Don's Diary

October 26, 1995

WEDNESDAY. New Labour is in town. The bars of the Grand and the Metropole are thronged with politicians, journalists, lobbyists, fixers and spin doctors. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals is lobbying. I and two other vice chancellors are dining with Bryan Davies, MP, the shadow minister for higher education, and several of his colleagues from the Commons and Lords. We press for a fairer student loan scheme involving a tax or national insurance-linked repayment over a graduate's lifetime.

Labour is worried about the middle-class vote. We insist that increased student contributions go to improving the quality of education rather than relieving the Treasury of its responsibilities.

THURSDAY. In London for a meeting of Higher Education Funding Council for England's postgraduate education review panel, chaired by Manchester's vice chancellor Martin Harris. I press for a guiding principle that all postgraduate programmes - masters, PhDs, certificates and diplomas - should be taught or supervised only by research active faculty or, in the case of professional and vocational qualifications, by faculty who continue to practise the relevant profession or vocation. I cannot see how education at this level can be based solely on textbooks or experience.

A fast drive back to Brighton to chair the last session of the South Africa Policy Dialogue at the Institute of Development Studies. Thabo Mbeki, the deputy president of South Africa, is speaking when I arrive. He has brought with him a group of senior civil servants, from Trade, Industry, Public Works, Transport and Finance. All are Sussex graduates. Lively exchanges take place between them and the senior British business executives and civil servants, who include Eddie George, the governor of the Bank of England. At one point dialogue starts to slide into negotiation, more properly conducted in Brussels than Brighton. In the evening a reception for 900 new international students. Is there a Thabo Mbeki among them?

FRIDAY. A proud day for Sussex. We confer an honorary degree on Mr Mbeki, who was a student here in the 1960s. Lord Attenborough delivers a moving oration. Mr Mbeki recalls the famous march on London which he believes was an important factor in preventing the execution of Nelson Mandela. Few of those Sussex staff and students on the march could have believed that 30 years on they would be standing for the liberation anthem at a Congregation to honour one of their own as an architect of a new, democratic, multiracial South Africa.

In the evening I open the extension to our bookshop. We are one of the few universities to run our own.

SATURDAY/SUNDAY. Welcome Weekend. Students, of all ages, with parents, children and friends populate the campus. Susan and I invite parents and friends for tea. As parents of recently-graduated twin daughters, we can sympathise with their concerns. We tell them about our employment office which helps students find jobs to supplement the grant. As a guideline, employment of up to 15 hours a week ought not to seriously interfere with their studies. We have been able to house all first-years requesting university accommodation. A good start to the term.

MONDAY. As usual a hectic day. Myself, the pro-vice chancellors and senior administrators meet to plan the week and the month ahead. We deal with crises, discuss the business of the coming term and commission policy papers. A special meeting of planning committee approves a Pounds 10 million loan for further capital works - an extension to the library, new laboratories and refitting the arts buildings to accommodate the new graduate research centres. The meetings are interspersed with "welcome" talks to groups of new students.

In the evening, a seminar to launch Engaging with Difference, edited by Mary Stuart and Alistair Thomson, which describes the experiences of our centre for continuing education in providing educational opportunities for those who have "missed out".

TUESDAY. I say goodbye to my daughter, Kate, who is off to the Free University in Berlin for a year, and welcome a group of German churchmen and women, invited by Bishop Ian Cundy of Lewes. While, at Blackpool, Michael Portillo is stirring up anti-European sentiment, the rest of us are getting on with the task of building a multicultural world. This year is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and in the evening, Richard Jolly, deputy director of Unicef and one of the founders of the Institute of Development Studies, addresses a large audience. It is fashionable to criticise the UN and there is interminable debate on reform. "If the UN had one dollar to spend for every word written about UN reform, world poverty would become a distant memory," says Jolly.

WEDNESDAY. The term begins. I give the first lecture on the "Idea of Europe" course to first-year majors in the School of European Studies. I talk about the Roman empire. Under the Romans, for the first and only time in its history, Europe was united. A common language, a single currency and free trade. Is there a future Portillo in the audience?

Vice chancellor of the University of Sussex.

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