The Izbicki Report: News From The Front Line of Education

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The Independent Online
Swallowing the whistle

In response to our PM's appeal to college heads to take a few risks and attract more overseas students to Britain, Arthur Cotterell, principal of Kingston College, packed his bags and went to Taiwan to do some recruiting.

He had already managed to attract enough students to bring in pounds 65,000 in tuition fees on a previous tour. This time, with the indirect blessing of Tony Blair, he hoped to bring in even more for the academic year 2000- 2001, and took along his wife, Yong Yap, to act as a much-needed interpreter.

On his return, he was surprised to find that someone had shouted foul, and that the Further Education Funding Council had promised to investigate an alleged "waste of college funds".

True, the six-week expedition cost pounds 18,600 - a mere spit when you consider the lengthy list of overseas students Cotterell has in the pipeline. A group of 36 Taipei pupils has just visited his college, for example.

Richard Carter, vice-chairman of the college governors, jumped to Cotterell's defence. "This is no whistleblowing issue. The visit was fully discussed and unanimously agreed by the governors. A previous visit was organised in conjunction with Kingston University, so that we could offer a pre- university education."

And the part played by Mrs Cotterell? "She was invaluable and managed to assure anxious parents of the high standard of education their children would receive... a great ambassador for the college," Carter said.

"The Funding Authority is doing no more than its duty, but it should be more sensitive to the marketing objectives and the Government's campaign. Mr Cotterell and the governors acted totally responsibly."

Poor Cotterell remains shaken but unstirred. "The adverse publicity directed at my wife and me will certainly make me hesitate before taking a lead in recruitment abroad again."

Kosovans re-campused

Can you imagine what it's like to sign up for a degree at a university that is then closed? Can you begin to think what it would be like to walk 10 kilometres a day to attend a clandestine class in a professor's home with 30 of you squashed into a room? And would you continue to do so if you knew you might be shot or raped by police?

Well, that's what it has been like for students of the University of Pristina in Kosovo since it was closed in 1991. It is now being re-opened, though its lecture theatres have been savaged and its books ripped apart. Wild animals? No, people. Human beings with the brains of amoeba.

My on-the-spot informant is Amy Iggulden, a 19-year-old Mancunian reading English Literature and French at Trinity College, Dublin, where she helps to edit the students' newspaper. She went to Kosovo last week as part of an academic task- force led by the National Union of Students in Europe, which was appropriately called Looking to the Future. She tells me the university hopes to reopen on multi- ethnic lines.

Heavenly thanks

When Geoffrey Copland taught young Duncan Steel physics and astronomy a quarter of a century ago, he never thought the lad would one day name an asteroid after him.

Steel was a student at London University in the 1970s, and Dr Copland was his tutor. Today, the latter is Vice-chancellor of the University of Westminster, and Dr Steel, of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, is a world authority on astronomy.

He discovered the asteroid while at the Siding Spring Observatory, Australia, in 1992. He named it the Copland asteroid, with approval from the International Astronomical Union, as a gesture of gratitude to his teacher.

Deeply moved, Dr Copland has already assured fellow vice-chancellors that this star is "in the main asteroid belt, and unlikely to endanger Earth". Glad to hear it.

Too hot to handle

What with that dead horse floating around as "art" in the Tate Gallery, one should no longer feign surprise when designer dresses incorporate flies, spiders and maggots.

Frankly, it shows more originality than the so-called artist who strung up that wretched horse. So cheers to Clara Griffin, a 24-year-old student who designed three ceremonial dresses for her textile art degree show at the Winchester School of Art, part of the University of Southampton.

For four months she slaved away, weaving hundreds of maggots into the fabric. But the recent sunshine proved too hot even for maggots, which metamorphosed. The maggoty dress, titled "To Beautify", began to wriggle like something from a Hammer Horror movie. "I wanted a wriggling dress," Griffin happily declared.

She had even added some vanilla essence into the air-holes she produced for the maggots. "I heard they liked vanilla." After the exhibition, she set all the bugs free. At least they were still alive - which is more than can be said for the Tate's horse.