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Big bucks in academe

Universities may be heading for skid row but that is good news for our friends the management consultants (otherwise known as spivs) retained to restructure the sorriest institutions and boost their management techniques. Most spivs are funded by the Higher Education Funding Councils for England, Scotland and Wales. Last year alone, the HEFC (England) spent a cool pounds 800,000 on such consultancies, though, admittedly, this represents only 0.02 per cent of the total of public money spent on universities and colleges.

Coopers and Lybrand and KPMG Peat Marwick are among those cashing in. The latter has 13 universities on its books, and the funding councils are footing the bill for 10 of the exercises that will "introduce far greater rigour and standardisation to the costing and administration of teaching, research or commercial activities", says Martin Davies, director of education services at KPMG and a former director of education for Newcastle upon Tyne.

Coopers and Lybrand remain tight-lipped. What have they to hide? "This kind of work is confidential to the client," they say. Public money, confidential? Who are they trying to kid? At least HEFCE answered all my questions.

Newlyweds wanted

If you are among the rapidly declining number of people entering matrimony instead of "partnerships", then Frank Fincham wants to hear from you.

Professor Fincham of the school of psychology, University of Wales, Cardiff, is seeking the answers to the kind of questions all of us are constantly asking: what makes newly weds happy? How long do they stay happy, and at what point do problems - and what sort of problems - start creeping into their relationship? How do their views of their partners change over the first few years?

Professor Fincham has received a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council for this one. Initially, volunteers will have a three-hour interview, followed by another conducted annually for the next three years. If they're still together.

Trent Park player

When David Melville resigned as Middlesex University's vice-chancellor to become chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, there was no shortage of applicants to fill the space he left at Trent Park. The new vice-chancellor is 45-year-old Professor Michael Driscoll who had already been deputy V-C for a year and on the academic staff of the university since 1989 when it was still a polytechnic. Indeed, he is believed to be the country's only vice-chancellor to graduate from a poly. His first degree was in Economics from Trent Polytechnic.

Now the man who, as external assessor, helped to make Middlesex's choice, has handed in his own resignation. The reason for Dr Clive Booth's sudden decision to hang up his robes as vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University after 10 highly successful years, remains a mystery. Watch this space.

Soccer transfer

The University of East London has just signed up Simon Webster, West Ham's former defence player - not as a footballer but as a first-year student. The tall, 31-year-old has clearly had his fill of being mauled about by physios following some of the more vicious soccer clashes at Upton Park and elsewhere. His honours degree course? Why, physiotherapy, of course.

Tavistock Squared

It is rare, to say the least, that a member of the Committee of Vice- Chancellors and Principals staff moves to the House of Lords, but then anything is possible under the new management. Within just 12 months of Diana Warwick's reign, the CVCP has suffered a 25 per cent turnover of its 50-strong staff, though "suffered" might not be the mot juste. In a few cases, "celebrated" might be more appropriate.

Among the first dozen to go (another two are expected to leave within the next two or three weeks) was Drummond Leslie, head of administration, who took early retirement; then there was Sally-Ann Goold, one of two CVCP statisticians who has found better fish to fry at Church House; Gilbert George, the chief accountant, is one of those about to quit.

Mary Morgan leaves after some 20 years to enter the House of Lords. But not as a peer. Her job will be to try to explain some of the finer and rougher elements of "the meedja" to the titled codgers.

And finally ...

The following exchange, I am assured, was overheard by an academic of Wye College, London University's agricultural college at Ashford, Kent, when his two children were playing. Boy, aged six: "We can't eat beefburgers any more 'cause we might get mad cow disease." His sister, aged four: "People can't get mad cow disease, silly. Grown-ups get PhD disease."