Word of Mouth

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Fuzzy buzzy Scotty

This week, I should like to spend a little time on the subject of collaboration. Peter Scott, distinguished hack-turned-vice-chancellor, claims collaboration, partnership and co-ordination are "the new fuzzy buzz-words".Writing his regular column in Bridge, Kingston University's monthly journal, he says that competition between higher education institutions is "no longer in fashion". You could have fooled me. The scrabble for students in the annual clearing exercise seems to be getting more, not less competitive. But he's right in that universities really cannot afford to be over-competitive. They should learn to share and avoid what Scott calls "wasteful duplication". And he bemoans the fact that "we had got to the point where sharing good academic practice was beginning to feel like betraying commercial secrets". Absolutely right! So what does he propose? Why, more collaboration of course: a stronger relationship between the university and St George's Hospital Medical School, "our key strategic partner", and with the University of Surrey; and with Roehampton Institute and with the Wimbledon School of Art. Now, would I be wrong in thinking that the achievement of all these super collaborative goals might make Kingston University stronger than many of its - dare I write the word - rivals?

Fenc you so much

While universities are still shilly-shallying about collaborating with each other, further education colleges have been at it for about seven years. Then, each of 20 college principals met at the Norfolk College of Arts and Technology, threw pounds 5,000 into the kitty, and launched the Further Education National Consortium. And this week, as the Association of Principals of Colleges meets at Solihull, it will learn that Fenc now has a membership of nearly 200. "Working together makes sense. Our consortium is national proof that we can be collaborators as well as competitors," says its chairman, Gerard O'Donnell, principal of West Thames College. So what does the consortium do? O'Donnell claims that it launched a number of initiatives in the past year, including the Kennedy Report on Widening Participation and the University for Industry which stressed the need for colleges to "reach out to new client groups". It also produced its first strategic plan and made sure that full-time staff made good use of new technology. Members are divided into 11 distinct regions, including Northern Ireland and Wales. Regionalisation, which makes absolute sense, is a move that universixties have not had the guts to introduce.

L'ecole du Shuttle

Now for a piece of collaboration that crosses boundaries, even seas. Just look at what Chris FitzGerald, the head of St Mary's Westbrook at Folkestone has done. This independent day and boarding school in Kent, for youngsters aged from three to 16, has struck a most commendable deal with schools across the Channel. French children have no school on Wednesdays (and before all my younger readers start crying "foul", the French have school on Saturday mornings instead). So each Wednesday, St Mary's assistant head, Carola Timney, fetches a bus-load of 11-year-old French children over by Shuttle. They are totally integrated for the day, arriving at the school at 8.30am (a precious hour is gained between France and Folkestone) just in time for assembly, then on to maths, information technology, science, art - and, oh yes, French - and sport after lunch. Now that's what I call being committed to Europe. The school, a member of Cobisec (the Council of British Independent Schools in the European Community), has just registered its first weekly boarder from Calais. I'm willing to bet there'll be more.

Phone-a-drink

Students throughout the country were asked to design of all things, a pub. But then those who commissioned this little exercise are themselves publicans. Whitbread Inns, to be exact. The five runners-up (pounds 500-worth of Whitbread leisure vouchers) included an "Art Deco" bar with a giant fish tank from students at Norwich City College, which was meant to appeal to "the affluent young and females" and bore the puzzling name Slow Twist. Another, from Stratford-upon-Avon College, was aimed at 18-to-30-year- olds and had a dreadful name: Diesel Bar & Grill. Makes you think of beer that tastes of diesel. My favourite runner-up was The Box Office, designed by students of Carlisle College. It involved converting unused theatres into pub restaurants. Boxes would each seat four people; the balcony would be a swish sit-down restaurant and the stalls a bar with a lunch-time menu. The winning entry came from the University of Plymouth (pounds 2,000 plus pounds 1,000 in leisure vouchers) for Dial 80, a pub with a 1980s theme (can't think of that many Eighties memorabilia) and table telephones. Customers would use the phones to place their orders during daytime drinking and talk to other customers in the evenings. I remember a very similar scheme at a huge dance hall in Berlin called the Resi. Great for making - er - contacts. Wonder if it's still around.

Chords of accord

The Government's pledge to give the kiss of life to music in schools is to be welcomed, though I'll believe it when I hear it. But even without David Blunkett's crumbs of hope, music lovers will be able to get entire days of music for just a fiver (and even less if under 16, over 60 or UB40). From 23 June until 17 July, Music for Youth's National Festival will provide sound for all tastes, with school choirs, chamber orchestras, brass bands, wind ensembles and jazz groups playing for all they're worth and for all to hear. First off the mark will be the Symphony Hall and Adrian Boult Hall at Birmingham (23-26 June); then the entire Royal Festival Hall complex, London (6-9 July) and the Bridgewater Hall and Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (14-17 July). A single day-ticket allows admission to any of the concert halls all day, as long as seats are available). It's got to be the best value for any concert. (Further info: Music for Youth, 102 Point Pleasant, London SW18 1PP; 0181-870 9624; fax: 0181-870 9935).

But that's not all. Last Christmas, a series of Hallelujah Concerts performed by 16,000 youngsters was held for the first time in London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle and Dublin. Choral music of every kind, from Beatles numbers to carols, was performed. The experiment, which proved hugely successful, is to be repeated this year, when it is hoped that some 5,000 young singers will partake at each of the centres. A pounds 15 registration fee will bring to each school an instruction tape, sheet music and a backing track, so when it comes to the single pre-concert rehearsal everyone will be singing in harmony. (Further info: Lyn Collin, National Co-ordinator HCC, 15 Jordan Road, Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, B75 5AB; fax: 0121-241 8219).

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