Armageddon arrives

October 10, 1997

THE University of Armageddon opens its doors today. Its mission? To compile a catalogue of the innermost secrets of university life, the catastrophes and cock-ups which have shaken the foundations of some of our oldest institutions and put an end to many a promising career.

For now the kind of real-life crises that might once have been whispered about in the darkest corridors of academe are to be laid bare for all to see.

Aside from the dubious pleasure to be taken in the distress of others there is a real purpose behind the University of Armageddon.

"Few universities are perfect models of seamless organisation, cost-effective management and academic probity," says John Wakeford, the man behind the idea.

Indeed most universities have faced if not ruination, then the kind of nightmare scenarios that nervous breakdowns are made of. "Sharing accounts of such incidents will enable future generations to draw benefit from the mistakes of their predecessors," says Professor Wakeford.

His job over the coming months is to collect previously unpublicised misadventures - sources and their institutions are strictly anonymous - and present them on Armageddon's World Wide Web pages.

Professor Wakeford is head of independent studies at Lancaster University. That he should have dreamt up Armageddon is an irony which will not be lost on his colleagues elsewhere. For Lancaster itself has been rocked by a financial horror story which saw it facing technical insolvency two years ago.

The benefit of hindsight is what the University of Armageddon offers. And good use can be made of real-life dramas. "People love reading about others' crises but actually they are a very good management tool," Professor Wakeford says. "The secret is to get really involved with the story."

That has been his teaching philosophy for years. For 37 years, to be precise, ever since he first walked out of a classroom and left the students to get on with learning without waiting for their teacher to tell them what to do. "Actually it was rather embarrassing," he remembers. "I bumped into my professor who asked me why I wasn't teaching."

Of course he was teaching in the best way he knows how. This technique of letting them get on with it will now be applied at the new Missenden Centre for Development of Higher Education.

As head of the new centre, Professor Wakeford kicks off with a seminar series on alternative futures for universities after Dearing sponsored by The THES.

Working under Chatham House rules, participants will meet in syndicates and try their hand at problem-solving using real case study material. "It's so much more convincing," he says.

The University of Armageddon can be found on http://www.missendencentre.co.uk/missenden.htm/

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