Diary

19th September 1997 at 01:00
Tony Blair and David Blunkett beware. History warns that imposing tuition fees on university students could be a terrible mistake.

Take the example of Peru, a nation famous for many nice things - including Paddington Bear - and one particularly nasty thing, the terrorist organisation Shining Path, which has been responsible for a number of atrocities. It has just come to Carborundum's attention that this less than delightful group originated in the 1970s as a student movement protesting against the introduction of fees at the public university.

What's more, this is not the only example of what can happen when students become very cross indeed. Julian Schweitzer, the director of Human Development at the World Bank, warned a conference last week that students had often been "deadly opponents" to governments which wanted to make changes.

In Mali, in 1991, a mob of angry students killed the Minister of Education. The following year, students in Mexico shut down the largest campus in Latin America to protest against planned tuition increases.

In this laid-back land of ours, only about 40 students protested against the Government's imposition of fees at a recent conference organised by the university bigwigs. But from little acorns . . .

Mind you, the Brits do tend to do things differently. There are now no fewer than six ex-presidents of the National Union of Students - including hard-line Home Secretary Jack Straw, who even managed to attract the attentions of the Secret Service - in the Government.

They may not echo the policies they pursued when they were student activists but Douglas Trainer, the current NUS president, is not pessimistic. "It does make us the fourth largest party in the Commons."

An excited press release spurts out of the Chateau Carborundum fax machine from the Essex metropolis of Thurrock - famous chiefly for the Dartford Tunnel and the Lakeside Shopping Centre. Apparently, school governors from all over the borough rushed to meet the influential figure of Graham Lane - Labour education chairman of the Local Government Association - when he descended to discuss the Government's education White Paper.

Little did organiser Margaret Kirkwood know to what lengths Mr Lane would go to get out of London for the evening. She tells us: "Graham Lane sent his deputy to see the education minister, Stephen Byers, instead of him - so that he could come to Thurrock. After the meeting he said it had been the best meeting on the White Paper he had been to and he was very glad of his decision to come."

Carborundum, speechless, calls St Graham of Thurrock. As always, the truth is slightly more mundane.

"What really happened was that I was supposed to be speaking at a White Paper launch in Durham with Steve Byers and Jeremy Beacham, but that would have meant getting on a train at 7.30am and still not being back in time for Thurrock, so I sent Dave Wilcox instead."

Not exactly standing up the minister in favour of the good burghers of Essex, then. But the relationship of Mr Lane and Thurrock appears to be a mutual fan club. "It was a very successful meeting," he gushes. "They're a new authority and very keen, and we managed to reassure some grant-maintained heads."

On the subject of trips to exotic climes, Roger Ward - the permatanned chief executive of the Association of Colleges - found himself weekending on Teesside last week, at a Saturday morning think-in at a local college.

Diary readers may be pleased to learn that Roger - famous for handmade suits and shirts, understated jewellery and once having had a black fridge in his office containing nothing but Champagne - has not entirely embraced the quiet life. He assures us that he will still be telling strangers the time, despite the attentions of London's notorious Rolex-snatching thieves. Indeed, Roger is still keen to flash his two-tone timepiece in any pictures. "What other point is there in having it?" he enquired.

Enid Blyton's centenary year feels at least five years long. After the blue plaques and plaudits of the summer comes the publication of the centenary conference papers by Roehampton Institute's children's literature research centre.

Last week Shirley Hughes, creator of the eternally four-year-old charmer Alfie, enjoyed the limelight on a Blyton scale when four rival publishers co-operated to throw a party for her 70th birthday. In between tributes from Posy Simmonds and Margaret Meek of the London Institute, Shirley told the guests that she had once turned down a commission to draw the Famous Five. Did she think they would never catch on?

Ian McMillan, poet-in-residence at Barnsley Football Club (honest), is still sniggering about an irony-free notice spotted when visiting a school recently. "Our Lady of Sorrows - Fun Day this Saturday."

Carborundum

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