WORD OF MOUTH

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Blair's battle misfires:

When last week's conference of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education at Warwick University was informed that Tony Blair and his Battle Bus were on campus, delegates swarmed out to cheer him and shake his hand. Poor suckers. Blair's bus battled straight past them to another conference - of rich business people and company directors. There, he stepped off, smile firmly fixed, shook hands, went in, spoke, lunched and departed. Again he ignored NIACE delegates, who felt snubbed. The last time they conferred at Warwick, Sir Keith Joseph, an "Old Tory", had addressed them and stayed all day. He rightly considered adult education of the utmost importance.

Croonian 1998:

I hear Philip Cohen, director of the Biomedical Sciences Institute at Dundee University, has been asked to deliver next year's Croonian Lecture at the Royal Society. This is among the most prestigious events on the academic calendar and Professor Cohen, whose work has had a positive effect on research into cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's, is among the world's 100 most-cited scientists. Croonian lectures date back to 1660 when William Croone, a physician and anatomy lecturer, was nominated registrar of a small band of, dare I say, learned croonies, who met at Gresham College regularly and formed the Royal Society. Other Croonian lectures have included such notables as Ivan Pavlov and Thomas Huxley.

Oxford goes to Atlanta:

If any nation knows how to deal with alumni, it's America. And if any university knows how to deal with American alumni, it's Oxford University. About 500 of its graduates, including several handfuls of distinguished Rhodes Scholars, all from the Deep South as well as the eastern regions of the US, will flock to Atlanta between 25 and 27 April for "the major alumni event of 1997." Dr John Flemming, Warden of Wadham, will be representing the university. Other universities should keep a beady eye on the event. Some might learn how to make the most of their alumni.

The magic of Brum:

What is it about Birmingham University that attracts the heads of other fine institutions? Professor Sir Michael Thompson, who has retired as its vice-chancellor, was V-C of the University of East Anglia before he moved to the Midlands. And his successor, Professor Maxwell Irvine was Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Aberdeen University before taking on the Birmingham mantle. In a way, it's a sentimental return, for Irvine used to pop down to Brum to attend learned physics lectures and seminars in the early Sixties when he was a PhD student at Manchester University. He has described Birmingham as "a great university," but then he would, wouldn't he? Perhaps it's a question of size. At Aberdeen he was responsible for a goodly expansion in student numbers - from 7,000 to 10,000 in just five years. Birmingham, like Topsy, has grown ever-faster under Sir Michael's leadership - from 9,000 when he arrived in 1987 to 17,500.

Jaw-Jaw on War-War:

I was surprised to learn that the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, which hangs out in The Hague, recently paid a visit to Northern Ireland. Was it to investigate IRA war crimes? Heaven forfend. They went for a conference with the title "Men, Women and War" at the University of Ulster's Magee College. Subjects under discussion included gender and genocide, lessons from the Holocaust, rape warfare in Bosnia and Croatia and sexual slavery during World War Two. What is more they brought two Korean "comfort women" with them as living proof of man's inhumanity to women. Oh, and there was a bit in the small print: "The conference also looked at the way some of its themes relate to the Northern Ireland conflict." Oh, well, that made it all right then. Perhaps next time they could try discussing peace.

Raising Socrates:

The wisest thing Socrates ever said, as far as I'm concerned, was: "I know that I know nothing." Nowjust about everyone concerned with higher education, is anxious to cash in on this philosopher. So much so that the European Commission has made another 50m ecu available for educational exchanges under the Socrates programme - the EU's project, running from 1995 to 1999, to improve education among member states. Last year requests for grants amounted to more than 700m ecu. But only 173m ecu were available. Now, 1,600 EU universities and colleges have applied for grants to run European activities in the 1997-98 academic year.

And finally.....

The scene: Reading University. Two concerned mums are discussing the Ucas form. "How can you tell if a university is, well, a university or if it's one of those ex-polytechnics?" says one. "Oh, that's simple," says the other. "All the old universities have short, straightforward names, like London University, Oxford University, Leeds University and so on. The new ones have long, involved names like ... the Something-or- other University of Central England in Birmingham or the Liverpool John Littlewoods University..." The first woman lets this seep in. Eventually she asks: "Does that mean that the University of Kent at Canterbury is an old poly?" "Oh, yes," quoth Mrs Knowalln

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