Statistics have a way of tripping up their users just when it appears they are being most helpful. Higher education minister Tessa Blackstone caused confusion in the House of Lords last month when she said figures from the Association of University Teachers showed academic salaries had increased by 12 per cent in real terms since 1981.
Twelve per cent? queried the AUT. The last the union heard, it was 1.1 per cent. After checking her notes, the baroness was forced to agree, writing both to the AUT and Lord Shore of Stepney, who had also raised the matter, to apologise for the error.
Anyone concerned that key government policy may have been affected by such mistaken statistics, never fear. The government's preferred figure, based on the New Earnings Survey, was 18 per cent anyway.
The University of Warwick has linked up with the Unseen University in Ankh Morpork, Discworld. Ian Stewart, professor of mathematics, and Jack Cohen, reproductive biologist, were this week made honorary wizards of the Unseen University, while Terry Pratchett, bestselling author of the Discworld series, was made a doctor of letters at Warwick University.
The Unseen University describes itself as "the Disc's premier and most prestigious institution in the training of wizards". "Warwick is in the top five research institutions in the league tables, and it is quite nice to be paired up with the leading Discworld institution," said a Warwick University spokesman.
The honorary graduates have written a book, The Science of Discworld, bringing scientific concepts to Pratchett's readership.
Once students used to be young. Now they just learn about it. The University of Teesside has introduced a new degree in "youth studies", examining what it means to be young in the new millennium, including modules on crime, use of drugs and the place of young people in society. The university hopes it will appeal not only to those who actually will be 18 or so in the new millennium but also mature students, presumably wanting to understand what is going on in the minds of their fellow learners.