24th October 1997, 1:00am



Poor old Roger Ward. Not even 50 lecturers can be found in the length and breadth of the land who will confess to as much as a sneaking admiration for him. The larger-than-life supremo of the Association of Colleges thought it would be a wheeze to get himself nominated for the general secretaryship of the lecturers' union, NATFHE.

Mysteriously, however, his aspirations failed to get even a single supporting signature from rank-and-file members of the right-on siblinghood. One can only suppose they remembered the wave of redundancies, worsening conditions and increased workloads which are perceived as having accompanied Roger's reign at the AOC and its predecessor, the College Employers' Forum.

Still, it's not all bad news in the Ward camp this week, as the Association of Colleges moved from its backstreet offices off Oxford Street in central London to a swanky new suite on the fifth floor of the landmark Centre Point tower (for years decried as a white elephant), just above the Confederation of British Industry and several floors below higher education funding chiefs. Handily, Centre Point is only a five-minute walk away from Roger's favourite lunchtime haunt in the trendy part of Soho.

His office is not all luxury, however, affording as it does Mr FE a panoramic view of the Ann Summers shop across the road.

And in an end-of-an-era move, the new office will be alcohol free.

Roger's trademark black fridge (sometimes known to contain the odd bottle of Pol Roger) has made the trip to the new office, but has not even been plugged in. The no-booze rule has lasted a full seven days. Roger insists it will continue, but since Carborundum is considering denying him the oxygen of publicity for a few weeks, don't hold your breath for the outcome.

Who runs Britain? Tony Blair? The Cabinet? No. MPs? Certainly not. Labour spin doctors?They only like to think so.

No, a visit by Carborundum to the Mother of Parliaments - currently in recess - reveals where true power lies. It is with the mighty tea ladies who stalk the Commons.

All discussion of the nation's finances, education policy and other matters of import must stop at 4.30pm sharp - if you're sitting in the Commons canteen, at least. At that hour, the tea ladies come round, snatch away the half-finished mugs and turn the lights out.

MPs, who think they might have a modicum of say in the way the nation is run, can only mutter miserably, heads bowed and complaints unheeded. It's a hard life.

Academics returning late home from the library or the pub had better look out. Newly ennobled barrister Helena Kennedy QC is gunning for at least some of them.

Pressed by MPs on the education select committee about whether she wanted ministers to cut university budgets to pay for lifelong learning, she said: "It became very clear that people were thinking that I was going to mug dons and remove very large sums of money from them. While there are some of them I would very much like to do that to I did make it very clear that I was very conscious of the problems in higher education."

Conscious of at least one alarmed expression in the room, she moved to swiftly reassure the only Don present - Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster - that he was definitely not on her hit list.

We members of Her Majesty's Press are accustomed - like teachers - to having opprobrium heaped on our humble heads for just doing our job. But we do perform useful functions in society, as the following story serves to illustrate.

Carborundum was diligently ringing round local authorities this week to establish what sort of literacy targets had been set for them in the latest government wheeze.

For some obscure reason, the Ministry didn't do it the easy way, by simply issuing a list of authorities and their targets: instead it summoned delegates to a day of speeches and posh sarnies at London's terrorist-attack-proof QEII centre, with a little brown envelope for each of them containing the crucial bit of information.

Imagine Carborundum's surprise, therefore, when the Leeds city press officer called back giggling. "You are never going to believe this," she said. Yes? "We had two people there and they went off without their little brown envelope. They forgot to pick it up, and we've had to ask for it to be faxed to us. It's a good job you rang, or we wouldn't have known what the target was."

We like the ad in Roar, the organ of the students' union at King's College London, which thunders: "Regional demonstration against tuition fees, Saturday 1st November," before adding in a meeker typesize the plea: "Please turn up so we don't look stupid again."

A pity that it doesn't bother to reveal where said event will take place.

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