WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Consultation or intimidation?

There's trouble a-brewing at my alma mater. Nottingham University management has taken the unusual, one could say ominous, step of setting up a redundancy committee. The 800 academics on campus, and their union - the Association of University Teachers - fear that this sword of Damocles is being used to intimidate them into accepting "voluntary" deals before the university's deadline, 9 May. Some 50 academics are to go. According to the AUT, Nottingham's school of education is said to be "overstaffed" by 11, social studies by six, though a university spokesman denied that any department had been targeted. And if the magic figure of 50 is not reached, compulsory redundancies will be on the agenda of the university's powerful council when it meets on 20 May. AUT lawyers have been consulted and are drawing up a legal action plan. So why is the university prepared to sack decent dons at the expense of student-staff ratios (which are, and will remain, among the best in the country)? Officially, the university calls it "a major consultative exercise ... to restructure some academic departments". Less officially, a surplus of pounds 6m has become a deficit of pounds 2.5m this year. But that's not really so bad, considering a pounds l74m turnover and the pounds 40m being spent on a new, 30-acre campus.

Too many Cooks

When I started in journalism there was no such thing as a degree course in the subject this side of the big pond. One learnt the hard way - "on the job". Now, plenty of places claim to turn hacks into experienced - er, hacks. Postgraduate journalism courses at City and Cardiff universities are among the finest in Europe, and media or communication studies are available at many others. Now Nottingham Trent University is even offering an MA in - wait for it - investigative journalism. It claims to teach students "how to keep clear of the courts" and "clear of the con-men you have exposed". Well, wowee! Who's going to provide such priceless tips? None other than Roger Cook, of The Cook Report.

When West goes East

Remember the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme I mentioned last month? It gave 500 graduates the chance to be assistant English teachers in Japan for a year. Now, 20 two-year research scholarships are also available at Japanese universities for British graduates. They cover fares and all fees, plus a grant of 185,500 yen - about pounds l,000 a month. I'd love to apply but, alas, I'm on the wrong side of 35. Those who aren't, should telephone the Japan Information and Cultural Centre on 0171-465 6500, extension 583, before 8 August. If you prefer China and feel you could teach English for 10 months to some of its 1.3 billion people, there are also graduate opportunities. But in this case, there's a wee application fee. Details: the Council on International Education Exchange, 52 Poland Street, London W1V 4JQ (0171-478 2000).

Mrs Miniver lives

And while we're on the matter of bursaries, how about going in for the Greer Garson Awards? There are two, one for the best creative work in film, including video; the other for the best piece of work in theatre. Each is worth pounds 500 and should be on a Northern Irish theme. The awards, which are from the University of Ulster at Coleraine, were made possible by an endowment from that gorgeous actress Greer Garson, who was born in Northern Ireland and will always be remembered for the film Mrs Miniver (1942), for which she received an Academy Award. (Personally I'd have given her Oscars for Madame Curie and Random Harvest, too, but then I'm an old softy.)

Reading between the lines

Why it has taken a century to come to terms with dyslexia beats me. It was the British Medical Journal which 100 years ago first mentioned this language disorder. Since then there have been so many sceptics that those who treated it seriously were considered nutters. Thank goodness the "nutters" weren't put off, and next week an army of them meets at the University of York for the fourth international conference of the British Dyslexia Association. Don't think it affects only children. If unspotted and untreated (and far too many teachers still tend to ignore it), it's there for life. University students are by no means immune. This major conference brings together experts from many universities, including those in Southampton, Hull, Northumbria, Plymouth, Gdansk, Leiden and New York. They will discuss not only how to tackle the problem among youngsters, but also how to identify and assess it among college students, and evaluate study skills and the necessary support services.

And finally...

Glasgow University has opened its campus to four-year-olds. Its Bute Hall played host to 800 teddy bears and their owners, aged four to seven, for a concert of classical music by the junior Orchestra of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Called Bears at the Bute, it was staged by VIA - Variety Initiatives for (special needs) Access. The bairns loved it, and so did the teddies. Now I'm fairly certain this beats all "recruitment" records. Unless you know different ...

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