Don's Diary

June 21, 1996

SATURDAY. Up early to catch the train and tube from Northampton to Heathrow, thence to Budapest for a five-day visit to the Kecskemet Union of Colleges and Research (teacher education; engineering; horticulture). Kecskemet is a town of 120,000 people about 50 miles from Budapest. I am going in my capacity as staff and educational developer.

It is 35 degrees on arrival. My hosts, Marta Dovala and Istvan Molnar, meet me and we drive to Kecskemet. Marta has been interviewing students for a new course in primary school teaching to be taught every other weekend in Budapest by Kecskemet staff: a necessary initiative for income generation. We discuss the application to the World Bank for several million dollars, to be handed in on Monday. This is serious money for a serious project. Would I check the English version of the application tomorrow? Reshaping and expanding higher education here is exciting stuff.

SUNDAY. Out at 7.45am with my hosts for a look round the market and an al fresco breakfast of black pudding, sausage, pork ribs, mustard, gherkins, peach juice and coffee. Delicious. By 11am the draft application to the World Bank arrives from the translator for tidying up, which takes until 4pm. The project is intriguing: Kecskemet was a Soviet garrison town. The troops went home in 1991 leaving a barracks of 180 buildings on the edge of town. The training college is housed in buildings now being reclaimed by the Reformed Church, so they have to move.The barracks is an ideal campus, with less than ideal buildings. If the three town colleges combine they could eventually become a university of 5,000 students (Hungary's population is 10 million ). This is the subject of the application.

We finish the day with a walk around a lovely but deserted leisure area and swimming pool; deserted, because too few can afford to visit it and no one can afford to run it.

MONDAY. We have breakfast in the college refectory. We discuss my job in educational and staff development: the concept is new in Hungary, and Marta sees an essential role here, given the enormous changes in motion.

I read and comment on a feasibility study of a group of directors of American community colleges on the future of higher education development in the town. Guess which model they recommend. I make a few cautionary observations but am generally supportive. In the afternoon I have time to do some Nene College work.

TUESDAY. Today is the main event of my visit. I am to give a workshop on teaching more students with less money. I can list 12 cardinal issues which apply both in Hungary and the United Kingdom, including a diversity of students, constrained resources and student fee contributions, emphasis on the economic purposes of higher education and the issue of too many graduates in the future.

Course teams here have limited freedom to adjust the syllabus and contact hours are fixed at 28 hours per week. But we make headway with the point that the nature of each of those contact hours is not specified, and move on to models of curriculum design and specific aspects of implementation etc. The temperature soars, sorely testing concentration, and we round off.

In the afternoon we visit the "barracks" - a visionary and inspiring project: turning a major asset from military to educational purposes - swords into ploughshares and all that. A quarter of the buildings will become private, income-generating apartments; there will be a lorry park and facilities servicing the adjacent M5 international trunk route to Turkey - also a big source of income; a huge sports complex; student hostels to be used in summer as hotels etc., etc. and two 600-seat lecture theatres. Afterwards a drinks reception, then a visit to an almost-complete, new county library in the town. Breathtaking. Quite extraordinarily imaginative -children's area, extensive computer data access facilities, music listening facilities, studio, private studies, reference rooms, refreshment area - all in a spacious, light and airy building. I try to convey to Marta my enthusiasm for the potential of collaboration with it.

WEDNESDAY. Spend the morning drinking in the sunshine in the delightful town centre and shopping. In the afternoon we drive out to Opusztaszer national memorial park. I learn that the chieftain, Arpad, had led the Magyars from the east and settled the territory "officially" in 896ad, all depicted vividly on a 1,600 square metres, circular panoramic canvas prepared for the millennial celebrations in 1896 and recently restored. All sorts of jurtas (a sort of wigwam) and houses showed living conditions in the past.

THURSDAY. Departure day. By the time my plane takes off the weather is stoking up. Never mind, it will be cooler in London: it is 30 degrees centigrade when I arrive. On her way home from work my administrator brings me four days' post and a parcel of marking. I do some weeding in the evening sunshine, ruminating about the volume of work to catch up with. Is it worth going away?

Director of the office for educational and staff development, Nene College of Higher Education, Northampton.

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