Education: Word of mouth

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Beyond the fringe

Perhaps Chris Woodhead of Ofsted would slot a course in theatre studies with American studies into his exclusive category of "Noddy degrees" (his description of Caribbean studies, animation and creative therapies, among others). Perhaps, though, he might consider the case of Sue Hay, who left school at 15 to work in the rag trade - sorry, fashion industry. Later, she took an Open University degree in arts and sociology and, later again, decided on a career change and signed up for theatre and American studies at the University of Wolverhampton. Not only has she graduated with a first at age 50, but she also found time to form the Straight Up Theatre Company with fellow graduates Martin Davies and Debbie Justice, and write and direct One for the Boys, which won media acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival. No wonder Professor Mick Harrison, vice-chancellor, proudly told Jenny Jones, Wolverhampton South West's new MP, that the university stood at the "forefront of exciting developments." And, although Ms Jones was on her "first official visit," she knew her way around, for she's also an alumna. Having struggled her way up the ladder, the first rung at Bradford University (BA in applied social studies in 1972), she went on to take a Master's in urban regional studies at Birmingham University (1987) and a postgraduate qualification in training and development at Wolverhampton in 1994.

Who audits the auditors?

Who inspects Ofsted and who determines the quality of the Quality Assurance Agency? Perhaps we should all be responsible for our own quality. Roger Brown, head of the now defunct Higher Education Quality Council (the QAA's predecessor), made no bones about it when he delivered his inaugural professorial lecture on the subject at Middlesex University.

"Quality assurance, as opposed to periodic external evaluation, is an institutional responsibility; it is not the responsibility of the Funding Council, the Quality Assurance Agency or the Committee of Vice-Chancellors," he said. Institutions in general fail to exercise responsibility for quality and standards, and have only themselves to blame if they are made to share such responsibility "to a greater degree than they would wish" with outside agencies.

Feminism's 150th birthday

What have the following in common: Gertrude Bell, the archaeologist and traveller who in 1888 became the first woman to obtain a first in modern history at Oxford; Frances Mary Buss, the 19th-century pioneer of higher education for women; Dorothea Beale, principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College from 1858, who sponsored St Hilda's Hall, Oxford; the short story writer Katherine Mansfield; and more recently Juliet Campbell, mistress of Girton College, Cambridge; Dame Rosalinde Hurley, Professor of Microbiology at the University of London; broadcaster Emma Freud ...The list could go on and on. All were pupils at Queen's College, an independent day school for girls in Harley Street, London, founded in 1848, when the rest of Europe was in turmoil, by Frederick Maurice, a Christian Socialist educationist. Strange that it took a man to trail-blaze the women's lib movement. Queen's was quickly recognised by Queen Victoria, its first patron, who in 1853, when she was only 34, granted it the first Royal Charter for female education. Ironically, young women had to be closely chaperoned to attend lectures delivered by professors (male, of course) from King's College. A whole year's worth of commemorative lectures was launched this week by Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, another mere man.

Cures, cats and Bedlam

Anyone visiting the capital would do well to visit the Museum of London. It currently commemorates the 750th anniversary of the Bethlem Royal Hospital, later known as Bedlam and now closely associated with the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London University, through the Royal Bethlem and Maudsley NHS Trust. Photographs of mental patients taken in and after 1850 form a valuable record, but the works of art produced by those patients are of more lasting interest - particularly the splendid series of cats drawn by Louis Wain, a Bethlem patient from 1925-30. Seeing the remarkable transformation from a chocolate-boxy kitten to the violently coloured abstract cat as schizophrenia took an increasing hold of Wain is an emotional experience. The exhibition continues until 15 March 1998.

From Brixton Jail to King's

King's also houses one of Europe's finest departments of war studies. And now it is turning the spotlight on prisons. Jack Straw, our Home Secretary, has opened an international centre for prison studies, believed to be the first of its kind, within King's Law School. With Britain's prison population now exceeding 63,000 (50 per cent up on what it was four years ago) such a centre could prove useful. Perhaps it will find alternatives to custodial sentencing. In charge is Andrew Coyle, who, from 1991 until March this year, was governor of Brixton Prison. He closed the prison's notorious F Wing after finding mentally sick prisoners in terrible conditions. With 25 years' experience in Britain's prison service, Dr Coyle seems just the man for the King's job.

And finally ...

"26-29 November at 7.30pm, Sheffield University Drama Society presents Henry IV by William Shakespeare, adapted from Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 by Ian Gledhill. Shakespeare's epic masterpiece has it all - the excitement of battle, outrageous comedy ... and of course Flagstaff!" (from the current Sheffield University Diary of Events).