Don's diary

March 8, 1996

SATURDAY. Hateful rain sheets down. Still, set off for Oxford to visit friend's daughters, one reading chemistry and the other English. Both have college rooms that are quite palatial compared to another friend in a London student hall.

MONDAY. Review weekend press cuttings. Glad that the piece targeted for The Observer got in, but a bit miffed that Herculean efforts to provide The Independent with information were in vain.

Look at our plans for who will do what in preparation for the Higher Education Funding Council for England allocations on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Radio 4 is preparing a series of programmes but wants the grassroots feel and non-received pronunciation voices to give personal accounts of working in a changing world of higher education. Will have to be tactful setting up this lot.

Try to snatch back the half-day annual leave lost last Monday when I was called in to deal with Shephard's announcement of the Dearing review, but get waylaid by calls. Manage to get away an hour before time and drop off gear for an American student friend at a nearby hall of residence. Here Pounds 60 per week gives you a bare-bricked room with wardrobe, basin and desk. She can walk to the LSE within half an hour, so saves on travel. It's a far cry from Oxford.

TUESDAY. Rush to office to collect a few papers, before dashing to offices of the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals for the liaison meeting I was asked to set up for the "information officers" of the 12 organisations participating in the joint campaign against the budget cuts to higher education.

Together we represent students, employers, staff and institution heads. We try to sort out the best ways of communicating among each other and how to work out an overall campaign timetable.

Recognise the need for each organisation to encourage constituent groups to form local teams and work together, but knowing that what happens at local level is greatly determined by attitudes, personalities and previous experiences.

Our article in The Observer on what the Budget cuts were doing to science and research has stimulated enquiries from BBC2's The Money Programme which wants to look at science funding. Lengthy conversation with local representative quoted in the article on how to protect individuals. Researchers are too scared to come forward lest they are seen as troublemakers and their contracts do not get renewed. We discuss whether there are ways of cooperating with the television producer while keeping identities confidential.

The day ends with two further meetings on an extra-curricular subject. As a volunteer with my local Victim Support scheme, I promote the charity in Kensington and Chelsea. We recently had a page feature in the local rag for Victim Support week. Our group has a great discussion about how the story of the victim who talked to the paper was only arranged once confidentiality was assured.

On the way home go to visit a young woman whose mother was murdered last August. We have seen quite a bit of each other over the months, including a harrowing day at the Old Bailey, but her current worry is Mother's Day in a few weeks' time.

WEDNESDAY. Swim at local baths which run child-free sessions. The changing rooms are a leveller. I often wonder if the talk in the men's locker room is similar. Do they chat in the same way and complain among themselves that the showers are too hot? Apart from senior citizens, the largest identifiable group of swimmers is educationists; I know the names of half the school refusers in the area, and which institutions are viewed by staff as the pits.

At the office, check the spiel from the studios to be used to sell our pitch to local radio stations for Friday morning. There is the usual tussle on language and choice of words. Those that flow effortlessly from the "politically correct" pen of a union official are not those that necessarily appeal to a local radio journalist.

Friend rings to say that she has acquired three free tickets to the National Theatre production of The Way of the World. It is brilliant.

THURSDAY. Start with an Alexander Technique lesson: an attempt to remedy 50 years of body abuse.

Action stations to collect the disk from the Higher Education Funding Council, and join colleagues with number crunching to produce comment for the Evening Standard and the Press Association and prepare a news statement to take to press briefing at noon.

My cynicism recognises the artificiality of this whole process. The press are after a "story" but the news was "new" last November when the Chancellor meted out his poisonous potion to higher education with a mega Pounds 300 million cut to higher education funding. Months on, the funding councils are merely apportioning the shrinking pie. How different could the slice sizes be? Yet the education correspondents know this story will get past their news editors.

FRIDAY. Early rise to join our president at 7am on commercial radio to broadcast the HEFCE allocations and the implications for universities. With one in six of the population now linked to higher education through being a student or staff member, or through a family connection, this has to be an issue worth a pause over the cornflakes.

MONICA HICKS Press officer, Association of University Teachers.

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