A wake-up call has been issued by the British Council to UK institutions offering postgraduate courses. Piera Gerrard, an education specialist in the Council's marketing division, told British academics last Thursday that although they have grabbed a big slice of the growing international postgraduate student market, the rest of the world is itching to catch up.

The UK is second only to the US in terms of demand for courses. But because America and its universities are so big, our piece of the action is relatively more important to us, according to Gerrard, who was speaking at a UK Grad programme conference. "This makes us more vulnerable to international competition," she said. The US, and the rest of the world, have more scope for expansion. So there is no room for complacency. "Institutions must be responsive to both students and markets", said Gerrard. She extended her plea to government, too. More funding to expand capacity will be crucial, was the message.

The event, in central London, was the third annual UK Grad programme conference. Funded by the UK Research Councils and the Arts and Humanities Research Board, the body champions the interests of doctoral students. Themes discussed were the implications of European and global developments in postgraduate education, researchers' skills and careers, diversity, and the future of the PhD. The impact of the Bologna Declaration, the pan-European agreement to harmonise higher education, was of particular interest. A workshop to discuss its implications was a hot ticket. Concerns about the issue include whether plans to replace long European degrees with a first degree plus Masters model could affect the standing of UK graduates aiming to do PhDs. A report on the conference is being produced; in the meantime, last year's report is available at: www.grad.ac.uk/downloads/conference_2003/report.pdf

* The fluffy genre of romantic comedy has been given an earnest appraisal at Nottingham University. A group of film-studies PhD students last month held a mini-conference on the subject, entitled Love Maybe: a Romantic Comedy Study Day. "The day was similar to an American graduate conference - it was wholly organised by postgraduate students," says the co-organiser Rayna Denison. Delegates came from America and Spain, as well as the UK.

Topping the bill was a talk about Bette Davis by Martin Shingler of Staffordshire University. He looked at the tragi-comic elements of her films of the 1930s and 1940s. Another keynote speaker, Spanish academic Celestino Deleyto, examined the happy ending as a major convention of romantic comedy. Classic battle of the sexes movies starring real-life lovers Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy were Dr Kathrina Glitre's subject. The lecturer, from the University of the West of England, argued that in films such as Woman of the Year and Adam's Rib, Hepburn's feisty feminist personas contrast with her earlier "screwball" characters and threaten the couple's on-screen relationships.

g.mccann@independent.co.uk

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