Education: Word Of Mouth

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The Independent Online

Just back from Berlin, city of my birth, where I had a job navigating the roads in what used to be East Berlin, mainly because the place has become Europe's biggest building site. Where the ugly Wall used to be, there's an even uglier red line snaking its way through the city. Mind you, the "Ossies" (East Berliners, though one daren't call them that any more) look back with nostalgia to the cheap rents they used to enjoy. And full employment. They've even coined a word for it: Ostalgie. That it was a huge prison seems to have been conveniently forgotten. But then, everything is changing. Even the British, if one is to go along with Lord (Ralf) Dahrendorf, warden of St Antony's College, Oxford, and a former director of the LSE. In an interview with the Tagesspiegel, one of Berlin's few quality newspapers, he claimed that the British have changed considerably over the last 20 years and that the national demonstration at poor Di's funeral showed they were no longer the reserved lot they used to be, but had become almost Mediterranean in expressing their feelings.

A good future for nurses

Berlin, like London, is well off for universities, particularly with the East West duplications since the Wall came tumbling down in November, 1989. There's the Free University (West) and the Humboldt University (East) as well as Technical Universities and a number of Fachhochschulen (polytechnics). And, apart from the usual research in science and the humanities, all appear to be showing added interest in nursing, nursing management, health science and public health. Why? Well, for one thing, by the year 2040 Germany will have some 20 million people (out of 61 million) aged 65 and over. My advice to British universities and medical schools is to offer some joint courses and rake in a little extra, much-needed cash.

Filling up the empties

David Blunkett's welcome announcement this week of a pounds 165m injection of new money into the veins of higher education, though made in the right spirit, is still nowt but a pinprick to ease the university and college crisis. So you may like to know what they're attempting to do across the North Sea at Hamburg. Because one-third of Hamburg-Harburg Technical University's places remained unfilled last year, it has planned to launch a private, Ivy League-style university open exclusively to 500 elite foreign students. It aims to specialise in engineering, and to charge fees from pounds 10,500 to pounds 14,000 a year. The university's council had hoped that the costs of this new institution (to be on the existing campus) might be shared between the public purse and private funds. But, although the city fathers won't oppose the formation of a privately funded institution, they refuse to give a single mark towards it. As Germany's higher education is in as bad a shape as ours, the city's decision does not surprise me.

Rebirth of a community

Getting into Berlin's newest, most futuristic building is like trying to break into prison. First one has to get past the police at the gate; then one is confronted by a security guard who looks like Al Capone. Then a second guard joins the first. Only when they have telephoned to check that an appointment really has been made, may I approach the porter's lodge. A bullet-proof glass door slides open to let me through. It closes behind me. Television monitors inside the lodge keep silent vigil on every corner. Another glass door glides open and, at last, I'm in. What can this be? The Mint? The Treasury? No, it's a primary school. And, alas, such security is necessary. For this is the Heinz Galinski Schule, a Jewish primary on the beautifully wooded outskirts of the city. It has 260 youngsters aged 5 to 13 - and the remarkable thing is that they're not all Jewish. Christian German parents are queueing in the knowledge that their children will receive a first-rate education, despite having to learn Hebrew and Bible studies and eat (excellent) kosher meals. The school is independent and charges between pounds 17.50 and pounds 140 a month depending on parental income. When they are 13, they go on to a Jewish comprehensive school, which next year will send its very first primary cohort to university. Most are expected to pass their Abitur well enough to make the grade. Thee is a problem, however. Nearly half the current pupils at the Heinze Galinski (the school was named after the late head of Berlin's "new" Jewish community) came to Berlin with their parents from Russia. They are less motivated to study and display some disciplinary problems. But when I walked round the school with Miron Schulmelda, the deputy head, I saw only happy faces, in classes of 15 to 20. The school, with buildings joined up in the shape of a sunflower, was designed by the Israeli architect Zvi Hecker at a cost (shared between state and community) of pounds 16m, and was opened in 1995. Before I left, I caught a glimpse of the school's computer room filled with 18 CD-Roms. On the door, a plaque: "Donated by Max and Mira Hessing in commemoration of their golden wedding, 17 February, 1997".

The Tory rise - and fall

A book to be published just before the Conservative party conference, is likely to ruffle a few Tory feathers - if, that is, they have many left to ruffle. The excellently titled Collapse of Stout Party - the Decline and Fall of the Tories (Victor Gollancz, pounds 20) leaves few top Tories unoffended, although the former education secretary, Kenneth Baker, comes off better than most, described as a "literate Conservative" who had nailed his colours to Mrs Thatcher's mast - and gone down with her ship. Another to tackle education, the late and (by me at any rate) lamented Sir Keith Joseph was "a worrier," known as "the mad monk". This, say the authors, was "too subtle an allusion for newspaper readers of the Nineties." A third in education was the "all-too-human, shop-soiled bruiser of the front bench" Ken Clarke, whose additional handicap was "the `disloyalty' label round his neck". As for John Patten, he "will not be missed ... he will probably teach geography at some secondary school in a deprived area of a northern city. On the other hand, he might be appointed manager of Hartlepool United." Ironically, this splendid book has been penned by Julian Critchley, a Tory MP for 31 years, and Morrison Halcrow, chief assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph from 1979 to 1986.

And finally ...

The saintly Sir Ron may not be too pleased with certain computer spell- checks. Alternatives given for Dearing include: Daring (well, that's descriptive at any rate) but then come Peering, Leering, Jeering and, worst of all, Deranged.