WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Rudi awakening

You'll hardly credit it, but this chap Rudi came all the way from Switzerland to London to sit some GCSEs and a couple of A-levels, just for the hell of it. They weren't even real, just mocks. Rudi is on the wrong side of 40 and has held down a nice little number for 25 years. But when he was at university the first time round, mathematics was not essential for finance markets, Switzerland's forte apart from cuckoo clocks. Rudi decided to take a couple of years off and asked Imperial College, London, for a course in applied maths at its Centre for Quantitative Finance. This meant starting from scratch, hence those mock exams. They were just what Rudi needed. So who is this man with an urge to go back to basics? None other than Rudi Bogni, the powerful chief executive of the Swiss Bank Corporation.

Jet set

I spent last week at the Japanese embassy helping to pick graduates for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme, which sends the creme de la creme from our universities to act as assistant English teachers at secondary schools throughout Japan. It was a gruelling task, as this year's applicants were of a particularly high standard.

The Council on International Educational Exchange, which runs the scheme, has sent more than 3,000 graduates to Japan over the past 10 years. Of 2,686 candidates, some 500 were picked to become our youngest and, frankly, brightest ambassadors. Five universities topped last year's JET recruiting source: Leeds, 30 candidates chosen; Oxford, 27; London, 26; Cambridge, 25; Edinburgh and Warwick, 20 apiece. I wish them luck.

Another TUC improvement

If you want to research what strikes happened when and where, or delve into the records of the Women's Trade Union League, it's no good trying to find the relevant documentation at Congress House, home of the TUC. You'll have to go to Holloway instead, for that's where the TUC has moved its library in the hope of reaching a wider audience. First established in 1922, and run jointly with the Labour Party until the TUC's move to Congress House in 1955, this treasury of documents on collective bargaining and industrial relations is now housed at the University of North London's Learning Centre, a snazzy glass building that was once a mirror factory. it certainly has a warmer, more welcoming atmosphere than that lump of grey concrete in Great Russell Street.

Women at the helm

Do you recall when there were only two women vice-chancellors? Pauline (later Baroness) Perry was the formidable head of South Bank Poly (later, University) while Tessa (later Baroness) Blackstone issued directions and directives at Birkbeck College, where she is Master (she declined to change this title: "I'm nobody's mistress!"). Lady Perry moved on to preside over Lucy Cavendish, Cambridge. Today, we can add the following: Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, former director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, now V-C of the University of East Anglia (who, sadly, is having to cut the appointment short due to ill health), Dr Anne Wright at Sunderland University, who richly deserves her gong in the New Year Honours; Professor Janet Finch at Keele University; Professor Gillian Slater at Bournemouth, and Professor Christine King at Staffordshire make up this learned regiment of women. And now the latest: Alexandra Burslem, deputy V-C of Manchester Metropolitan, biggest of the "new" universities, who'll replace Sir Kenneth Green when he retires in September.

Quack quality

So who's going to be responsible for university teaching standards when push comes to shove? Next month Goldsmiths College, University of London, will bring together the great, the good and the boring to discuss the new "Single Quality Agency". The saintly Sir Ron Dearing, in the throes of his gargantuan probe into Britain's higher education system, will be among the keynote speakers, along with Dr Roger Brown, chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council, and Christopher Kenyon, the embryonic Single Quality Agency's chairman. While all this jaw-jaw is going on, a number of campus eggheads are already dreaming up acronyms for the new agency. Some members of the Association of University Administrators, a Manchester-based body that sometimes displays a remarkable lack of humour, have bombarded the web airways with ho-ho suggestions, among them Sequal (Single External Quality Agency), Son of Uqda (Standards of Nowledge Offered Froughout the UK Quality Agency) and Quality Assurance and Checking, or Quack. Can anyone do better?n

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