Irish-Americans who are in love with the Emerald Isle are among the first students to take part in the University of Ulster's online MA in Irish Cultural Heritages. The course sweeps through time and space, examining Irish culture at home and abroad from 1750 onwards. From the Famine to the Troubles, religion to class, events and issues are covered through a blend of disciplines including history, geography and literature. A module on 20th-century Irish writing, for example, treats students to a critical appreciation of the works of many of Ireland's famous poets and novelists, including Yeats, Joyce, Seamus Heaney, Roddy Doyle and Jennifer Johnston. The modules may be taken as part of a masters, diploma or certificate programme, or individually - but all applicants are expected to have a good first degree, usually in a humanities subject. Enrolment for next year begins in January and Ulster is advertising the course around the world including in Boston and New York, and Australia. Directing the course is Irish literature lecturer Dr Liam Harte, who says that the online delivery of the course is working well. Students may e-mail him any time or chat with him online during set times - the virtual equivalent of the tutors' office hours.

* Could the 2001 foot-and-mouth disaster have been prevented? Students all over the world will be finding out on a new University of London course, Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health, being run with the Royal Veterinary College. It is the first course in the world to teach postgraduate veterinary epidemiology by distance learning, and to relate the subject to public health, says Dr Ayona Silva-Fletcher of the Royal Veterinary College. Vets who work with livestock will make up at least half of the student body (the course doesn't concern pets), and animal science or agriculture graduates working in livestock safety control are also expected on the course, which starts next January. Hot topics in veterinary epidemiology, including resistance to antibiotics in livestock (and how this relates to human resistance to antibiotics), and organic livestock farming, will be covered. Students will also have to get to grips with advanced statistical methods in order to make sense of data about how animal diseases spread, says Dr Silva-Fletcher. "They will look at large amounts of data from the foot and mouth disaster, for example, to make links between slaughter houses and see what decisions should have been made at the beginning of the outbreak."

* The season for university open days is kicking off, and there are an increasing number of these events being laid on for postgraduates. The schools of medicine and medical sciences at the University of Aberdeen are today holding their first postgraduate open day. Course leaders are whetting the visitors' appetites for working at the university by emphasising its record in ground-breaking research, says a spokeswoman. "Research undertaken here has gone on to change the face of medicine, including the discovery of endorphins, the isolation of insulin and the development of MRI scanning."

g.mccann@independent.co.uk

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