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Soap washes continents

When Azhar Sulaiman receives his BA in architecture from Newcastle University tomorrow, you'll hear the cheers 10,000 kilometres away. Azhar, who is just 25, happens to be big in Malaysia. Very big. He is the star of the Pacific Rim's favourite made-to-measure soap opera, Cinta Antara Benua (Love Across Continents). When this popular young actor decided to read architecture at Newcastle, Kausatee Pictures had one of their brightest ideas: they sent the cameras to Tyneside and produced a 40-episode soap on campus. The story of the village boy who leaves Malaysia for an English university was too good to miss, especially with love, comedy and graduation thrown in. When Azhar made a personal appearance at Newcastle's stand at a higher education recruitment fair in Kuala Lumpur, he was mobbed by fans. After tomorrow's graduation ceremony, he returns to Malaysia to record other TV drama series. Then it's back to the UK for a postgraduate diploma in architecture - this time from a London university. One thing is clear: Azhar's soap will attract Malay tourists to the Tyne, and valuable students to the university.

Doyen V-C bows out

Another resignation; another hard act to follow: Professor Raoul Franklin, who must surely rank as Britain's longest-serving vice-chancellor, leaves City University at the end of August 1998 with 20 years under his belt. This doyen of vice-chancellors has also made pots of money for his university. At the same time as heading City, he chaired City Technology, the university's own company, from 1978. Fifteen years later, after a management buyout, it fetched more than pounds 20m. A Kiwi by birth, Prof Franklin took his Master's degree at Auckland University and holds a string of fellowships from learned institutes (physics, electrical engineering, RSA and the like). Two years ago he was made a CBE for his services to higher education. He is worthy of a higher accolade.

Tomorrow's world

Last week I trotted along to South Bank University's annual Engineering Product Design Show to take a peek at what students have invented for tomorrow's world. I was not disappointed. There were all kinds of goodies on show, including a rather neat baby travel unit designed by Kiran Patel, aged 23. It permits the parent to heat food, sterilise the baby's bottle and keep perishables cool while travelling, each unit being housed in its own little compartment, and all run from the car's cigarette lighter.

Also at the exhibition is a top-loading dishwasher, the work of Ed Farren- Price, which is just right for that first house, where the kitchen is too tiny for another large machine. And the show's real genius is Martin Bignell, who has invented a sports snorkel that is simplicity itself, and extends the range of a diver. As long as they are working in shallow water, there is no need for divers to carry cumbersome cylinders filled with oxygen; this balloon-like snorkel floats on top of the water and lets fresh air in at source. All the diver needs to do is carry a long lead and breathe away.

Softly, softly

If you like a good, relaxing drink or three, you'll simply adore this: the University of Leeds is looking for volunteers to assist research that will require you to drink to your heart's content. But don't all rush at once. Hard stuff is out. It's soft drinks only for this nutritional study. If fruit squashes are your poison, then Katherine Appleton of the psychology department would like to hear from you.

The undervalued sex

A report shortly to be published shows that women academics are still underpaid. According to Victoria Waas and Robert McNabb of the Cardiff Business School, University of Wales, there is a differential of some 15 per cent between salaries paid to men and those received by women in the same academic category. Information was collected on the salaries paid to full-time academics in the "old" universities in 1975, 1985 and 1992. The main, and very lame, excuse was that women remain under-represented in the senior ranks. But this was scotched by the researchers, who found earning inequalities most evident within the lecturer grade. The findings, which are to be published in Oxford Economic Papers this month, have been trailered by AUT Woman, the Association of University Teachers' splendid termly newsletter, edited by Anne Bullman of the Open University.

Prolific Jack

Jack Rosenthal must be among our most prolific film and TV writers. I can't recall a single flop among his 250 outpourings, which include Bar Mitzvah Boy, Bag Lady, The Evacuees, and pioneering work on Coronation Street. His talent is far from exhausted. I hear that he is working on another TV drama, to be called After Eskimo Day. This is about two students who go to Exeter University. Filming has started on the Exeter campus - but only the exteriors. Greenpoint Films decided to do the interiors at the University of Hertfordshire. What puzzles me is why Rosenthal didn't centre the plot on Sheffield University, his Alma Mater.


Amazing what some people will get up to. When physics students at the University of Southampton organised a fire-walking event, scores of victims happily discarded their shoes and peeled off their socks, tights or stockings to walk across a pile of smouldering, smoking embers. The experiment was preceded by a talk on the physics of heat conduction by Dr Rob Allen, representing Wessex Sceptics. That alone would have put me off. But those students cared not a fig for the sceptics and queued up to walk the flames. I'm told that (just in case) fire extinguishers and 20 gallons of water were within a few feet of the embers. But they weren't needed. Lo and behold, oh ye of little faith (like me!), there was not a single injury. Funds raised went to the Wessex Cancer Trust.

And finally

The other week, one of those cheeky little gremlins invaded this column and decided to change Sue Boswell's name to Bus Boswell. There was no plausible explanation. Now, of course, Sue, former head of external relations at Goldsmiths College, University of London, has become known as "Bus" by her relatively new colleagues at Queen Mary & Westfield College, where she is head of alumni relations. And, consequently, her successor at Goldsmiths, Vicky Annand, has been rechristened "Minibus". Happy driving to bothn