WORD OF MOUTH

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Musical interregnum

It is the Royal Academy of Music's 175th anniversary and a galaxy of gala concerts, prize-givings and masterclasses lie ahead. And what a pedigree: Sir Arthur Sullivan entered the academy in 1856; Sir Henry Wood, once its student, became a professor in 1923, and Sir John Barbirolli, another old student, became conductor of the First Orchestra in 1961. So it clearly has a colourful history and a distinguished list of alumni. The one thing it hasn't got is a president. In 1985, HRH Di (when she still held that prefix) took on this prestigious mantle. But she has thrown in her semi- royal towel. Now what? "There's an interregnum," I was told with a singularly appropriate choice of words. Well, let's hope they find a suitable replacement before two major concerts are conducted by Lutz Kohler (26 June) and Sir Colin Davis (12 November).

Good knight to teachers

It's just ever so slightly possible that the Office for Standards in Education and its outspoken boss, Chris Woodhead, might hear a few home truths themselves for a change.

Ironically, these are likely to come from the lips of Mr Woodhead's predecessor, Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland. He doubled as Ofsted's original chief inspector of schools as well as London University's vice-chancellor (a dual role few academics or teachers cared for). Sir Stewart, now principal of Edinburgh University, is to study the education and training of teachers so once again he'll be wearing two hats. I hope they're hard ones. Who has set him this task? Why, that other good knight, Sir Ron Dearing, who, as everyone knows, is reviewing UK higher education for whichever government happens to be around the corner. He wants to know how colleges and universities, in partnership with schools, can contribute to teacher training. Sir Stewart says he will "focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the current system". If weaknesses include the stranglehold Ofsted and the national curriculum are placing on teachers and pupils, he will be doing the country a great service.

Lack of principals

Significant changes at London University. I hear Peter Holwell, its distinguished principal since 1985 (only Sir Douglas Logan served a longer term - from 1948 to 1975) has stood down. He was 61 on Good Friday and has taken early retirement. His replacement? No one. For the first time in its 160-year history, the country's biggest university, which until now has always enjoyed the services of both a vice-chancellor and a principal, will be without the latter.

A university spokeswoman explained: "As London colleges have developed so strongly, the university has been able to streamline its central administration extensively".

Answers are AUT

I have kept you informed about the questionnaire the Association of University Teachers sent to all general election candidates. Well, now the answers are out and make interesting reading. I won't go through them all (there were some 2,000!) but one is of particular interest. Most candidates who bothered to respond agreed that university funding should be on a five- year basis. Readers as long in the tooth as I will know that's how it used to be. It was called the quinquennium and allowed universities to plan ahead instead of having to live on an annual hand-to-mouth basis. Raging inflation killed this method in the Seventies. Now that inflation is down to a decent level, I'd have thought any self-respecting government would be anxious to put our money where its big mouth is. The 37,000-strong AUT obtained little more than 350 responses, most (as already disclosed by WoM) from the LibDems (57.3 per cent) followed by Labour (24.5), Conservative (8.6) and Plaid Cymru (4.4). The Lib Dems were also best in providing individual answers while Labour candidates referred the AUT to the party's lifelong learning statement. Big deal. Now the AUT has put every candidate's name and address on the World Wide Web. Why not ask your candidates a few more pertinent questions? Or, better still, why not knock on their doors, for a change?

Atack on canvass

A portrait of Baroness Lockwood of Dewsbury, who ends her five-year stint as chair of Bradford University council this summer, has just been unveiled. It captured her looks so well that I hurried to discover the identity of the artist. It came as no surprise as I had been responsible for commissioning the same man to paint Leslie Wagner just before he left the University of North London to become vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan. David Atack is becoming the painter of top academics. Betty Lockwood, deputy Speaker of the Lords, was first chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission and helped to set up the Parliamentary Universities Group. Not all universities have joined. But that's another story...

And finally

I overheard part of an intense conversation by two gowned Cambridge University dons just before Easter. They were slowly crossing one of those gorgeous quad lawns and one of them was putting forward an elaborate argument. "And eleventhly ..." he said. I did not wait for his twelfthlyn

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