Education: Word of Mouth

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The Independent Online
Holme from Home

WHAT A strange language English can be, when Home, as in Lord Home, is pronounced Hulme and Lord Holme is pronounced Home, like the place where the heart is. The thought occurred to me last week when I went to Greenwich to witness the Lib-Dem's former Northern Ireland spokesman, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, being installed as Chancellor of the University of Greenwich. At last, the curtain was raised on the university's latest campus: the Queen Anne, Queen Mary and King William buildings, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and formerly occupied by the royal palace where both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born. Some believe it to be more attractive than the Versailles of Louis XIV, and it is certainly more breathtaking, standing as it does on the banks of the Thames.

I was given a conducted tour of these historic buildings on whose cleaning and refurbishment the university (with help from the Millennium Fund) is spending around pounds 32 million. Do I hear a murmur of "waste of money"? The 2,500 students and 350 staff due to enter these portals in September to tackle computing, mathematical sciences and some teacher- training may consider themselves privileged. Law follows in September 2000. The new Greenwich Maritime Institute, which will continue the town's seafaring traditions, is already in situ - as is the Vice-chancellor's and other senior chaps' offices. They naturally have rooms with decent river views. Some people have all the luck.

Weaving a Webber

About a year ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber appealed to schools to produce something special for the Millennium, preferably with a religious theme. Now what could he have had in mind? Whatever it was, the Mark Rutherford School in Bedford came up with Jesus Christ Superstar. It has certainly helped to fill the coffers over the years for its creators - Sir Tim Rice and Sir Lloyd Webber. This week, it became a true curtain-raiser for the Millennium with a gala performance on Saturday. Sir Andrew sent a message of goodwill to the cast of 50 pupils, aged 13 to 18, who were coached by Barry Thompson, head of drama at the school, and Sue Taylor, head of music. Producer Anne Brown describes the show as "very energetic and powerful".

Union's fair ban

Bad news for student soldiers, sailors and squadronaires. The Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU) has barred the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps, its Air Squadron and Royal Naval Unit, from putting up their stands at the annual Freshers' Fair. The fair is attended by just about every union society, and is a great introduction to the social life of the university. So why the ban?

Have Cambridge students suddenly turned pacifist? In fact, it's in protest against the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the armed services and contradicts the university's anti-discrimination policy. It also became an issue of the LesBiGay Awareness Week. (It stands for Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay, an organisation within CUSU.) It all became extremely controversial and, before students went down for Easter, there was much heated discussion in both junior and senior common rooms. The University of Oxford's union attempted a similar ban a year or so ago, but failed. Proctors slapped it down by threatening to close the hall where it was to be held. Cambridge proctors don't have the same powers in this case. "We hire our hall privately," explained Phil Duffy, CUSU's part-time welfare officer. Still, the fair doesn't start until 9 October - so watch this space.

Further work required

It's hardly credible. The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has been around for less than 18 months, but has already inspected 20 institutions and numerous overseas partnerships, and delved into nearly 300 programmes within 16 subject areas. Writing in the QAA's first annual report, its chief executive, John Randall, found higher education in generally good health. Very few programmes failed to meet the minimum standard for quality, but it was a different story for higher education within FE colleges. One fifth of the 29 programmes reviewed in this sector were found sadly lacking.

This clashes with the Government's commitment to the expansion of further education. A few academic socks will have to be pulled up.

Lessons in life

When I was at school, drawing someone in the nude was, well, rude. It was something to cause red faces and paroxysms of giggling. Ah, but things have changed; nothing much is hidden as can be seen from our picture. The youngsters shown were among 150 pupils and their teachers from five Ealing schools, including one primary, who met at the Pitshanger Manor Gallery for a "dynamic week of life drawing workshops", thanks to the Royal Academy of Arts and Yakult Outreach Programme. The "Lessons in Life" were helped by Lorna Smith, a live life model. A collection of the drawings produced by the pupils is on show at the Pitshanger Manor Gallery in Ealing until Sunday.

Lunchtime with Felix

Felix Mendelssohn is among my favourite composers, so I popped along to Senate House, the imposing art deco headquarters of London University, last Friday lunchtime to bask in the warmth of his fine oratorio, Elijah. It was performed entirely by university staff - the Senate House Singers and soloists. Peter Burtt-Jones of Birkbeck College's Department of Continuing Education, had just the right resonance and projection for Elijah and Margaret Brown, a student administrator at Senate House, produced a soaring soprano.

And finally...

If you saw the film Elizabeth, you might have spotted some familiar extras. A bearded nobleman in a throne scene, for instance, turned out to be Derek Crouch, appropriately enough a research fellow at the University of York's Centre for Medieval Studies. A dark-haired lady in a bejewelled green dress was Tracey Cook of the academic support office. But wait. They actually appear in many other locations, as do loads of others. Computers were used to copy, paste and superimpose courtiers throughout the Minster. And I thought the British film industry was now flush enough to afford unduplicated crowds.