Education: word of mouth

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Explosive century

Congratulations to Lt Colonel Brian Shaw, who celebrated his centenary this week. A remarkable man, often remembered for his celebrated lecture on explosives, during which rockets, muskets and rifles were fired. First presented at Nottingham University College in 1930, almost two decades before it became the University of Nottingham, it has been repeated, with variations, more than 1,600 times, and was televised on BBC's Horizon in 1969. It was Fred Kipping, then chemistry prof, who originally asked Shaw to "liven up the chemical and physical society lectures a bit". I am proud to recall my own student days at Nottingham; not only did I witness one such entertaining (and noisy) lecture, but I also served for a time in the Officer Training Corps under his command. Brian Shaw must rank as Nottingham's oldest alumnus. He has remained closely connected with it ever since 1915, when he was apprenticed to Boots the Chemist (founders of the original college in Shakespeare Street).The following year he joined the army, saw active service on the Somme, at Cambrai and Passchendaele and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery. He graduated with a first in chemistry in 1922 and taught it there until the Second World War, when he was among those abandoned at Dunkirk, taken prisoner by the Germans and subsequently liberated by the Yanks. Once again he returned to the university, which awarded him an honorary doctor of science degree in 1979. As I said, a remarkable man. Now, wouldn't you think someone like that might have been given the odd gong? Just a teensy weensy knighthood? But no. He'll just have to make do with the Queen's telegram.

Top security

The brand-new learning resource centre opened by Mo Mowlam a few weeks ago at the University of Teesside has a room shrouded in darkness and mystery. But once inside, there's plenty of life. A wall of monitors keeps a round-the-clock vigil on each corner of the pounds 11m centre, and tracks by video every nook and cranny of the campus. Universities must be wary these days. Far too many are struck by burglars and vandals. Bradford University is justly proud of its own chief security officer, Des Cogan. They've given him an office on the third floor of its main building - which just happens to be Room C1A, known, of course, as the CIA HQ.

Boys are out

What's this? A "club" for state-maintained schools? Not only that, but one exclusively for girls? The Association of Maintained Girls' Schools represents more than 200 state schools. There are not many single-sex schools left in the maintained sector, so I understand the need for such an umbrella body. Their president is Jane de Swiet, an alumna of Girton College, Cambridge, and headteacher of the Henrietta Barnett School in north-west London. Many member schools are denominational, including Muslim, whose religion demands single-sex education. The AMGS pamphlet cites a report from the Department for Education (when it was still the DfE): "Teachers in mixed schools pay insufficient attention to the ways in which boys sometimes dominate work in classrooms and other key areas of school life." Quite.

Top o' the v-cs

Sir Derek Roberts, Provost of University College London, tops the university vice-chancellors' pay league with pounds 144,709 a year - a mere pounds 2,783 a week. Sir Kenneth Green, who has now retired as vice-chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University - biggest of the "new" universities - came second with pounds 141,000 a year. The average pay rise for v-cs within the Committee of Vice-Chancellors was 5.8 per cent, though some pulled as much as 10 to 25 per cent. I can hear you tut-tutting, and, yes, it is well above the rate of inflation and certainly more than the miserable 2.9 per cent doled out to lecturers last year. But the university chiefs are earning no more - and often considerably less - than our heads of industry. You need only consult the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in style last week, to see just how hard our v-cs are working. Latest HESA figures show yet another impressive rise in the number of graduates from UK higher education institutions. In 1997 some 432,000 came out with first and higher degrees, compared with 418,000 in 1996 (up 3 per cent). Of first degrees, 7 per cent were first-class honours, 41 per cent upper seconds. And 52 per cent of 1996-97 first-degree graduates were women. Now that's what I call a success story. Would that some of our heftily paid company directors could boast similar productivity.

Junkers junked

Don't know about you, but my household receives an awful lot of junk mail. We now send the entire pile to Market Movements at Royston. They keep a close watch on it and even make some money for charity. Now the junk has started to invade the Internet and e-mail territories. The University of Leeds has advised its staff and students to forward it to an address on campus, so researchers may measure the extent of the problem. Recipients are advised: "Delete it. Do not get cross and reply to the junk

And finally ...

Some unkind people describe John Randall, chief executive of the newly formed Quality Assessment Agency, as the Chris Woodhead of higher education, especially since the QAA overturned a recommendation by its predecessor, the Higher Education Quality Council, to allow Bolton Institute to seek university status. Can this be the same Randall who presided over the National Union of Students from 1973 to 1975 and worked alongside Diana Warwick (now chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors) at the Civil and Public Services Association? Surely he could not have as demoralising an effect on academics as Woodhead, Ofsted's boss, has had on some teachers, even after his more tempered reports last week. But the two men do have something vital in common. They were together at the same school. Wallington County Grammar School in the London borough of Sutton must be really pleased to boast two such popular old boys.

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