Chalk Talk: Has anyone managed a sneaky look at the White Paper?

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The Independent Online

Talking to acquaintances in the world of academia who have met David Willetts recently has been illuminating.

You may recall I wrote a piece about how I interviewed him a month ago and how a draft of his long-awaited White Paper on higher education was sitting tantalisingly just a couple of feet away from me.

It appears others have had a similar experience – and that, sadly, none of us was able to persuade him to leave the room for a while, allowing us to peruse it. (I thought of shouting "fire!" but decided against it.)

A thought struck us. The White Paper has been delayed for so long that maybe it was all a con trick – and the blue folder purporting to be a draft of the White Paper had nothing written in it.

* The reaction in Conservative circles to Professor AC Grayling's plans for a new university for the humanities, charging students £18,000 a year, has been interesting.

Kenneth (now Lord) Baker appeared fascinated by the idea during an interview I was conducting with him. "I've looked down the list of 14 academics supporting it and there's not one of these people who are Conservatives," he said. "If they're all prepared to give their time to it, I think it would be fascinating but I'm amazed that Grayling has done it."

Others might not agree with him. One academic said: "Niall Ferguson (the television historian) is not exactly a pinko."

Nevertheless, could it be a case of the Conservatives maybe thinking of the idea but not daring to propose it because of the flak they would receive for providing a university bolt-hole for the rich?

Is this a case of recognition better late than never?

International film star John Hurt has just been awarded a gold star from the Association of Colleges in recognition of the time he spent studying in a further education college.

He studied Fine Art at Grimsby Art School, Lincolnshire, from 1956 to 1958.

At a House of Commons reception to receive the award, he said: "On reflection, my two years there were not just necessary but of imperative importance.

"For this period of my education I am forever grateful."

He was one of four winners of the award, who also included the head groundsman at Real Madrid football club, Paul Burgess, who is a former student of Myerscough College in Preston, Lancashire.