Education: Word Of Mouth

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The Independent Online
Moving times

Many parents with sons or daughters living in university halls of residence are thoroughly fed up. Not only do rooms cost a small fortune but, come the vacation, mums and dads have to drive up and down the country to collect young Joe or Joanna and their clobber - and they have to enact this energy- wasting charade at the start and end of every vacation. That's when students have to clear their rooms and, as far as I can establish, only a few universities provide them with adequate space in which to store their clothes, books, hi-fi's, computers and duvets. The exceptions include Reading University, whose halls allow them to keep their rooms over Christmas and Easter, sometimes even in summer. It also makes special locker-rooms available. The University of Greenwich lets self-catering flats on 40-week (September to June) contracts, while its more traditional hall allows students to keep their rooms or use alternative space. Lancaster University permits students to fill half their lockable wardrobes and leave a box or two in a designated "box room". Luggage may also be left at the University College of Ripon and York St John, and at the University of East London, until the end of the academic year. But, in the main, parents have to take the strain.Universities make a great deal of money out of holiday lets and conferences.That way, they claim, student rents are kept to a minimum. Still, they should beware the ides of marching students. When that pounds 1,000 levy and higher loans are activated, and students become genuine customers, they - and their parents - will expect better service from vice-chancellors.

Mole's top 10

Yet another league table has appeared, this time from Red Mole, the Web site that advises students and graduates. More than 2,000 students voted for their favourite universities. The top 10 came in the following order: Newcastle-upon-Tyne; University College London; Manchester; Swansea (University of Wales); Manchester Metropolitan; Royal Holloway (London University); Durham; Leeds; Dundee; and Leeds Metropolitan. The University of Wales at Cardiff was tops for accommodation, followed by Durham and Kent. Highest quality teaching staff, according to the poll, are to be found at Manchester, followed by Oxford and Durham. Best-looking females are to be found at Manchester and Newcastle. As for the most attractive males, University College London and Bournemouth were the winners.

Tickets on the House

Did you know you could claim a full refund for that brace of expensive tickets to the opera? And the ballet? And a goodly selection of West End and regional theatres? No? Well, I'll tell you how. It's simple. All you need do is get yourself appointed to the Arts Council. Once you're a member, no problem. Public funds are made available to meet the cost. At present there are 22 members, including Lord Gowrie, former provost of the Royal College of Art; Professor Ray Cowell, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University; Sir David Harrison, master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, and a former chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals; and Christopher Price, former director of Leeds Poly and Leeds Metropolitan University (and an ex-Labour MP). Mind you, why shouldn't members take advantage of this perk? They receive no other remuneration (except travel and hotel expenses) for enduring all those boring meetings. Let them at least sample the talents of those who enjoy council funding. How many tickets can they get? For each show receiving council funding, they can claim tickets for themselves and a guest twice a year. It should keep most of them entertained for quite a while.

Technocrat's curse

A blistering editorial comment in this month's Chemistry in Britain, the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, claims that able young chemistry graduates are deserting the industry in alarming numbers to take up accountancy and do MBA degrees. The writer cites a study by Patricia Pitcher of 15 North American companies. She identified three types of senior management: artists, who are "people-oriented, open-minded, intuitive and visionary", craftsmen, who are "humane, dedicated, knowledgeable and wise", and technocrats, who are "detail- oriented, rigid, methodical and hard-headed". Technocrats are "typically with an MBA qualification and on their `two years' experience to the top' secondment". And the author asks: "Are there any artists or craftsmen left at the top who are in a position to seek out and eliminate the high-flying, MBA-educated technocrats who, if not stopped in time, will lead to the ruin of careers at minimum, and the demise of the whole company at worst?" Who is the author of this extraordinary attack? He is Malcolm Braithwaite, who advises companies on long-term strategic planning and the collaboration between academe and industry. The company's name? Millennium Business Associates - MBA for short.

LSE the new Mecca

Oxford University, with fewer than 44 per cent of students from comprehensives, is sending a "battle bus" up North to coax state school pupils to the dreaming spires. Perhaps the university should also tempt its departing dons to stay. The London School of Economics has enticed quite a few: John Gray, Oxford's professor of politics and an eminent international political philosopher, joins the LSE next month as professor of European thought; Stephen Nickell, Oxford's distinguished economist, becomes the school's professor of economics in October; Nicola Lacey, formerly of Oxford and Birkbeck College, joins the LSE in the New Year as professor of criminal law; and Loukas Tsoukalis, who was lecturer in international relations at Oxford and Fellow of St Antony's College, will hold the LSE's first Eleftherios Venizelos chair in contemporary Greek studies from April. It seems that a major transfusion of new blood is being given to the LSE. Even Lord Puttnam (film-maker David Puttnam, of Chariots of Fire and The Killing Fields fame) is being brought in as visiting professor of media and communications. What's going on? All is revealed in a note to students and staff from Anthony Giddens, LSE director. He wants them to let him know what events they'd most like to see. "We need ideas and initiatives for LSE to become a centre of London cultural life," he says. Wow!

And finally ...

Malcolm Braithwaite, whose attack on MBAs I quote above, provides a few examples of what he calls MBA-speak. Strategic alliances, mergers, virtual companies, core competencies and corporate identity are MBA-speak for confusion, chaos and collapse, he claims. And those silly expressions - empowerment, downsizing, refocusing, re-engineering and outsourcing - are, he says, MBA-speak for lost jobs and blighted careers. I can feel those MBA hackles rising.

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