World Academic Database Macmillan, +44 171 881 80; macdir@ macmillan.co.uk, in association with the International Association of Universities Pounds 225 +VAT ISBN 0333 664442 Dual use DOS/ Windows CD
This disc falls firmly into the fat-book-makes-slim-CD school of digital media publishing. And while the World Academic Database might seem likely to be less gripping than earlier examples such as Who's Who and the Dictionary of National Biography, a few minutes with this disc will show that it too combines being an essential reference work with tempting scope for time-wasting, the sure sign of a useful CD-Rom.
The data in WAD comes from two hefty works of reference, the International Handbook of Universities and the World List of Universities and other Institutions of Higher Education, both produced by the International Association of Universities in Paris. The disc also contains detailed data from TRACE, a database set up by the IAU to produce internationally comparable data on higher education.
Going to the main menu of WAD produces four options - educational systems, institutions, credentials or a full text search. The full text option might look like something of a blunt instrument, but has its uses for tasks like tracing international collaboration. Ask it for Harvard and it produces the record for the noted university near Boston, but also finds the word in other places including a full list of United States universities, and the records for many other universities, including Keio in Japan and Rene Descartes in Paris, which have links with Harvard. The data on educational systems is also very complete, detailing formal structures and containing a lot of useful numbers.
However, it is the credentials section which is likely to be the saviour of many a baffled admissions tutor, listing as it does the exact meaning of the many certificates and diplomas with which one might be faced. How impressed should you be with an Argentinian profesorado? It turns out to be a secondary school teaching certificate. How about an Internatura from Armenia? That is equivalent to a master's degree.
What about that Bahraini with his Tawjihiya? That is a school leaving certificate that qualifies one for university entrance. In Austria, a diplom is a four-year university degree while a habilitation is a postdoctoral qualification. All in all, it is hard to avoid the impression that the British disease of credentialitis is also rampant across the globe.
In Norway, you can choose between a two-semester mellomfag and the full three-semester gronnfag. Elsewhere there are fine gradations of qualification that you might find it handy to be able to distinguish.
Also useful are the details of 10,484 institutions, although here the level of detail varies from address, phone number and name of principal to full staff listings and course data. The disc offers the option of choosing between the IAU database and TRACE. Under Haifa, for example, the first gives bare details of the university while the second has a lot of information on its Jewish/Arab Centre and other intriguing specialist centres.
This disc will allow searches using Boolean operators, wild cards and other devices. If it has a drawback, it is that the data mostly refers to 1994/95, although international data gathering and checking probably does not allow anything much more rapid.
But it will answer plenty of questions that might otherwise have used up hours of work - and free a few more inches of shelf space when you throw the book out.
Martin Ince is deputy editor of The THES.