WORD OF MOUTH

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The Independent Online
Kings of warts

At last the BBC has admitted that when it makes one of those "fly-on- the-wall" documentaries, it's after some good, old-fashioned dirt. Brian King, the Man from Auntie responsible for the latest such series (The University, broadcast on Radio 4 on Thursday mornings), has confessed to having spent nine months "ferreting around one of Britain's top universities searching for warts". Producer King, making his confession in Ariel, the Beeb's internal journal, sounded decidedly peeved when he failed to come up with anything worse at Warwick University than a bit of drug-pushing, quickly nipped in the bud by campus security guards. "Wherever I roamed, I found academics behaving impeccably. Warwick didn't achieve its reputation for nothing," he complained, and had to admit (reluctantly, methinks) that Warwick was a "huge success story." I congratulate King on producing a splendid prog even without those elusive warts.

Free 'n' tasty courses

London University has scored again. For the sixth year running, it is organising a full programme of juicy taster courses for sixth-formers, many of whom may never even dream of entering higher education. More than a dozen colleges, including medical schools, attached to this, the country's biggest university, and a number of other, unrelated universities in the capital (North London, South Bank and Westminster) have compiled a wide variety of free spring and summer courses, ranging from art history at UCL to tourism and international business at North London, and lasting anything from a day to a week. A particularly tasty sample is a two-day French studies course towards the end of April at the British Institute in Paris, also a part of London University. All academics are giving their services free - but places are limited. Patricia Evans at Senate House (0171-636 8000; ext 3010) has details.

Dolce vita

Several universities now boast women's studies on one or other of their degree course menus. But I've not come across one which specialises in a specific type of woman. Not, that is, until now. The University of Reading has just launched its very own Centre for Italian women's studies. It appears to have followed "the tradition set by the University of Bologna", one of the oldest universities in Europe. Well, yes, I can see Bologna having a special unit for Italian women; but Reading has still to open one for English, or even British, women. Anyway, its new venture is linking arms with the Centre for Italian Studies at University College London, to run an international conference on February 21 and 22 on women and writing in 19th century Italy. Bravo!

To Coyne a new degree

There's a neat postscript to my paragraph (9 January) on the "do-it-yourself" Open Learning Foundation. Last week, OLF chief executive David Hardy got together with Professor John Coyne, head of the Business School at De Montfort University, and clinched a deal to allow thousands of students to read for a BA degree in Business Studies without having a set foot on a campus. Professor Coyne put it this way: "Higher education can no longer be thought of as taking place within a particular place inside a certain building for 12 hours a week, 24 weeks a year." Once the programme has been validated, the first students will be admitted in the autumn. And depending on how much time a student devotes to it, a degree can take anything from three to six years. Blackwells, the publishers, third party in this remarkable triumvirate, will produce and distribute the learning units, all written by teams of experts hand-picked from universities in many parts of the country. Students will be able to contact tutors by telephone, fax or e-mail under this distance-learning degree scheme.

Screening energy

How many of us switch on our PCs first thing in the morning and never bother to switch off until it's time to go home? Surrey University has calculated that on campus, keeping all PCs on for eight hours a day throughout a working week brings in an electricity bill of more than pounds 20,000. Most of this goes on the screen alone - regardless of using a so-called screen- saver. Switching off the screen when it's not in use - while remaining logged into the computer - could save the university pounds 10,000 a year. Multiply that figure by the number of universities, all doing more or less the same, and the energy saving would be colossal.

And finally ...

Welcome to the new member on the Confederation of British Industry's SME Council, which deals with all matters affecting small businesses. He is Southampton University's Professor John Large.

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