Education Diary: Who's for hot seat at Hefce?

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The Independent Online

Tongues are wagging about who will succeed Professor David Eastwood, the widely admired and liked chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. This is considered to be a highly influential job, advising ministers, disbursing money to universities, and urging them to do the Government's bidding. But it has become less popular now that ministers intervene so much in universities' affairs, and the money is less than you would earn as a vice chancellor of a university such as Birmingham, where Eastwood is bound. Two names appear to be in the frame: Professor Paul Welling, the Australian who heads Lancaster University, and Professor Steve Smith, Exeter's boss. Smith has said that he doesn't want it. That leaves Welling. But there could, of course, be a dark-horse candidate. An announcement is expected by Christmas.

* While we're on the subject of big beasts in higher education, vice chancellors are gearing up for an election at Universities UK, the umbrella group for higher education. Professor Rick Trainor, president of UUK, is coming to the end of his two-year stint, and two men are expected to throw their hats into the ring. One is Les Ebden, vc of Bedfordshire University and chair of the Million+ group of new universities; the other is our good friend Steve Smith. How many jobs can one chap be in for?

* The anonymous writer who penned the campus novels, "A Campus Conspiracy" and "Degrees 'R' Us", has written a third. Called "The Whistleblower" (Impress Books, £7.99), it is another burlesque full of larger-than-life characters, many of whom we met in the earlier books. And the message is the same: universities are now like factories – pursuing money rather than knowledge.

* In mid-July, we reported how Christine Starkey, 59, a former bursar at Durham University (right), was in the dock accused of pilfering £519,584 from college coffers. Starkey has now pleaded guilty to stealing the reduced total of £488,281 during her stint at St Chad's College. The court heard that Starkey has a previous conviction for stealing £12,000 when credit controller for a car dealership on Teesside. She will be sentenced next month and has been remanded in custody, at the request of her solicitor. "She simply feels the sooner she starts her sentence, the sooner it will be over," he said.

* The social-networking site LinkedIn and its German rival Xing have seen a surge in popularity in recent weeks, with workers looking for favours from online contacts. The sites are seen as a chance to beat the recession. Now recent graduates, affected by the economic crisis, have an equivalent: