WORD OF MOUTH

Just figure that

Just before Sir Ron Dearing catapulted his giant report of academe, Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP), pointed out that universities were facing a funding gap close to pounds 2bn. "We can do our job only if funding is put on a sure footing," she said. Quite right. And Ms Warwick has the back-up facts at her fingertips. Perhaps David Blunkett should know that 3 per cent of Britain's entire workforce is employed by the higher education sector; that this same sector generates more than pounds 43bn worth of business; that it spends nearly pounds 13bn on goods and services produced in the UK - an incredible 2.1 per cent of the nation's total gross domestic product; that universities now manage to draw 27 per cent of their funding from private sources and from overseas; and that for every pounds 1m spent by universities, pounds 2.21m of output is generated in other parts of Britain's economy. These figures, also from the CVCP, should at least persuade the Government that, for the sake of all our futures, it is worthwhile investing in higher education.

Pink, fluffy prize

A book which its author described as "the least romantic book I have written" has won the Romantic Novel of the Year award. No one could have been more astonished than Sue Gee, a part-time lecturer in writing and publishing studies at Middlesex University, when she was told she had won the pounds 5,000 prize for her novel, The Hours of the Night. She was even more surprised when the vice-chairman of the Romantic Novelists' Association, in trying to persuade its members to change the association's name, said: "Romanticism [was] the opposite of classicism. But now it is associated with Mills & Boon, Barbara Cartland and things that are pink and fluffy." Quoth Sue: "Pink and fluffy hardly describes my book." This, her fifth novel, was published this summer and deals with the love affairs of six people. Its main character is a "virginal poet" who falls in love with a homosexual man. As Sue says, hardly pink and fluffy ...

Exciting the atoms

It is exactly 75 years since the Harrison Memorial Prize was created. Colonel Edward Harrison had been deputy controller of the Government's chemical warfare department and spent his time protecting those who took the king's shilling from poison gases during the Great War. Since 1922 this prestigious prize has been awarded annually to young chemists (they have to be under 30) for "the most meritorious and promising original investigations in chemistry". And year after year it has gone to men. Dr Helen Fielding, who is 29 and a chemistry lecturer at King's College, one of the founding colleges of London University, is the first woman to win the prize for her "contribution to the dynamics of highly excited atoms and molecules". I am, alas, ignorant about such matters - but it is clearly of the utmost importance, since Dr Fielding's research has already attracted pounds 400,000 to King's. She is, I'm told, the only British academic working in this field, which entails keeping a close watch on orbiting electrons. Were I wearing a hat, I'd doff it to her.

Tune in to a degree

If you are finding it tough to get a ticket to concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and the Albert Hall, why not sign up for a postgraduate degree programme in American music? I don't suppose it will guarantee you a seat, but the course includes visits to concerts and the musical theatre. Tempted? I know I am. The course is being run by the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London, under the leadership of that fine musician, Professor Peter Dickinson. London has always been a great importer of music and musicians (just think of Handel and Mendelssohn). And where better these days to hear American music (George Gershwin, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Richard Rodgers and Dimitri Tiomkin, to name just a few) than this country? "It used to be assumed that music was highbrow and European," says Prof Dickinson. "American music, within its own confines, has changed all that in favour of a multi- cultural scene." The course forms part of the MA degree in United States Studies.

Taking a dive

Remember Olga Korbut, the Soviet child athlete? Come to that, do you remember the Soviets? In the good old, bad old days, the Soviets and their satellites used to spot future gold medallists when they were barely out of nappies and train them relentlessly for the Olympics. Britain was never into that kind of thing. Not cricket, dontcha know. Well, Mohammed Warda may change all that. Mohammed is an Egyptian who has won a scholarship to Leeds University to research for a PhD into what produces world-class divers. It's a subject that he already knows well, because he coaches Alexandria's diving team. He aims to develop some specific tests that will allow coaches to recognise potential talent in youngsters from the age of nine. His cousin Hassan Warda recently completed his PhD at Leeds - but that one was in engineering.

Yorkshire spread

Who can beat the University of Bradford for its graduate spread? According to Pauline Jennings, its alumni officer, its graduates are now to be found in 149 countries. Most of those overseas are in Malaysia (680), followed closely by the number of graduates living in Hong Kong (664). Then comes the US (436); Greece (342) and France (249). There are 135 in Australia; 114 in Russia, 90 in Kenya and 43 in China. Perhaps the 664 of Hong Kong should now be added to those in China, to bring it to the top of the alumni ladder. If your university is represented in more than 149 countries, do let me know.

And finally ...

Although the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology declared UDI as long ago as 1994 and is now quite independent from the university in the Oxford Road, it continues to use its internationally known acronym, Umist. There are, I suppose naturally, those who would like to change the meaning of the first two letters. Writing in the Umist Time, a chemistry lecturer suggested that it could stand for: Under (new) Management Institute of Science and Technology. Or even Unique Manchester Institute. Has any reader a better (printable) idea? Suggestions on a postcard, please.

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