The Izbicki Report

News From The Front Line of Education
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Students sight the sites

Universities in or near London that illustrate their prospectuses with glossy snaps of the Palace of Westminster or the Royal Albert Hall cannot fool prospective students. A survey of sixth formers shows that they recognise advertising pictures for what they are: tourist attractions and not bona fide campuses.

I now hear that the number of students to have accepted offers of places at the school of maths and computing sciences at the University of Greenwich has soared by 25 per cent. This can only be due to colourful Greenwich promotional pictures showing the former Royal Naval College at the heart of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site.

So are they simply come-ons, like Big Ben and the rest? I am happy to confirm the pictures to be of the genuine campus and that as of this week more than 3,500 students and staff will have settled here, a pounds 20m architectural restoration of three exquisite baroque buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren, on the banks of the Thames. They include Queen Anne Court, a scheduled monument, and from next year and 2001, Queen Mary Court and King William Court. What a joy to behold this campus, worth every penny that has been spent upon it.

Further down river, stands another brand new and attractive campus. This one has not been restored but designed from scratch - and magnificently designed at that. The University of East London's pounds 40m Docklands Campus spreads across 25 acres, has the Docklands Light Railway at its very gates and the City Airport on the other side of the water. Its circular colour- coded halls of residence will receive the first of 3,800 students at the weekend. Applications, thanks again to pictures and good publicity, to say nothing of the good reputation of the courses, leapt up.

Degrees for sale

We've all heard of those unscrupulous degree mills where, at a price ranging from pounds 25 to pounds 500, one can purchase a piece of worthless parchment bearing the "student's" name and his or her "degree", usually a doctorate from a non-existent university.

Now someone has set up a business that will provide a degree from the university of your choice. So if you are after an MA from Cambridge or Harvard or Sydney, these charlatans will provide it for as little as 55 quid. They have covered themselves in their small print by saying the authentic-looking certificates must be considered "for novelty purposes only" and not used for fraudulent schemes.

Eleventh jubilee

In just two years from now, in 2001, the University of Glasgow will celebrate its 11th jubilee - or 550th birthday. All kinds of goodies are being planned but mainly there's a great deal of fundraising going on. There's to be a new Medical School building and a footbridge linking the university and Kelvingrove art gallery and museum. That's just for starters. A new history of the university is to be published - not from 1451, when it was founded, but from 1870 when it moved to its present site. A scholarship endowment fund is being set up and works of art are being commissioned. And there'll be parties, graduate reunions, conferences and the like. Quite a knees-up!

Fred the happy snapper

And it was quite a knees-up last Saturday to celebrate not only young Fred Jarvis's 75th birthday but also his 45th wedding anniversary. The University of London Institute of Education was turned into an educational Who's Who for the evening. Betty (Madam Speaker) Boothroyd was tempted to call "Order, Order" a couple of times. John Monks, TUC general-secretary, was among the speakers, and guests included two old-timer presidents of the National Union of Students, Dr W. Bonney Rust (Labour, 1947-49) and Stanley Jenkins (Conservative, 1949-50). Fred, you see, was not only general- secretary of the National Union of Teachers for 15 years and chairman of the TUC, but also NUS president in 1952-54.

If he hadn't been any of these things, he'd have been a superb photographer. He had the chutzpah to take pictures of Monet's garden at Giverny, water lilies and all, that cast a new perspective on the Master's paintings (watch out for the exhibition). Anne Jarvis, who chairs Barnet's education committee, disclosed how she and Fred got together at Oxford University. "He was in the Labour Club and I was in the Socialist Society - but he was a good dancer!"


Professor Laurie Taylor, one of the University of York's most famous sociologists, has penned a large number of very serious works, including Deviance and Society and Crime, Deviance and Socio-Legal Society. He is probably better known as a broadcaster (Radio 4's Afternoon Shift was a joy until Auntie Beeb axed it) and as a columnist for the Times Higher Education Supplement.

He is also the funniest stand-up comedian in education (although he probably wouldn't want to be labelled as such). And he's the fastest speaker in the business. For an hour without stopping, he held 400 Heera/Case (the Higher Education External Relations Association/Council for Advancement and Support of Education) delegates in stitches last week. It's not easy to make university PR and fundraising officers laugh. Serious bunch they are.

His secret is to tailor his material (all right, pun intended) to his audience. He compared the recent strike by academics with one that took place some 15 years ago. This time, they quietly threatened to halt lectures, marking and admissions. What did they do in 1984? They marched through the streets with banners reading: "RECTIFY THE ANOMALY NOW!" Who, other than a don, could have concocted such a slogan?

And finally

Sometimes exhibitions can go horribly wrong. In the summer, the University of Wolverhampton's School of Art and Design mounted its degree show. Clare Coats, one of their young artists, produced an iced cake on which a photographic portrait had been carefully printed by using vegetable dyes. The exhibit went missing. Students searched everywhere in vain. At last the mystery was solved. It had looked so good that one student could not resist scoffing the lot.