WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Tentative exams:

Students at Imperial College are being made to sit their exams in a tent. Well, all right, a "rigid structured temporary marquee", as Soosan Oldroyd, assistant registrar in charge of examinations, put it in a letter to students apologising for this last-minute change of venue. IC feared that students sitting their Finals and end-of-year exams in the usual Great Hall between now and 20 June might be distracted by hand drilling at the adjoining library. It appears that building work, known about for at least as long as the examinations timetable, could not possibly be postponed. So instead, students have had to put up with noise from a bar close to the tent, the kerfuffle created at a nearby hall of residence used as a polling station last week - and rain, which turns the rigid roof into a drum. Angry examinees have complained to Felix, the students' newspaper, complaining of "excessive noise, allergies, adverse weather conditions".One said it was "the noisiest place I have ever had to sit an exam"; another accused the university of putting building work before student welfare.

When I contacted the IC's press office last week for information, my call was greeted with surprise. "I shall make enquiries and ring you back." Hmm ... I'm still waiting. Perhaps examiners will be a little more lenient and add a few hardship marks.

Gordon's near miss:

Who would have expected such a Labour landslide? Not even Gordon Reece of the Engineering Mathematics Department at Bristol University managed to get it right this time. Gordon correctly forecast the result of the last two general elections. Mystic Gordon's prediction was that Labour would win 393 of the new 659-seat Commons - only 25 short of the actual outcome. The Tories, he said, would get 210. This proved over-generous (they ended up with 165), and the Lib Dem forecast was for 28 instead of the 46 they actually achieved. Hard luck, Gordon. Hope you didn't let the bookies win too much.

Campus winners:

Universities provided the election with numerous candidates. The University of East Anglia, for instance, has lost its Dean of Biology, Dr Ian Gibson, who stood as Labour candidate at Norwich North. Dr Robert Kinghorn of the geology department at Imperial College, Conservative candidate in the same constituency, came second. The University of Essex can now boast several new MPs. For example, Bob Russell, its publicity information officer for the last 11 years, won Colchester Town for the Lib Dems (from the Tories). Then there were the alumni: Siobhain McDonagh, who graduated from Essex in 1985 (appropriately with a degree in government), stood as Labour candidate in marginal Mitcham and Morden and overturned a Conservative majority with a 16.03 per cent swing, unseating Dame Angela Rumbold. John Bercow, another government graduate (1981), was the successful Conservative candidate at the Tory stronghold of Buckingham; another Essex alumna, Virginia Bottomley, former National Heritage Secretary, managed to hold on to Surrey South West, and Michael Meacher, a former Essex research fellow, increased Labour's majority at Oldham West and Royton.

Soundly Twigged:

Stephen Twigg must be feeling really chuffed. He achieved what many others, far more senior in years and experience, tried but failed to do: he unseated one of the Conservative Party's most promising prospective leaders by winning Enfield Southgate with a 17.41 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour. Michael Portillo's defeat by this young former president (1990 92) of the National Union of Students shocked Tories to the core. From now on, "to twig" will not simply mean "to understand". It will also mean "to unseat or cut down". Portillo was twigged good and proper. I counted at least five other past presidents of the NUS who succeeded (all for Labour) last week. Lorna Fitzsimons (1992-94) beat Liz Lynne (Lib Dem) to win Rochdale; Jim Murphy (1991-96) beat the Conservative Paul Cullen to win Eastwood; Phil Woolas (1984-86) won Oldham East and Saddleworth by beating another Liberal Democrat, Chris Davies; and Charles Clarke (1975-77) won Norwich South with an increased majority. So who was the fifth? Why, Jack Straw, of course. Our new Home Secretary was NUS president somewhat earlier than the others - 1969-71 - and graduated in Law from Leeds University in 1967.

So Now What?

Both the Association of University Teachers and the Committee of Vice- Chancellors have officially welcomed the new Government. David Triesman, AUT general-secretary, immediately called for a proper system of higher education funding and a fair pay mechanism for academics and other university and college staff. Diana Warwick, CVCP chief executive, asked for a new funding settlement along with an income-based loans system for graduates. With such consensus among employer and employee representatives, perhaps we can all sleep easy in our beds now. Certainly, David Blunkett's team shows promising expertise. Baroness Blackstone, Master of Birkbeck College for the past 10 years, seems to be the right choice as Minister of State for Further and Higher Education, and Stephen Byers, whose promotion I rightly forecast here five months ago, had the right experience leading the country's Local Education and Metropolitan Authorities to make him the ideal Minister for School Standards. Alan Howarth, who crossed from the Tory to Labour benches, is also back at the DfEE as junior minister - though with employment rather than higher education, where he might have shone even brighter. I wish them luck.

And finally ...

Money clearly isn't always everything. Take Channel 5 (please do!). It spent a cool pounds 5m, booked The Spice Girls, and attracted in the region of 5 per cent of the viewing audience. Now over to the Open University. It spent peanuts on its new-style open.saturday programme - and hit the jackpot by doubling OU programme viewing figures and creating a 20 per cent increase in applications from 18- to 25-year-olds. There must be a moral in this somewheren

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