Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Alice Jones: Leave the profs and their daft questions alone


How would you measure the weight of your own head?" "Would you rather be a novel or a poem?" "Will you throw this brick through that window?"

The mystique of Oxbridge interviews and the impossible questions posed therein is a perennial favourite. By the time I went for mine, I'd heard so many apocryphal horror stories I was convinced I'd be greeted by a disembodied head in a dusty mortar board asking me simply: "Why?"

Of course, nothing of the sort happened, and I've yet to meet a single person who was asked anything similar, but Oxbridge must continue to work hard to dispel these off-putting rumours. Pupils not lucky enough to have schools or parents on hand to dismiss such tales may find them at best confusing, at worst terrifying.

But to phase out the traditional interview altogether, as Simon Hughes suggested this week, is not the answer. The Government's Advocate for access to education declared that interviews should be "absolutely removed from the people who do the teaching" and handed over to a qualified "admissions team", lest the profs develop a "bond" with certain candidates.

Quite apart from the insulting notion that academics are unable to follow objective guidelines for admissions, this idea disregards what the universities prize most highly, their teaching system. Those 30-minute encounters are a practice run for the three years of one-on-one tutorials that follow, as much a chance for prospective students to try it out and meet those most dedicated to their chosen subject as for tutors to probe the limits of their brains.

It's yet more bureaucratic meddling in academia from a government whose fees will do far more damage to university access than any obscure questions about Ovid ever could.

Did you get one of the greatest tickets on earth? Or, failing that, a seat at the Greco-Roman wrestling? Me neither. Never fear, Team Disappointed! There are still millions of tickets available for London 2012, if you're willing to swap Bolt for Blanchett, Hoy for Hockney and Adlington for Albarn, that is. It's a year to go until the London 2012 Festival, the 12-week, £45m grand finale to the Cultural Olympiad which has, apparently, been running since 2008.

The artistic sideshow has attracted some impressive names including Damien Hirst, Jude Law, Mike Leigh and Plan B. Look more closely, though and many events that are being trumpeted have little to do with LOCOG. Damon Albarn's opera will have premiered a year earlier at the Manchester International Festival. Hirst's Tate retrospective has been planned for years. Plan B is headlining Radio 1's annual weekender.

There will be a few new commissions and support for arts events – that £93.4m budget won't spend itself – but shoving calendar staples like the Tate's Turbine Hall show and Edinburgh Hogmanay under the Olympiad banner is bizarre. Its director, Ruth Mackenzie, could just as well be called Chief Magpie, earning a cushy £130,000 salary for picking the finest gems of the year and hustling them into her programme.

It's fantastic that the arts have a platform at this global sporting event. It's also clear that sticking an Olympic logo on our finest cultural exports doesn't really add anything. We don't need an expensive Olym-piad to flex our creative muscles: they're in excellent shape as it is.

The YBAs are dead. Long live the MBAs! It had to happen eventually: the Young British Artists have become Middle-aged. This week, Selfridges unveiled a range of homeware designed by Tracey Emin (left). There are bone china mugs, cat bowls, aprons and teapots costing £95. And not a used condom, cigarette butt or swear word in sight.

Meanwhile, Damien Hirst is selling butterfly-adorned deckchairs and – mid-life crisis alert! – skull-print hoodies at Other Criteria. Even enfants terribles, it seems, grow up to enjoy the sedate pleasures of afternoon tea and sunbathing in the garden, as their retirement nest eggs grow and grow. Just one request, Tracey, please don't diversify into bed linen.