WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Chalk & Cheese in charge Congratulations to David Blunkett. Appointing Professor Tim Brighouse as joint vice-chairman of Blunkett's standard- raising task force was a stroke of genius. The other vice-chairman is the unpopular Chris Woodhead. When Tony Blair guaranteed Woodhead's Ofsted job, Blunkett was furious. His revenge is sweet. There's no love lost between Birmingham's chief education officer (the man John Patten foolishly, and to his cost, described as a "nutter") and Ofsted's boss (who has been called all kinds of unpleasant things by teachers). Congratulations, too, to the National Association of Head Teachers which, on the very day Blunkett addressed their conference at Scarborough, unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in Woodhead. With Chalk and Cheese now assuring school standards, we can expect verbal fireworks - and positive thinking. Unless schools get proper funding, standards cannot improve and the quality of university intakes will deteriorate further.

Together at last 1

If only all the world's brains could forget theircross-border squabbles and co-operate, they could end Third World starvation, improve water supplies, eradicate pollution. We might even see cures for cancer, Aids and heart disease. Pipe dream? Maybe. But a start has been made with Universitas 21, an international association of universities "committed to work together to meet the challenges of the 21st century". So far, only four British universities are among them: Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Nottingham. The others are the universities of Melbourne, New South Wales and Queensland in Australia; Auckland, New Zealand; the University of California at Berkeley; British Columbia, Toronto and McGill in Canada; and the National University of Singapore. All are strong in research and are pledged to exchange staff, students and good practice. I pray it will really, really work and not collapse through petty jealousies and academic bickering.

Together at last 2

Unlike Universitas 21, the European Consortium of Innovative Universities confines itself to our own little continent. Launched at the University of Twente (Netherlands), the consortium has met at Warwick University to produce its shopping list. Aims include a joint European master's programme in innovation management; a European doctoral programme; joint research projects; and many joint technological courses. These universities are also members: Aalborg (Denmark); Aveiro (Portugal); Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain); Chalmers Tekniska Hogskola (Sweden); Dortmund and the Technische Universitat Hamburg-Harburg-Harburg (Germany). Next meeting will be in November, at Dortmund. Certainly serves the best beer in Germany.

Trent Park Python

Monty Python fans will recall the "arguments sketch" in which, for a fee, one had a row with a professional arguer. Silly? Not totally; we now find this zany method adopted in at least one university workshop. Sally Mitchell, of the School of Education at Middlesex University, organised one recently. "Argument," she maintains, "is a skill that is not just useful in academic work, but equally to be valued in services across the university." Oh, no, it isn't. But let's not argue. While with Middlesex, let me correct a mental slip when I wrote about Nottingham University inheriting the finest collection of DH Lawrence's work. I transplanted Lawrence to Trent Park, probably because the river Trent washes Nottingham. But Trent Park is, of course, the beautiful, daffodil-carpeted campus of Middlesex University. Those daffs date back to when the estate belonged to Sir Philip Sassoon who planted "a host of golden daffodils" after a visit by Stanley Baldwin, a man fond of Wordsworth. No, he wasn't! Oh yes he was!

Royal catwalks:

What's so special about this year's Graduate Fashion Week? For one thing, it has left the Business Design Centre in Islington to go up-market to the Royal Festival Hall. Hayley Lec, corporate PR director for British Home Stores, denied the centre has become too expensive. BHS has sponsored this sparkling event for the past three years and, like Topsy, it has "growed". "Next week 21 universities and colleges are catwalking and 21 exhibiting," she told me, adding: "We have built our own catwalks and exhibition areas in huge marquees alongside the Festival Hall." Among the many cat-strutters will be the University of East London's fashion students. Each year, Valerie Goodworth, one of Britain's most authoritative teachers of fashion design and marketing, takes her students to buy their fabrics in Paris. Expensive? Far from it. "In Montmartre, at the foot of the hill that leads to the Sacre Coeur, you'll find next year's colours at last year's prices," she confides. I'm tipping these young graduates to provide a colourful collection when they take to the catwalk next Thursday lunchtime.

And finally ...

The latest educational acronym comes from Comcon, a "Competences Consortium" of 110 universities. It is Hera - which stands for Higher Education Role Analysis. Not much competence went into this. Hera, launched today, aims to help universities meet equal pay requirements and staff development. This Greek goddess comes far too close for comfort to Heera - the Higher Education External Relations Association, which has been around since 1991 and represents PR, marketing, development and alumni officers at universities throughout the UK. I bet its annual conference, held jointly with CASF, its American equivalent, at Brunel University in September, will have a few comments about such competent confusion.

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