WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Mystic Gordon

Following last Thursday's Wirral South by-election, here are the results of the next general election. The new 659-seat Commons will have: Labour - 393 seats; Conservatives - 210; Lib Dems - 28; Nationalist/Unionist/etc - 28. Whose crystal ball? Gordon Reece, Department of Engineering Mathematics, Bristol University, has one which has proved spot-on in the past. His 1983 forecast came within two seats f the Tory majority. He now discloses in the university newsletter that Joe Coral's 33-1 odds then, brought a further 16:1 win four years later. Gordon tried to persuade the finance officer to "invest" pounds 2m of university reserves in his '83 forecast. Had he reinvested the winnings in 1987, the university "would have netted pounds 1bn". Eat your heart out, Hefce. The 1992 opinion polls (his model) overestimated the Labour vote by 5 per cent. If that's repeated this year, the result could be: Labour - 328; Conservatives - 284; Lib Dems - 22, leaving Labour two seats short of an overall majority.

A whiff of Oxygen

Oxford has notched up another first. This time undergraduates of both universities - Oxford and Oxford Brookes - have launched a fully licensed student radio station, Oxygen 107.9FM. Some 300 volunteers broadcast night and day all year round. Just a load of noisy pop records, say you? Far from it. The station has had first-rate interviews with such chaps as Tony Benn (who, like a good wine, improves with age), Hugh Laurie, Professor Richard Dawkins, John Craven, and also, live, the chart-toppers, Reef. I congratulate everyone in sight and a couple out of sight - Philip Weiss and Nick Molden, who founded the station three years ago while at Christ Church.

Seventy-five, not out

The National Union of Students knows how to throw a decent party, so you can imagine what last month's 75th birthday celebrations must have been like. Many ex-presidents turned up: Bonney Rust (NUS president, 1947- 49); Fred Jarvis, (1952-54) former NUT general secretary and TUC president ; Digby Jacks (1971-73); John Randall (1973-75); Trevor Phillips, the union's first black president (1978-80), now a distinguished television journalist; and the more recent Stephen Twigg (1990-92), Lorna Fitzsimons (1992-94); and the current Douglas Trainer. Among many more, invited but unable to make it, were Brian Simon, emeritus professor of education at Leicester University, NUS president in September 1939 when the Second World War broke out, who celebrates his 82nd birthday on 26 March; Sue Slipman, first woman president (1977-78), who now directs the London TEC council after running the National Council for One-Parent Families brilliantly for 11 years; and Jack Straw (1969-71), who is now shadow Home Secretary.

Farce it isn't

Now, you'd have thought every university with a vice-chancellor would also sport a chancellor. Most new (or modern) universities have not grasped this yet. They fail to see the fine support that older universities get from their chancellors. The handful of exceptions to this shortsightedness include Portsmouth, which has Lord Palumbo, and, more recently, Huddersfield, which has appointed Sir Ernest Hall, a remarkable man, 67 on 19 March. In his twenties he learned to play the piano and is now a concert pianist. He also turned a Halifax carpet warehouse into a major national arts centre. Another to see sense is the University of East London which is shortly to install Lord Rix as its first chancellor. As Brian Rix he dropped his trousers more than any man alive (during, I hasten to add, the many Whitehall farces in which he performed), but he will be best remembered for his magnificent work as chairman of Mencap. UEL is indeed fortunate to have him on its letterheads.

Quasaghe?

I think they've at last concocted a name for that new quality agency - the convergence of the Higher Education Quality Council and the quality assessment units of the various funding councils. An advertisement is finally out for a chief executive, and calls it the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. A bit long-winded, but then, academics will be academics. The headhunters retained to fill this "highly influential post" are searching for someone who can manage 100 staff, has "diplomatic and interpersonal skills" and can represent the nation's higher education nationally and internationally. Yet the salary offered is only "circa pounds 60K" (circa: an approximation usually below rather than above). Although Roger Brown, HEQC chief executive, is no "fat cat", he certainly earns more than this. Most vice-chancellors now command "around" pounds 100,000 (around: an approximation usually above rather than below). Dr Brown will doubtless think twice, even thrice, before applying.

And finally ...

A letter in North Circular, Middlesex University's internal journal, comments on a previous week's headline: "Here's the Big Issue". Its author, Kevin O'Sullivan of the university's planning and development service, found it "timely" and added: Is this to get us used to saying it when we're on the streets? Maybe next week the leading article could be entitled: "Do you want fries with that?"

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