Word of Mouth: Bugbusters wha hae...

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DON'T YOU get the jitters whenever people start telling you of the horrors we shall face on New Year's Day 2000? Because of that ghastly millennium bug, computers will black out; planes will crash; phones won't work (do they work now?); food deliveries will be halted as no food can be ordered; banks will break down and cash dispensers with them; there'll be rioting in the streets as shops are looted; burglaries will escalate... and so on. Well, I hope that the doom-and-gloomers are proved wrong. How come computer programmers didn't have the nous to foresee this danger years ago?

Well, Scotland, as usual, is doing something about it. The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC) has allocated pounds 1m to assist Scottish HE institutions to beat the bug. The University of Dundee, for instance, has just appointed Karen McAnulty, a business analyst with Babcock Rosyth Defence, to lead the fight against the bug. Her appointment is for 14 months (clearly, Dundee doesn't think she'll kill the bug before next January).

The university, in common with others in Scotland, will receive an initial pounds 20,000 from SHEFC, with a further injection of up to pounds 40,000 to come. Scottish universities believe the problem will cost pounds 6m to resolve. Cheap at the price - if it works.

So what is the HEFCE (the English funding council) doing to help universities south of the border? There's not a single penny available for anyone. But http://www.hefce.ac.uk/GoodPrac/Y2K/default.htm, its website, will provide some helpful advice. And HEFCE has also organised a seminar for interested parties.


WOULDN'T IT be wonderful if England's cricket captain, whoever he happens to be, could select his team from 30,000 keen young players? They might even get to win back those ashes. Now Oxford University has the right idea. It has cemented a cricket partnership with "the other place" - Oxford Brookes University. The new team is to be known as, would you believe, The Combined Oxford Universities, and the first match has already been fixed - against Worcestershire on 8-10 April. The new team has the full support of Lord Cowdrey - Sir Colin, as was - former University and England captain, vice-president of the MCC and president of the Oxford University Cricket Club. Simon Porter, OUCC senior treasurer, is delighted with the partnership. Quoth Dr Porter: "It will help increase the pool of top-class cricketers in the country." Quite so, ol' chap. And doesn't it make a change from uncouth comments like: "Gad sir, it's a damn ex-polytechnic, dontchaknow. Well, that's not cricket!" Ah, but it is. It is.

Red stress relief

SO HOW should you go about relieving the stress of a hard day's work in the lecture theatre or laboratory? According to Natfhe - the further and higher education lecturers' union - the most common forms of stress in the workplace are "an unfair boss, poor time management, dead end prospects, long hours, working weekends, job insecurity, constant changes and reorganisations, sexual harassment and bullying". That's quite a list, and I'm willing to wager that just about every teacher, whether in schools or universities, has experienced at least two of the listed causes of stress. So what should you do about it? Get out your diaries and put a big asterisk on Friday, 12 March - Red Nose Day. That's when you should open a pack available from Comic Relief, get dressed up and raise some money for all those good causes. You'll find your stress will simply evaporate. Some ideas are contained in the current issue of The Lecturer, Natfhe's journal. Why not persuade your principal or V-C to dress up as Baby Spice or Eddie Izzard? You could even ask them to swap jobs for a day. That should be good for a laugh. Stress Relief, a new fund-raising idea from Comic Relief, has recruited stress expert Professor Cary Cooper of UMIST to help put together the pack, copies of which are available from 0891-900 000.

Salute the teacher

IT ISN'T often that a student is made an MBE. So my hat, were I wearing one, is doffed to Caroline Simpson who is in the midst of a post-grad primary teaching course at the University of Plymouth. What could she have done to deserve this honour? Before enrolling for a PGCE at the university's arts and education faculty, Caroline was a Captain in the Royal Logistics Corps, stationed in Bosnia - first at Banja Luka, then Split, in Croatia. Her job: to work with youngsters hit by those senseless and bloody hostilities. The experience gave her a commendable taste for teaching. When her commander told her she had been awarded a medal for her services, she thought he was joking. Only when she walked through the gates at Buck House did she begin to believe it, and when the Queen congratulated her she knew it was really true.

But is it funny?

THERE'S THIS cartoon which shows a wee chap happily sitting on the edge of a riverbank fishing; at his side, a basket full of caught fish. High up on the edge of an overhanging cliff is another little man also quietly fishing. But his long line is about to hook a fish in that well-filled basket... Now I think that's funny. But how many people might not see the joke? According to Francesca Happe of the social, genetic and developmental psychiatry research centre (a truly tongue-twisting mouthful) at King's College Institute of Psychiatry, has developed a new test for "Theory of Mind" skills. This is the ability to grasp other people's thoughts and feelings. People with impaired Theory of Mind wouldn't understand the cartoon. Dr Happe, in collaboration with the Maudsley Hospital, is researching personality changes following head injuries. Such changes might be linked to impaired Theory of Mind skills, where affected patients are incapable of understanding the needs of others. The test could lead to appropriate psychological treatment.

And finally...

WHO WAS that spectacular woman juggler in York Light Opera Society's production of the Big Top musical, Barnum, which enjoyed a successful 10-day run at the city's Theatre Royal last month? It was Caroline Hollins, a lecturer in midwifery at the University of York's department of health studies.