Education: WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Hooked on social science

Here at last comes that oft-mentioned feel-good factor. Professor Derek Frasher, vice-chancellor of the University of Teesside, has just been handed a cheque for pounds 12,600 to fund student research into drug-related problems. So what, do I hear? The cheque came from Barry Shaw, Cleveland's chief constable. Getting warmer? Well, the money was raised from seized drugs' assets and marks a research partnership between Cleveland police and the university's school of social sciences. It will be invested and hopes to harvest an annual pounds 600, to be given to the student or students with the best research proposal.

Experts are Justin time

When a general election is in the offing, the meedja rushes in search of Professor Dial-a-Quote and Dr Soundbite. Almost every university can supply an expert or three. The opinion business booms. Take Dr Justin Fisher, for example.

A lecturer in politics and modern history at London Guildhall University, he has already appeared all over the show, from Live TV's Election Special, to Newsnight on BBC2. He has also been snatched up by the news agency, Reuters, to sit on its panel of election experts.

Meanwhile, computing lecturer Keith Filchett, LibDem candidate for Luton South, is in hot water. Filchett, who is deputy leader of the Liberal group on Lambeth's hung council, claims to have run that ship with responsibility for staff and finance. But with Lambeth's reputation, who'd boast about that? Now he has agreed he may have exaggerated things a bit. Nothing to be ashamed of: just a typical politician.

It's a date

There's an old chestnut about a porter at the Natural History Museum who was asked the age of a dinosaur. "That one over there is 3 million and eight years old." "How can you be so precise?" his questioner wanted to know. "You see, when I started eight years ago, it was 3 million ..." Well, the radiocarbon dating laboratory at The Queen's University, Belfast has managed to pinpoint the age of Stonehenge to within 50 years. By measuring the excavated red deer antler rakes and picks, they concluded that the monument was started between 2950 and 2900BC. Along with data from Oxford University, it has now been established that timber monuments and cremation burials were added in 2900-2400BC and the stone monument was erected from 2550-2300BC. It was all abandoned by 1600 BC.

Engineering the future

A dispute has broken out between our most distinguished engineering gurus - Graham Mackenzie, director-general of the Engineering Employers' Federation, and Professor Jack Levy, director for engineers' regulations at the Engineering Council - concerning the quality of engineers hatched over the next decade. Mackenzie takes issue with the Engineering Council suggestion that, in the future, fewer "professional engineers" will be required. Levy wants the sixth-formers with the very best A-level grades to go straight on to MEng and BEng (Hons) courses and allow other university engineering students to sit the Council's Part 1 exam at the end of the first year. Mackenzie calls on the council to think again, insisting that the country needs first-class chartered engineers and properly defined university qualifications.

Bat bytes

As most of you know, we're in for a serious mess if our computer programs have the date format DD/MM/YY: they won't recognise 00 - the last two digits of 2000, and will "assume" that 1900 is meant. Result: goods won't be delivered, bills won't be paid. It could even lead to bankruptcy. But fear not: Salford University Business Services are ready to swoop like Batman to the rescue. They are offering a free correcting programme to participating businesses. Anne Craig, of Subs, puts it plainly: "Firms that do not address the problem risk going out of business."

Ring of Kerry

Another first for the University of East London: Kerry Hamilton, former head of transport studies at Bradford University and director of environment and transport at the London Research Centre, has been named UEL's professor of transport studies. She is believed to be the first woman in the country so appointed, and joins the team to tackle a vast regeneration programme for East London.

And finally ...

A number of Edinburgh University students and staff spend Friday nights at the Tollcross Community Centre, which houses the city's Samba School. Thanks to Robin Williams of the university's social science research centre, 24 samba freaks were invited to Olinda, Brazil, home of that particular dance. Robin's twin brother lives there, which helped. Imagine the scene: Scots, their faces painted with blue-and-white crosses, samba-ing through the streets of Olinda, with Peter Williams on agogo bells, Ewen Rimmington (medical radiology) on the Surdu big drum, David Stevenson (public health sciences) on Scottish bagpipes. The samba on bagpipes? You betcha