Word of Mouth

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Reduction in quality:

The universally unpopular move to Gloucester of the Quality Assessment Agency (an amalgam of the Higher Education Quality Council and the Higher Education Funding Councils' quality assessment unit) has sparked a mass exodus. In fact,the new body will have hardly any of the original experts left. Topping the list of HEQC's dear departed is Dr Roger Brown, its chief executive, who has collected visiting professorships at Roehampton Institute, Goldsmith's College, University of London Institute of Education and Middlesex University. Four assistant directors have also thrown in the towel: Alice Hynes, who becomes assistant vice-principal at Dartington School of Arts; Elaine Crosthwaite,who joins the Training and Enterprise Council; David Law, to be academic registrar at Hull University; and Vivienne Rivis who goes to Bradford and Ilkley College. Dr David Parry, who was in charge of audits, leaves to direct the quality assessment section of the Teacher Training Agency. Then there's Mrs Robin Middlehurst, who did sterling work on quality enhancement. She becomes head of continuing education at Surrey University. And there's Mike Williams, who hangs up his well-worn hat after a long and distinguished career at the Treasury prior to his move to the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics, where he became one of the brightest of backroom boys. He serviced the HEQC's degree awarding powers committee. Prize for the most romantic escape from the move to Gloucester must be awarded to the head of the council's communications network, Bridget Rogers. Shortly before Christmas she married Sir Edwin Nixon, former deputy chairman of NatWest and chairman of governors at Leicester University. My best wishes to both.

Moving costs:

So what's to happen to HEQC's spacious offices, in the same building as the London HQ of the Open University, and a mere pebble throw from King's Cross station? John Randall, QAA's chief executive, spends a proportion of the week in London. So will he sit there in glorious isolation? I fear not. The lease expires in March and Randall will have to look round for another pied-a-terre. I imagine he'll end up with a desk at the Committee of Vice-Chancellors. Meanwhile, some nosy parkers are asking how much the relocation from London to Gloucester is costing the public purse. Several figures are being bandied about, including one which exceeds pounds 750,000. Like Victor Meldrew, I sim-ply can-not be-lieve it!

Star student:

Did you happen to see Roger, Roger, the new TV sitcom last Thursday? As it is written by John (Only Fools and Horses) Sullivan, I thought I'd give it a whirl. I was particularly impressed by one of the characters, Reen, the secretary who knows more about the mini-cab business than the bosses. In "real life" she is Pippa Guard, a final year student of English (with drama) at the University of Greenwich and in her spare time (amazed she has any) she's producing the annual drama students' play (The Sea by Edward Bond) to be staged in March. If you think you might have seen her somewhere else before, well, you have. Pippa is an established actress, trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has scores of theatre, TV and radio successes to her credit. So why bother with university? Perhaps it's the first part she has had to play for real - and the hardest. Break a leg, Pippa!

Incomplete coalition:

Whenever groups of people form themselves into further groups, it is sometimes more interesting to see who stays out than who's in. Take the Coalition of Modern Universities, for instance. This, you will recall, was formed by some of the institutions that took on the university mantle in 1992. They felt that "New" University was no real description - and quite right, too, since many of them were set up as polytechnics long before many an "older" university took root. At present the CMU embraces 26 members, ranging from Abertay to Wolverhampton. But by my reckoning, half as many again are "out", including such notables as Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham Trent, Sheffield Hallam, Liverpool John Moores, De Montfort, Plymouth and Portsmouth. Apart from Abertay, none of the other Scots - Glasgow Caledonian, Napier, Paisley - have joined.

Angel behind bars:

If anyone deserves a doctorate on account of thoroughly conducted research, it is Angela Devlin. Her third book dealing with prisons is about to be published. The first two, Criminal Classes and Prison Patter, proved themselves scholarly works of major sociological value. This time, she has concentrated on women in jail. A five-year research project accomplished without the support of any university took Ms Devlin into 11 out of the 16 prisons that admit women and found that since 1993 there has been a 76 per cent increase in the number of women sent to prison by our courts - that's twice the comparable increase in the number of male prisoners. Yet, apart from just one or two cases - Myra Hindley and Rosemary West - the media has failed to focus on this phenomenal rise. No wonder the book is to be called Invisible Women. It is expected to reveal a number of other scandals, including the upsurge of violence as a result of the misuse of drugs, the problems faced by ethnic minority and foreign women and the many suicide attempts made in jail.

No tooth to story:

I slipped up in the dentist's chair last week. In my tale about universities that have had the Investor in People seal bestowed upon them, I gave the award to Loughborough University's dental school. Wrong. Loughborough doesn't even have a dental school. Yet there is an Investor in People accreditation. The honour went to the students union (LSU) and since it represents not only students at the university but also at Loughborough College of Art and Design, Loughborough College and the RNIB Vocational College, it is indeed an accolade. What is more, I'm told that LSU is currently Britain's Numero Uno Rag fundraiser (more than pounds 226,000 was reaped in 1996-1997).

And finally:

Surprise in some Marxist circles when Eric Hobsbawm, emeritus professor of economics and social history at the University of London accepted a gong in the New Year's Honours. Not that this distinguished academic doesn't merit this Companion of Honour. But as a lifelong Marxist and egalitarian, how did he explain his acceptance? "I couldn't accept a title, a handle, such as a knighthood. It would look a bit silly when I have believed in equality all my life. But a CH isn't that sort of award. It's given for intellectual merit..." he told John Gulliver of the Camden New Journal.