a member of the university executive; and he has created a new full-time pro-vice- chancellor for external affairs to replace the development director. This does not mean the sack for Tony Mercer who was in charge of development, but it gives him a new title. He is to concentrate on the university's marketing services and its links with associate colleges. Four management teams have been set up with responsibility for academic affairs, resources, student affairs and external relations. These are bold moves. Scott is a former newspaper editor, so it is obvious why he is throwing his support behind what is generically called "external relations". Quite right. But internal relations should never be neglected. They might be part and parcel of academic and student affairs, or even public relations. But it should be clearly defined.
Memories of Di
While still with Kingston University, what do you think it has in common with the recent Princess Diana Exhibition at Althorp, her family estate?
Well, for one thing, the exhibition's curator, Catherine McDermott, is the university's reader in art and design history. Then there was its chief designer, Angela Drinkall. She is a Kingston graduate who lectures part-time in 3D design. As for the art director of the films for the exhibition, that was Tim Ashton, another of the university's graduates and one of its visiting lecturers.
Are you related to a chap called James Menzies? Or is your own name Menzies? Were you, perchance, born in the parishes of Dull, Weem and Fortinall? If you can answer yes to any of these, then the University of St Andrews, Scotland's oldest university (founded 1410) might have some money for you.
And if you want to apply for a Menzies bursary, worth pounds 375 a year, you will need to write to Messrs Blackadder, Reid and Johnston, the Dundee solicitors. Blackadder? Is this perhaps where Rowan Atkinson drew his hilarious character? No offence intended, Mr Blackadder ( you can't be too careful with solicitors). But perhaps your dad used to be a postman in the south-western telecom region. If so, there could be a juicy scholarship for you at Exeter University. Also at Exeter, there's up to pounds 100 a year available (all right, don't all rush at once) for the son or daughter of a Devonshire Freemason - as long as he subscribed to his lodge for five consecutive years. All these goodies and many, many more are described in detail by our old friend Brian Heap, the guru of university and college entry guides, in another useful little book: A Guide to University Scholarships and Awards (Trotman, 12 Hill Rise, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 6UA; pounds 9.99).
If you think your credulity is being taken for a ride by an increasing number of "scientific" stories that claim miraculous cures or research "breakthroughs", then you are probably right.
Robert Matthews, a visiting fellow at Aston University (he lives at Picardie in France), claims millions of pounds of public money is being chucked down the proverbial drain on supposed breakthroughs "that are really nothing but flukes". His report, published by an international alliance of independent scientists, the European Science and Environment Forum, alleges that statistical methods relied on by scientists "routinely exaggerate both the size and significance of implausible findings". He further claims that these "flaws" have been known within academic circles for years but ignored.
And he gives examples where statistics have been used to exaggerate research findings. These range from treatment for heart attacks to health scares such as the supposed link between leukaemia and pylons. In other words, the public are being duped into believing a "breakthrough" has been made when, in reality, there have not been sufficient trials to justify such a claim. The report, "Facts versus Factions: the use and abuse of subjectivity in scientific research", is available from the ESEF, 4 Church Lane, Barton, Cambridge, CB3 7BE (pounds 3.00 plus p&p).
Shipped or skipped
It never fails to amaze me that, within a book's throw of St Pancras Station in central London, three of the biggest libraries in the world are to be found. The British Library alone has no fewer than 150 million separate items, amongst which are 18 million volumes. There is also London University's Senate House Library, one of the finest in the land. And cheek-by-jowl, there's the hugely impressive educational library of the Institute of Education, another part of London University. Together they carry many billions of words, words, words (as Hamlet said when Polonius asked him what he was reading). So I was saddened to hear that many box- loads of books had been unceremoniously thrown into a skip outside the Institute of Education. Books should not be junked but treasured for the computer is doing its best to kill the printed word altogether. An institute spokeswoman confirmed that out-of-date books were sifted from time to time from the library to make room for fresh material. "They are usually given to Book Aid. These books were non-core, non-educational books and we offered them to the University of Malawi." Sounds great. So what happened? "The University of Malawi failed to make arrangements to have them shipped and they were left here for ages. Then they sent people to put them into skips. We were furious." I'm glad to hear it. This kind of literary vandalism cannot possibly help a Third World country.
No one better
Looking after 1,600 students, all of them away from home, takes some doing. That is why the University of Luton, which has 11 halls of residence, has introduced an annual Student Warden of the Year Award. And the first to win it was Laura Noone, who is in the final year of her degree course in sports and fitness studies. She had been actively involved in forming a hall-of-residence committee on student safety, which provided for the university's new campus watch initiative. Luton has 34 wardens to share responsibility for those other 1,600. In return, they are able to save half the normal rent for one of those hall bedsits. And Laura's prize? A cheque for pounds 100 and a university-crested paperweight.
Is raising cash going to the dogs? In its quest for pounds 5m to build a medical institute to perform research on a variety of devastating diseases, the University of Warwick has booked a night's greyhound racing at the Hall Green Stadium at Birmingham for Wednesday. The invite includes a three- course meal, all for a mere pounds 18.50. "If you fancy a flutter, an efficient tote-runner service is on hand," its states.
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