Let me not answer that

March 26, 1999

Every good civil servant knows there is always a way of avoiding a direct answer to a direct question, and when this principle is put into practice it doesn't matter much what the question is. Nevertheless, it is advisable to remember the question when providing an answer. Roger Brown, principal of Southampton Institute, apparently overlooked this point when he was grilled this week by the Public Accounts Committee's no-nonsense chairman, David Davis, over the early retirement of former institute director David Leyland. Asked to start again during his reply to a tricky line of inquiry, Dr Brown confessed: "I am sorry, I don't remember the question." Mr Davis bluntly pointed out: "But you were half way through answering it."

One rule for v-cs

In these days of Nolan-style openness and accountability, vice-chancellors have been persuaded to declare their earnings. But some are wondering why the same principle apparently does not apply to one of higher education's key agencies, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The UCAS 1998 consolidated accounts give no details of the renumeration of UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins. An UCAS spokesman explained: "Our consolidated accounts are compiled in accordance with the Companies Act, which does not require the disclosure of staff salaries."

Antidote to depression

Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology as applied to medicine at the University of London, believes Britain is still a nation of two cultures and successfully argued as much in a recent Radio 4 debate. But Wolpert's own idea of culture is eclectic. One moment he is debating the arts/science divide with Susan Greenfield, the next reading from his book Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression, the next settling down in front of his favourite television programme - Sex and the City.

We salute feisty Beloff

News of Lord Beloff's death this week calls for a note of salutation from The THES. His contempt for new universities and his attempts to show how it should be done by founding the University of Buckingham may not be regarded as a conspicuous success, but his doughty fighting in the press and in the House of Lords for the protection of academic freedom in the 1989 Great Education Reform Act should be remembered with gratitude. We should all be so fiesty in our 80s.

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