Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Thatcherism Goes to College still quoted after 20 years

I was absolutely gob-smacked to find that my book, Thatcherism Goes to College, is still being quoted (let alone read) almost 20 years after it appeared, and by somebody only just out of college herself. An October 2008 article by Laurie Penny in still relatively cool leftie magazine Red Pepper quotes my book.

The function of a degree has perceptibly shifted from a rigorous course of academic and intellectual training to a necessary ticket into a certain class of ‘graduate’ professions – many of which would not have required a degree even ten years ago. As this shift has occurred, colleges, departments and university careers services have aggressively pursued a corporate agenda.

In 1989, Matthew Salusbury observed in Thatcherism Goes to College that ‘Bristol University’s history department was proud of the number of bankers and financial service personnel they had produced, using the fact to justify their continued existence. They would not have recognised the argument that a life in the stock market was as much a waste of a history degree as a lifetime’s unemployment.’ Two decades on...
Read the original Red Pepper article. The quote comes just after the 'Corporate agenda' sub-heading.

There's a surprising number of copies of Thatcherism... on Amazon, for up to £60. Email me if you want one new for £2 plus postage.

George Young MP (Con) is not such a big fan of the book, as is evidenced by this extract from Hansard, in which he fails to get very far with his proposal to make the taxpayer foot the bill for MPs' actions for libel and 'malicious falsehood'. If, as he claims, any 'costs were paid', I think my publisher would have told me about it. Curiously, his speech came years after the incident, at about the time I started coming into contact with Reclaim The Streets. What a strange coincidence.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Hoe Dieren op Ijlanden Evolureen (How Animals Evolve on Islands)

Here's a sneak preview of a page from Hoe Dieren op Ijlanden Evolureen (How Animals Evolve on Islands), a Dutch language book due out in January 2009. My source didn't tell me the authors or publisher, but they did tip me of that one of my pictures was on page 16. This is by arrangement with me, as part of a swaps deal in which I got a licence to use some copyrighted images from the Athens Museum of Paleaontology in my forthcoming Fortean Times article on pygmy elephants.

My pic at the bottom of the page shows molars (teeth) from prehistoric adult pygmy elephants in the Bate Collection in the Natural History Museum London, from Malta and Cyprus. The text looks at the reasons for their extinction.

Who's laughing now?

While on the subject of troubled institutions, here's a photo I took in (for them) happier times of the dealers gathered at the window of the Lehman Brothers London office, having a giggle at the Mayday 2007 anti-capitalist protesters gathered in the square outside. The Lehman Bros. dealers seemed much amused at the anti-capitalists, who were protesting what they saw as the unsustainable nature of the financial system. Who's laughing now?

That's the wonder of a Woolies Christmas

As you can see from this Woolworths sign for Woolworths Glastonbury, taken in 2006, at least one branch of Woolies had been in a bad way for some time. So it came as no surprise to hear they were being sold off for a quid. I immediately went down to my nearest one (a lot further away than my nearest branch was a year ago) to circle vulture-like around their special offers. Apart from a lame 'three for two' deal, there was nothing much to write home about in terms of price-slashing.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

From the archives of Fortean Times

Juan R Posadas

This article first appeared in Fortean Times of August 2003

Juan R Posadas was no ordinary Trotskyite; socialists from outer space, the benefits of nuclear war and communication with dolphins were all part of his revolutionary programme. Matt Salusbury tells the story of one of the World’s strangest political thinkers... Read this article on archive.org, which saved a copy of the now taken-down article from the Fortean Times website.

This links to "Posadism for Beginners", an overview of the ideology that mixed socialism and ufology in equal measures.

Weird Weekend 2007

Matt Salusbury reports on the Centre for Fortean Zoology’s annual cryptozoological gathering... Read this article on the Fortean Times website

This page will be updated shortly, and I will add the complete "Trots in Space" with never-before-seen photos, links and updates.

My articles from New Statesman

Caught on camera

This article first appeared in New Statesman of 15 September 2003

"I am a peaceful protester. I have no criminal record. Yet the police have been photographing me on a regular basis for the past four years". By Matt Salusbury
''What, you mean the police can take your picture in the street, just like that?" That's the usual reaction when I show friends the photo accompanying this article. It was taken by the Metropolitan Police's Public Order Intelligence Unit in January 2002. Although the police have been photographing me on average once every two months since 1999... Read this article on the New Statesman website

Photo not yet available, still clearing this with its copyright owners, the Metropolitan Police!

Give and thou shalt create havoc

This article first appeared in New Statesman Christmas issue, 13 December 2004

A man hands out gold coins, another throws around yen bills. Giving things away has become the ultimate act of subversion, argues Matt Salusbury

Fundraisers used to rattle a tin; today, we are more likely to encounter organised gangs of "charity muggers" intent on signing us up for tax-deductible direct debit giving. Old-style, spur-of-the-moment donations are no longer considered effective enough, and in August the Economist reported that Westminster Council denounces charities that "support chaotic lifestyles" by giving away soup to the homeless.
Yet giving, far from becoming better organised, may be taking even more instinctive and bizarre forms. Reports continue of strangers handing out money in the street randomly to passers-by. Read this article on the New Statesman website

Unsocial seating arrangements

This article first appeared in New Statesman of 1 March 2004, and broke the story of the European Social Forum coming to London's Alexandrea Palace

The European Social Forum is coming to London - all being well. This "meeting of movements" - the local version of the World Social Forum - brings together conventional campaigners such as trade unionists and the sexier "new social movements", such as anti-globalisers and feminists. Last November's forum in Paris pulled in 50,000.
London's bid, supported by the mayor, Ken Livingstone, is likely to be approved when the forum's European assembly meets on 7 March. The probable date is October and the main venue, with its plenary events and international activist stars, is likely to be Alexandra Palace. But there will also be 300-odd informal networking events on the periphery.
Some Londoners see it as a small-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympics, showing that the capital can cope with a big event and a sizeable influx of visitors.
But the left being the left, the bid to host the forum could yet come unstuck in the face of internecine squabbles... Read this article on the New Statesman website

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

You can see my regular news articles and features in The Freelance and English Language Gazette. You can sign up to the English Language Gazette digital edition here. It's free, but you have to register.

English for Starbucks

This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, November 2008

PRODUCT PLACEMENT has entered Chinese self-study EFL. This latest wheeze from free online internet-based EFL provider Speak2me uses cartoon ‘virtual tutor’ Lucy to introduce its students to the English language. ‘Conversational advertising’ allows ‘corporate partners’ (advertisers) to construct English lessons through which students learn English within the
context of the client’s product or service. Examples on Speak2me’s short demo video include Lucy, dressed in a Starbucks uniform, kicking off a lesson (set in a Starbucks) with ‘Hello! Welcome to Starbucks.’
Two less frightening fictional Chinese EFL teaching characters from the very different People’s Republic of the early 1990s are making a surprise nostalgia-fuelled comeback. Loveable goody-goody boy and girl companions Li Lei and Meimei featured in the state-approved national High School English Textbook (People’s Education Press in association with Longman Press, 1990) and were familiar faces for over six million students. Now Li Lei and Meimei smile out from a variety of merchandise featuring their images – stickers, badges, T-shirts, school bags, badges and other items that are part of a sudden youth craze sweeping
a 21st-century China that Li Lei and Meimei would scarcely recognise.

English retreats in India

This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, October 2008

English continues to play a controversial role in the regional politics of India. The civic authorities of the city of India’s financial
capital Mumbai (Bombay) have suddenly abandoned the official use of English and Hindi in favour of Marathi, the local language and an official tongue in the surrounding province of Maharashtra. Marathi is now the medium for ‘all official documentation’ in Mumbai, a city of 12 million people. The change from English and Hindi was enacted in August by Mayor Shubha Raul and his Shive Sena party, which holds a majority in the municipal corporation that governs the city. Mumbai’s vast business community were reportedly furious. The official formal version of written Marathi that will be used is unfamiliar to many of the language’s native speakers in Mumbai, who speak a very different vernacular version of Marathi and do most of their reading and writing in English or Hindi.
The police and the lower courts already operate in Marathi, but the higher courts and the state government will have to switch from using Hindi and English documents. The municipal corporation said that local government tenders and university-level training civil service training would stay in English. Citizens – many of them recent arrivals from around India – would be able to write to officials in English or Hindi, and their press conferences would remain trilingual.
The Mumbai-based Bollywood Indian film industry, the world’s biggest, increasingly recruits its movie stars from the Indian
diaspora. These actors often struggle to speak their lines in Hindi, and are given English-language scripts to read through at the casting stage.
Meanwhile, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the CNN/ IBN network has reported that members of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike party had attacked the office of state assembly member Derrick Fullinfaw after he addressed the assembly in English rather than the local language of Kannada. Assembly member Fullinfaw is an Anglo-Indian (of mixed British-Indian origin) and explained:‘I find it very difficult to speak in Kannada without any disrespect to the language. In fact my wife speaks excellent Kannada. If I knew Kannada I would have become a big leader in the state by now.’
The Karnataka assembly is located in Bangalore, world famous for its English language call centres. But the leader of the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike Anajanapa party was unforgiving, and warned: ‘If anyone speaks in any other language besides Kannada in the assembly, they will face the wrath of our group.’

Emirati salary disparity

This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, October 2008

Matt Salusbury

FOREIGN ACADEMICS teaching on English-medium degrees at a university in the
United Arab Emirates (UAE) have rejected a pay offer significantly below that being offered to Emirati staff (nationals of the UAE). According to UAE English language newspaper The National, Zayed University offered expatriate staff a 5 per cent pay rise, while Emirati academic staff are to receive a 29 per cent increase. Zayed University, founded in 1998, recently gained accreditation from the US Middle States Commission on Higher Accreditation, making it the first UAE federal higher education institution to be accredited by this body.
The National reports that there have already been resignations at UAE universities by expatriate staff over pay, and that the Federal National Council was warned at the beginning of 2008 of this trend. Minister of education Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak then advised the council that academics were leaving universities as pay rises were failing to keep pace with inflation, now at over 11 per cent.
A Gazette source in the UAE said that annual salaries for native English-speaking staff at some universities had doubled in less than two years, following a major walk-out by Canadian staff.
However, salaries for Emiratis have risen even more over that period.
In addition to the 5 per cent on offer, expats will receive a separate 400 Dirhams (£60) a month pay award to offset ‘the impact of inflation’, backdated to June 2008.
The Gazette’s sources in the UAE pointed out that expat staff have their
accommodation, airfares and school fees for their children paid by their employers under a separate arrangement, which does somewhat reduce the pay differential with Emiratis, who do not enjoy these perks. But the same source reported that there’s a policy of ‘Emiratisation’ of the universities, and claimed that non-Emiratis are passed over for promotion in favour of locals with insufficient qualifications and experience.
While the Gazette couldn’t find any specific reference to ethnicity in its
guidelines for accreditation, the Middle States Commission’s recent conference included talks on best practice in ‘changing demographics… issues of retention… enrolment
of men and women of colour, the need to adjust the curriculum in the face of an
increasingly global society’, ‘successful efforts to develop a diverse campus environment
’ and ‘a framework for encouraging diversity’.
Expat academics who talked to The National described the 5 per cent pay award as ‘a slap in the face’ and ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
Sheikh Nayhan, president of the UAE and ruler of Abu Dhabi, said he was looking into problems around pay awards for academic staff, and said: ‘Hopefully there will be a solution to this issue soon.’

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Pygmy elephants - talk from Weird Weekend 2008

My talk on pygmy elephants - on reports of modern sightings from Congo Brazzaville and Kerala, India, and the evidence from the fossil record - from the Centre for Fortean Zoology's Weird Weekend, August 18-20 2008. You'll need headphones or speakers and 59 minutes to see this CFZ TV film. (They gave me an hour, and I took 59 minutes. How's that for timing?)

See the film of my talk here.

Please don't be alarmed by the introduction in CFZ Richard Freeman's unique style, he does that to all Weird Weekend speakers!

There will be an article on pygmy elephants in Fortean Times before long.

Elephas tilensis, a five-foot fossil elephant from the island of Tilos, Greece, reconstruction in the Museum of Paleontology, University of Athens. Reproduced with their permission, © Museum of Paleontology, University of Athens/George Lyras

Tooth of a stegadon, an extinct branch of the elephant family, which lived in Asia, including dwarf varieties in Indonesia. Photo © Matt Salusbury

Near-complete adult molar tooth from a fossil pygmy elephant from Cyprus in the Natural History Museum's Bate Collection. By comparison, an adult African elephant equivalent would be breeze-block sized. Photo: © Matt Salusbury

Extract from a report on Weird Weekend 2008 for Fortean Times 242 November 2008 (p 42-43) by Gail Nina Anderson

“If any linking theme could possibly be winkled out from the diversity of topics throughtout the weekend, it would perhaps relate to interpretation/classification, providing new ways to approach established subjects or to reassess evidence. This led to some unexpected moments of interdisciplinary content, such as discussing the conventions of Ancient Egyptian tomb painting in relation to pygmy elephants following Matt Salusbury’s presentation on ‘Water Elephants of the Congo.’ The talk opened up a classic type of cryptozoological conundrum. The case for modern pygmy elephants (as distinct from now-extinct dwarf elephants) is reasonable and apparently well attested in both Africa and Asia by local tradition and modern observation. Then you get down to the nature of evidence and the questions start springing up, from the problems of scale in photographs to the bewitching possibility that reported tribes of pygmy elephants may just be gangs of teenagers living outside the herd. That some elephants are noticeably smaller is beyond doubt, but whether this indicates a distinct species, misidentified juveniles or interesting mutations hasn’t been established. There was a lingering touch of regret in Matt’s disclosure that even the pygmy ones wouldn’t be small enough to put on a lead and take on the bus. Any such cryptozoological wistfulness, however, was diffused after the talk by the (mature female) attendee who confided in me that she thought the speaker was a lovely boy ‘without and ounce of fat on him.’”

Migrants get to grips with the language of construction

This article first appeared in the building trade weekly Construction News of 12 August 2008. Read it on their website here

How can companies ensure foreign workers face up to the challenges of English and their new jobs? By Matt Salusbury

Employers, especially those in London, are increasingly recruiting migrant workers where English is not the first language. The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) report on skills shortages this spring said that Polish andother Eastern European migrants are beginning to return home in large numbers, with 18 per cent fewer Poles registered for work in the UK in 2007 than in the previous year.

The workforce will increasingly be made up of long-term migrants – those who have settled in the UK permanently, often after they or their family members arrived as refugees, and who have often been learning English as a Second Language (ESOL) for several years before entering the workforce.

The long haul

and Somali
migrant students from the ESOL Construction class finish off making an section of electrical trunking for their BTEC assigment in CONEL's workshop at its Seven Sisters site

Some sites in London employ as much as 40 per cent migrant labour. CIOB already notes that long-term migrants have a better chance of getting long-term work than short-term EU migrants from Eastern Europe.

While migrants can find work easily as low-grade labourers, and often have manual skills and experience, their lack of English is holding them back from developing their careers – becoming more skilled and qualified specialists, supervisors and managers. Several Kosovan and Somali builders on a College of North East London (Conel) course say they felt their lack of
English most keenly in marketing themselves to prospective employers and agencies, and in compiling CVs.

There are increasing demands for all builders to give evidence of their qualifications and skills in written assignments – which many native speakers find challenging enough. While teams on some sites are monolingual Polish, with only the foreman needing to speak English, the building sites of London in the near future will be multilingual, with everyone needing to keep raising the level of their English.

What specialist training in English for construction is there and where can employers go for advice on training?

Training on offer

More workshop practical work for the ESOL Construction students
There seems to be a fair amount of ESOL training around at the most basic level, such as health and safety, and preparation for Construction SkillsCertification Scheme card tests. Some are run by large companies, some on site and some that include among their students those who work for their subcontractors.

Bovis Lend Lease, for example, runs ESOL classes at its Canary Wharf training suite in London, in partnership with union Ucatt.

But the availability of training that combines ESOL and construction skills to take migrant builders to the next level is lacking. Several colleges say the funding regime changes so often it's almost impossible to keep pace and adapt.

This – and the scrapping of the BTEC qualification in favour of new types of diplomas – mean some colleges that have successfully run specialist ESOL construction courses still don't know if they can offer one this September. There's more work for industry lobbying organisations to be done in this

Aside from labour shortages in the future and, increasingly, quotas for ethnic minority workers written into big contracts, there are other reasons for employers to take on migrants who have English as a second language. Many are entering the (formal) workforce after two or three years of a full-time general ESOL course, at least 15 hours a week of ESOL, plus several hours of maths and IT.

These ESOL foundation courses have an emphasis on self-study and organisational skills, and they instil the importance of punctuality and self-discipline. Students need a record of 80 per cent attendance to graduate.

The students on Conel's ESOL construction course had all been through such a regime before arriving and they accepted that it would take a long time before they fully qualified. They somehow found time to study in their half-term alongside family commitments.

A CONEL electrician tutor confers with Sunilza, a Portuguese national of West African origin and the only female student on the ESOL Construction course

Some of the building lecturers on their course had initially been sceptical about a class of English-language learners, but were quickly converted and now regard the ESOL construction class as among their best students. These students "have got the manual skills, but language skills and lack of qualifications are holding them back," according to David Lambert, who heads Conel's construction department.

Taking the first step

Where should employers go for English language training for their workforce? The best first stop for advice is a local further education (FE) college. These will now have a dedicated employers' forum or employer relations team, with an employers' page linked from the homepage of their website. They can advise on possible funding such as Train to Gain, ESOL for Work and other initiatives.

These colleges run on a September-to-July teaching year, so after mid-September it will be harder for them to find the experienced teachers they would need for a specialist ESOL for construction course, but FE colleges are becoming better at starting up tailored workplace courses throughout the year.

If your workforce has a union rep, Ucatt can also work with you to set up a part-funded ESOL course delivered by an FE college.

A taste of construction

The BTEC Introduction to Construction with ESOL at the College of North East London is a taster course, exposing students to plumbing, electrical, painting and decorating work.

Assessments in literacy, communication and numeracy are the same as for nativespeaker English students, but with intensive teaching of the language students need to complete these paper-based elements of the course.

The ESOL tutor for the course also attends the students' workshop sessions so she can identify any language areas they need help with.

The students are mostly men from Kosovo, Albania, Somali, Eritrea and Ethiopia. When the current version of the course started three years ago, students were mostly older men who had practised a trade in their country of origin. But now students are younger and some of them are joining building businesses already started by relatives who have settled in the UK and retrained.

A second year student works
on his assignments
for the BTEC
Construction Diploma. Tasks for the workshop session are displayed on the workshop's whiteboard in the background

Text and images © Matt Salusbury 2008

Farewell to Colindale

This article first appeared in Fortean Times magazine, no 241, October 2008

Colindale is drab North London suburb that most Londoners, let alone people from out of town, would be hard-pressed to find a reason for visiting. For many, its only draw is the creaky 1930s building at 120 Colindale Avenue, which houses the British Library’s national newspaper collection.

Charles Fort, of course, spent way too much time in the British Library (BL) newspaper collection, back when it was still housed in the original British Library complex in Bloomsbury. That circular reading room, where Karl Marx also researched Das Kapital, is now a permanent exhibit surrounded by the British Museum, but don’t expect to find Fort on the list of famous BL ticket-holders displayed there. Shortly after Fort’s day, the newspaper collection shipped out to leafy Colindale.

Most researchers have a love-hate relationship with Colindale, and its reliance on the world’s least user-friendly format, microfilm. Most of the newspaper collection has ended up as fiddly spools of this albatross-like intermediate technology. The BL admits its surveys of Colindale users found their experience of Colindale was ‘very poor.’

But frustration with Colindale now turns to teary-eyed nostalgia, as the newspaper collection will soon be leaving. Its digital and microfilm elements will move to the excellent British Library site at St Pancras, close to the Channel Tunnel train terminal. Old-school physical periodicals on actual newspaper will go to 262 km of shelving in the ‘low-oxygen’ building in the BL’s Document Supply Centre in distant Boston Spa, up North in West Yorkshire. The BL press office scotched rumours put about by a marketing manager that the new facility’s automated newspaper handling machines looked like Daleks. (Source: author’s notes on ‘A Library for the 21st Century’ presentation by Barry Smith, senior marketing manager BL St Pancras, 21 April 2008)

Scanned or photocopied newspaper pages can be ordered (for a fee) but once the newspapers have moved to Boston Spa, you will only be able to get your hands on the actual physical copies there ‘in extreme circumstances’ and at least 24 hours notice. (Source: email from BL press office Lawrence Christiansen, 15 August 2008)

You won’t be able to walk into Boston Spa unannounced and expect newspapers to be delivered to the desk in as little as 45 minutes, as you currently can at Colindale. Once a newspaper is on microfilm and digital, you’ll usually have to go to St Pancras to see it on these media. An ever-shrinking proportion of newspapers will remain that they’ll let you actually handle at Boston Spa.

Why the move? 30,000 people trek out to Colindale annually, to hasten the destruction of the collection by handling it with their own fingers and thumbs. 15 per cent of the print collection has been ‘rendered unusable’ by those pesky readers handling it, with another 19 per cent of newspapers ‘high risk’ enough that they’ll will need withdrawing soon.

Fortean researchers have until December before the newspapers start their gradual migration out to St Pancras and Boston Spa. The collection will go within three years, and Colindale finally closes its creaky doors in 2012.

Colindale’s opportunities for local procrastinatory skiving for researchers will also be a thing of the past. Gone forever will be work avoidance breaks spent browsing in the Japanese pound shop in Colindale’s ‘Oriental City’ shopping centre and Hannants, Britain’s biggest aviation model shop nearby.

So be quick about it if you’ve ever wanted to hold in your hands the 13 March 1986 print edition of The Sun newspaper with the headline ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’. If you’re curious about whether the Westmoreland Gazette reported any pre-1950 sightings of giant eels on Lake Windermere, or have even wanted to check a century’s worth of North Wales newspapers for possible references to Llangorse Lake’s giant pike, do it now if you’re a technophobe or you dislike microfilm as much as I do.

One day the BL’s complete collection will be ‘digital surrogate’ - digitised copies of microfilm spools. Digital will hopefully get cheaper and easier, but until then, the BL will continue to transfer paper copies onto microfilm and (maybe) digitise these. They hope to have 3 million pages of microfilm digitised by the end of 2008, but with 750 million pages of the stuff at £1 a page to digitise, expect to be swearing at snapping, scratching and jamming microfilm for a long time to come. My favourite microfilm ritual is discovering a spool that’s never been ordered before, so you have to take it to the enquiries desk where they loudly ‘trepan’ a spindle hole into the spool using a hammer and a centre punch on the library floor.

By keeping its microfilming operation, the BL wisely hedges its bets about digital formats, pointing out that the long-term archival permanence of digital media like CD-Rom is still unproven. Most customers going to the BL still want to handle paper books and newspapers. And despite BL’s stated aim to get its customers to ‘migrate’ to digital document delivery, 70 per cent of all BL copying is delivered at the request of punters in paper format and sent by post.

© Copyright Matt Salusbury 2008

The excellent British Library St Pancras site. Photo: © Matt Salusbury

Note: since this article was written, the British Library has announced that it will also be moving its "low-use" science and humanities serials and monographs from its depot in Micawber Street (round the corner from the St Pancras site) to Boston Spa, starting in January. The BL's estimate of when the newspaper library collection will start to move is now being reported as "later in 2009". See www.bl.uk/collectionmoves for details.

See also British Library collections leave London from the Freelance of October 2008.

Goodbye mattsal dot com

It seems I have neglected to renew the domain on mattsal.com, my creaky old handwritten html seldom-updated website. Or more accurately, the guy who renews for me the domain when it comes up, which for historical reasons is in France, is no longer contactable. As it's much easier to put up showcase my published material on this blog, thats' what I'll be doing from now on. I'll be migrating what's on the website to the blog a bit at a time, and re-organising it as I go. Mattsal.com ('Matt' plus the beginning of the word 'Salusbury' up to the point beyond which people can't spell it) seems to have been bought by a cyber-squatter, who's put a picture of some corporate types in suits on it in the expectation of being able to sell it to the Mattell toy corporation. They're welcome to it.

Friday, 29 August 2008

New uni head in Iraq was British commander at battle of Basra


This article first appeared in English Language Gazette, August 2008

THE NEW head of Iraq’s first English-medium university is the British former commander who captured Basra in the coalition invasion of the country five years ago, reports Matt Salusbury.

At the start of the spring holiday, staff and students at Kurdistan University Hawler (KUH) – in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region – were introduced to their new rector, Lieutenant General Robin Brims (retired).

Although Brims has no academic degree, he does have an impressive CV in the field of leadership. In addition to capturing Basra in 2003, his other achievements include being deputy head of all coalition forces in Baghdad, army chief of staff in Northern Ireland, commander of an air mobile brigade in Bosnia in the 1990s and commander of the field army in the UK before retiring from the army in 2007. Brims won the Distinguished Service Order medal for his role in the battle of Basra.

Brims replaces Kurdish academic Professor Abbas Vali, KUH’s rector on its foundation with Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) funding in 2006. The university, the first founded in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, awards degrees accredited and monitored by the UK’s University of Bradford.

It primarily caters for Iraqi Kurdish students, but has kept to its quotas for Arab students from the rest of Iraq. Vali’s reputation as an academic at the UK’s University of Wales at Swansea and then at Bogazaci University in Istanbul helped attract many Kurdish and English speaking academics to work at KUH in the region’s capital Hawler (also known as Erbil). See the Gazette of July 2006 for a report on KUH’s foundation.

Dr Sarah Keeler, formerly of the KUH social sciences faculty, told the Gazette that she was among seven faculty members to resign in protest at what she saw as the sudden appointment and the questionable way the change of leadership was brought about. Brims said he was appointed on orders from the KRG prime minister’s office.

In his inaugural speech at KUH Brims admitted, ‘I am not an academic; indeed I did not attend a university myself... So why am I considered suitable for this task? The answer is simple. I have not spent the last 38 years leading the charge at the front of the troops. I have led by analysis, idea, planning and implementation.’ Other ex-military men have gone to become highly effective leaders in education, as in other areas of civilian management. But it’s not know whether there is a precedent for a commander of invading army to progress to running one of the country’s universities, especially after a command role in a conflict which, arguably, has still not ended.

© English Language Gazette 2008

Monday, 14 July 2008

Bike rammed into bin on Burleigh Road

A poignant scene on the streets of North London. I found this child's bike rammed into a bin.
Photo: copyright Matt Salusbury

Monday, 23 June 2008

Freak Show

Freak Show

One of several conjoined lamb skulls from the NHM collection. Photo: copyright Isabelle Merminod, all rights reserved.

A rare glimpse at the freaks collection London's Natural History Museum
This article first appeared in Fortean Times magazine, October 2007

They look like gone-wrong GM experiments, or the products of chemical contamination or the fallout from Chernobyl, but many of the specimens in the Natural History Museum’s ‘anomalies collection’ are well over a hundred years old.
This isn’t a collection as such, and is spread over the mammals collection, as ‘abnormalities fall outside taxonomy.’ The curators are careful to avoid tasteless sensationalism, but that’s how the museum started, as a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ assembled by the likes of Hans Sloan, founder of the British Museum, from which London’s Natural History Museum (NHM) grew. The mid-seventeenth century collection mania of the aristocratic “grand tour” set included collecting ‘oddities and abnormalities,’ and there were even Mediterranean cottage industries turning out fake prodigies in the form of altered skulls or tampered-with stuffed animals.
Gradually, the cabinet of curiosities came to be arranged in a more orderly fashion, in a way supposed to reflect the organisation of the natural world. The freaks became an embarrassment and were relegated to the cupboards, eventually ending up in storage in the eleven-storey Mammal Tower at the Museum’s site in Kensington. Some of these prodigies were brought out for a rare public viewing at a well-attended one-off ‘Freaks of Nature’ lunchtime lecture event last December. The curators who presented them were clearly enjoying themselves. NHM Mammals Curator Richard Sabin told how he had been inspired to go into zoology by a childhood of Bank Holidays spent in the back of the car being driven by his dad, looking for a suburban museum where he was promised a two-headed pig. (They always got lost and never made it to see the two-headed pig before closing time.) “Now I get to work with a pig with two bottoms,” said Sabin, with some pride.

NHM mammals curator Richard Sabin proudly displays a two-headed lamb skull.. Photo: copyright Isabelle Merminod, all rights reserved

Specimen 79522, as the pig with two bottoms is officially known, was acquired from Barry Knight in Edwardian times. It has two bodies and a single head; the ‘extra’ two front legs protrude out of the creature’s back. It almost certainly died as a newborn piglet. Sabin says that, while we are uneasy about the current high-speed genetic modifications science is throwing up; selective breeding has been going on for thousands of years with domestic animals. Sabin notes that, with ‘their genes tampered with by humans for so long,’ most freaks that turn up are pets or farm animals. ‘Egypt and Ancient Rome documented deformed domestic animals as portents of the gods.’ (See FT 224;21 for a survey of domestic prodigies from Greek and Roman sources, and FT 223: 57 for a seventh century Korean ‘pig with two bottoms,’ interpreted as a favourable omen.)
While Sabin’s predecessors locked the freaks away, dispersed among the Museum’s three quarters of a million mammal specimens gathered over 250 years, the freaks have long been in constant demand for study by vets, looking for clues to ‘developmental defects’ in pets and cattle.
‘It’s a difficult thing to admit you have a passion for two-headed sheep,’ says Sabin. The Museum’s ‘very small collection of abnormalities’ includes two examples of conjoined sheep, both of them newborn lambs. One conjoined sheep skull came from a hospital medical collection and has a large skull joined to a smaller skull, ‘one skull hasn’t developed to the same degree.’
Another two-headed lamb specimen has two skulls that haven’t separated. In the centre of the face, the left and right eye socket of the two skulls have fused into a single third socket – there are two rows of teeth of the first and second skull side by side. It’s ‘fantastically symmetrical, (this is) not that uncommon in domestic animals… We’ve tampered with their [domestic animals’] genes through breeding.”
The Museum’s collection of ‘polydactyl cat leg bones’ is a section of wooden board with the bones of the front limbs of several cats stuck to it. They have extra toes, some up to seven on each foot, ‘quite damaging to your sofa,’ comments Curator Daphne Hill.
Frank Buckland, the nineteenth century naturalist, passed to the Museum a box of delicate rabbit skulls where the top and bottom jaws didn’t ‘fit’ with each other, so that the teeth weren’t wearing down. Ms Hill showed the ‘huge corkscrew teeth’ in these skulls, but added that many corkscrew-teeth afflicted rabbits grew to a ripe old age, apparently not too bothered by their bizarre deformity. Ms Hill also showed us two skulls of hippos, each with one endlessly growing corkscrew canine – but the animal had survived this. And the Museum’s aircraft hangar-sized depot in Wandsworth, South London, has ‘twenty-one and a half skeletons of large whales,’ including sperm whales with lower jaws that grew into outlandish corkscrewing curling shapes, but their ‘teeth wear shows they lived to their early teens.’
The most surprising aspect of the NHM’s hard science freak show was how often deformed animals in the wild made it to a ripe old age. This suggests that we may be wrong in our received ideas about ‘nature red in tooth and claw,’ with the stronger animals eliminating the ‘weak’ of their own kind. Ms Hill showed a the skull of a North Canada wolf with a short muzzle, the upper jaw’s teeth didn’t fit the lower jaw, so it couldn’t bite its prey. It was an adult and ‘had very worn teeth as if eating scraps which shows that as a pack member there was some kind of social organisation that allowed it to survive.’
‘Evidence for social interaction’ that accommodates deformed members of mammal communities could also be a force at work among North Sea white beaked dolphins. In the course of a century, the Museum has acquired sections of vertebral column from three different individuals of this two-meter long species of dolphin. The vertebral columns are ‘bent like the U-bend of a sink,’ giving the dolphins floppy spines. This was ‘something that developed in the womb’, but the dolphins that had this deformity were adults with full stomachs when they were found washed up on the beach. Either a floppy spine doesn’t matter so much when you’re buoyed up by water, or the pod of dolphins were organised to feed their floppy-spined members by driving shoals of fish at them.

Sabin with floppy porpoise vertebrae. Photo: Copyright Isabelle Merminod, all rights reserved.
Sabin also cast light on a possible explanation for some sea monster carcasses. He said that when whales decompose, their skin detaches as the outer layer of blubber rots away. The skin floats away, the skeleton in some cases come out of their mouths, leaving an indistinguishable “globster” mass.
The Mammal Tower’s cabinets also house a stuffed cheetah from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) that, unlike normal spotted cheetahs, was striped along its back. It was found in 1927 and named as a new species of “King Cheetah.” Recently, an orphaned cub with the same markings was found, and it bred at South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It had one or two striped young; the others were normal spotted cheetahs. The collection also has stuffed Indian civets with anomalous white paws, and specimens of the Bull Island mouse. Bull Island is just off the coast near Dublin, and is a sand bank, which formed just over 200 years ago. Since then, mice that colonized the island developed a freakish sandy colouration, and it was such an ‘advantage to be yellow on a sandy island’ that the whole population is now sand-coloured.
Some animal deformities aren’t the result of gone-wrong embryology, but of animals coping with disease or even accidents. Roe deer usually shed their antlers once a year. Antlers that – for whatever reason – don’t shed take on a weird form, like a shapeless mass of fuzzy, velvety coral. We were also shown a roe deer’s lower leg illegally snared on the Sussex coast. Wire had cut into the bone, but bone has grown over and around the site of the wire snare, the snare had been round the deer’s leg for at least two years when the deer died, of natural causes. It had lived a long time, it had a mature skull. The bone could have grown around the snare in under a year, ‘bone incredibly reactive material,’ Sabin explained.
The NHM is now proud of its centuries-old freaks, recognizing that they ‘underpins the modern museum,’ and
acknowledging the role they played its foundation. But there are no plans to put them on regular display to the public, and the NHM still does draw the line somewhere. There are no cyclopean freaks in its collection. Ms Hill says they were offered a stuffed rearing cyclopean foal from a private collection that was up for auction, ‘but it was on offer at quite a high price and we don’t normally pay large sums for specimens.’
The newly-opened Wellcome Collection, also in London, has anomalous animal specimens including a two-tailed lizard, while the city’s Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons has a truly stomach-churning collection of human foetal anomalies.

© Matt Salusbury 2007

Two bones from legs of an adult red deer in the Museum's collection. It had caught one leg in an illegal wire snare, and the bone had grown round the cut over several years. Photo: copyright Matt Salusbury

Thanks to freelance photographer Isabelle Merminod for kindly agreeing to licence the use of her copyrighted photos for this site only. You can see more of her documentary photos on her website.

Update (October 2012): I visited the Museum Nationale d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, which is itself a museum piece dating from the days of Baron Georges Cuvier, the turn of the 19th century founder of comparative anatomy. In its truly stomach-churning hall of skeletons and pickled bits of baboon and so on, it has a little corner of conjoined twin births of calves and cyclopean kittens, among others. Mercifully, they're not the actual pickled freaks themselves, but painted plaster-casts of them, and they are at least 200 years old.

The Museum being a temple to immediately post-Revolution enlightenment and the Age of Reason, there had to be a scientific point to its gruesome freaks display, and a didactic purpose to it for the edification of the masses. They found one - the freak plaster casts are divided into freaks "with an axis of symmetry" and "without an axis of symmetry".

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Weird Weekend 2006

This Fortean Bureau of Investigation report from the December 2006 issue of Fortean Times (FT 217) appears as part of a general update of the site.

All pictures copyright Matt Salusbury

Woolfardishworthy, North Devon, so good they named it twice. Also known as Woolsery

Just getting to the village of Woolfardishworthy, Devon, home of the Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) and its Weird Weekend 2006 convention, was already beginning to look like one of the CFZ’s own expeditions to the ends of the Earth in search of unknown animals. Here’s a travel tip: be wary of any railway branch line that’s named after an otter. My journey along the “Tarka Line,” which (eventually) takes passengers from Exeter to Barnstable, became a two-hour nightmare wait, followed by standing room only in a packed carriage. The stress and tedium was relieved only by the tall man in the orange ponytail, with his loud and clear recitations from a battered copy of A Textbook of Marxist Philosophy.

The “Tarka Line” experience was followed by a cross-country bike ride featuring a series of terrifying 1 in 5 gradients that dropped down sharp to disappear into dark, misty woods. Washed out at the campsite, I had my own cryptozoological encounter the next morning, picking strange yellow snails off my sodden bike.

Down at the barn-like Woolfardishworthy Sports and Community Hall, posters for the young farmers tractor pull event shared noticeboard space with an exhibition of Bigfoot images. Fiancées, girlfriends and neighbours’ kids had been roped into helping out, including “Little Ross” the microphone runner, and 14-year-old David Philips who ran the Weird Weekend sound and lights.

Highlights of the 12-hour endurance marathon that was ‘Weird Saturday’ included Chris Moiser from the Big Cats in Britain Group. The group made a Freedom of Information Act request for data on Big Cat sightings from all the UK’s 600-odd councils and 36 police forces. Devon and Cornwall Constabulary’s three-inch thick file of police logs revealed that the police force keeps a tranquiliser gun in its stores, and that many more sightings are reported to the police than to the press. Paul Crowther uncovered a local cottage industry in faked Big Cat photos.

Richard Ingram’s talk on the fall of civilizations listed the usual catastrophes, and some unexpected threats – the financial markets leaving ‘The City’ would pretty much finish off Britain’s economy overnight, while a sudden epidemic could take out the very small pool of people who keep nuclear power stations ticking over.

Ufologist Lionel Beer looked at several dozen potential locations for that “elusive historical butterfly,” King Arthur’s court at Camelot, and concluded that it may all be (literally) a load of rubbish, or a camelotte in French.

UFO researcher Nick Redfern – one of very few people who makes a full-time living out of what he calls “the subject”, had flown in from the States to talk about “saucer spies” – Special Branch, M15 and RAF Provost and Security Service’s surveillance of ufologists in general, and his colleague Matthew Williams in particular. Redfern’s thesis is that the security services wrongly believe that ufologists are being used as cover by other “subversive” groups.

In the CFZ quiz, “one of the greatest events of the Fortean year,” the punters team beat the experts’ team to walk away with Alien Big Cat models as prizes. By then, events were running a little late, on “Devon time.”

Paul Cropper arrived after a 37-hour journey from Australia at his own expense to give two talks in an afternoon, pretty much straight off the plane. He showed rare footage of a purported Australian black panther, and footage of a mainland thylacine, (Tasmania tiger) which we all agreed looked very much like a fox – an animal introduced to Australia to keep down rabbit numbers, and which quickly went feral.

Mr Cropper also treated us to a history of the Yowie, the Australian Bigfoot. Reports go back to Aboriginal traditions of the Dulgar (“hairy man”) from rock paintings and from stories collected and written down by Alexander Harris in the 1840s. (He thought he was being hoaxed at the time.) Many newspaper reports in the 1870s and 1880s refer to “many hairy men”, but then the Yowie disappears between 1910, reappearing only in 1975. Before 1975 they were known as Yahoos or “hairy men.”

Guardian columnist and fellow NUJ London Freelance Branch member Jon Ronson on owl-worshipping frat boy summer camp Bohemian Grove

“By the way, Ronson, you’re not going to say the Queen Mother was a reptile, are you?” asked CFZ Director Jonathan Downes as he introduced Guardian columnist and Channel 4 investigator Jon Ronson. After hanging out with subsequently banned fundamentalist Omar Bakri Mohamed, and a politically correct Ku Klux Klan faction that banned robes, cross burnings and racism, Ronson sneaked into gatherings of the Bilderberg group and then disguised himself in “preppy clothes” to gatecrash and film Bohemian Grove. This is a frat-boy “white flight” resort set up in the redwoods outside San Francisco in the 1920s, and is the venue of a bizarre two-week world leaders’ summer camp where the immensely powerful dress up in robes and do a mock human sacrifice of a wicker figure which they burn in the belly of a giant stone owl. Part pantomime, part Rocky Horror Show, part burlesque drag show and all tacky sub-Shakespearian pageant, the greatest mystery of Bohemian Grove is why the likes of (allegedly) George Bush Snr, Conrad Black, John Major and Clint Eastwood would want to spend their scarce holidays in a juvenile all-male environment where “80-year old men piss against trees.”

Although this Weird Weekend saw 140 people coming through the door from nine countries, it is also becoming a family-orientated event “for ordinary people, not just Fortean insiders.” A terribly nice Norway-based Satanist couple complete with upturned pentangle necklaces rubbed shoulders with the “very God-fearing” people of Woolfardisworthy. There was a kid’s treasure hunt and mad hatter’s tea party (Richard Freeman in his usual top hat,) while punky local schoolboy band C.A.S entertained us with their “Hunting the Yeti” song as one of their mates cavorted in a borrowed yeti costume. Mr Downes laments that “kids don’t keep caterpillars anymore” and has been working to reinvigorate the enthusiasm of the village children for natural history. “I believe in community,” says Downes. When Weird Weekend started seven years ago, he found the “Fortean scene was a bloody shambles – ‘official’ investigation teams, 40 or 50 groups with five members, everybody at each others’ throats.”

Goth zoologist and former head zookeeper for reptiles Richard Freeman reported back on the CFZ’s Gambia expedition in search of two elusive beasts – “Gambo”, a finned, crocodile-like carcass found washed up on Bungalow Beach and buried in the dry sand by holidaying missionary Owen Burnham in 1983, and “Ninka Nanka” a huge, swimming crested serpentine dragon that makes you drop dead within five years of seeing it.

Bungalow Beach is now heavily developed, and the team quickly found that after more than 20 years the sand had become too wet to preserve any Gambo bones. Witnesses they interviewed describe something very like a large dolphin.

The expedition found only one living witness to the Ninka Nanka, who claimed a witch doctor saved his life after his sighting, but even then he still lost his hair. Others told how relatives had seen it and then died. Some reports described a “fantastic, Godzilla-sized” animal. A story about a lorry crashing after running into a huge furrow left by a slithering Ninka Nanka in 2000 didn’t match the wreckage of a much older-looking, rusty wreck with trees growing through it. Alleged Ninka Nanka scales were passed around the audience. We agreed they were probably mica chips.

Mr Freeman concluded that if there is a Ninka Nanka – maybe a large, crested or combed swimming snake – it has died out in Gambia, and we will have to look for it over the river in more remote Guinea.

Footprint casts and photos of tracks on Paul Vella's Bigfoot stall

Paul Vella, of the Alliance of Independent Bigfoot Researchers, set out a stall laden with Bigfoot footprint casts and photos of more Bigfoot prints. Mr Vella is a UK-based crime scene investigator specializing in computers and mobiles, but his interest in Bigfoot was kicked off by the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot film – 40 years old next year – “it really bugged me.” Mr Vella asserts that, Patterson aside, “nobody makes any money out of Bigfoot… a lot of people spend a lot of money on Bigfoot research” and he knows of “five Bigfoot-related divorces. It consumes you.” He has promised his wife he will give up his research in 2010 and put all his Bigfoot books on E-bay. He presented convincing evidence for Bigfoot being real – prints, casts, and spine-tingling recordings of Bigfoot screams, which he played to us. He has heard rumours that logging interests were behind some obvious Bigfoot hoaxes in a conspiracy to stop their patch becoming a logging-free Bigfoot reserve.

Weird Weekend speakers, from left: Rendlesham witness Larry Warren, Ufologist Nick Redfern, Creaturama's Mussosaurus, cryptozoology's First Lady Corinna James, CFZ Directory Jonathan Downes, Danish lake monster investigator Lars Thomas
“It wasn’t a lighthouse,” insists Larry Warren, former USAF Security Police patrolman and witness to the UFO encounter at Rendelsham Forest around Christmas 1980, events so famous they have become known as the “British Roswell.” Warren, who now lives in Liverpool, recalls seeing a “craft under intelligent control” which fired “pencil-thin beams” into the sheds containing “the ordinance.” By “the ordinance” he meant a vast store of tactical nuclear weapons. As someone who grew up holidaying with my grandparents in the area, I found this the scariest Rendelsham revelation. It was Europe’s most important nuclear arms dump and nuclear target, and “Greenham Common was a diversion, we were guarding the nukes.” Warren went public in 1982 after the suicide of a colleague and fellow witness, “who should not have been allowed to carry arms” and alleges “brutal interrogation… violation of human rights in the 48 hours after the incident” by the Base authorities. The Rendlesham investigation is unusual in that “the witnesses push forward the investigation rather than the UFO community at large.”

The fallout from the alleged terrorist plot in the week before Weird Weekend grounded many flights to and from the UK, but in the event there was only one speaker who cancelled. The ever-hilarious Ronan Coghlan began his talk on the legendary “goatman” by apologizing in advance in case his dentures flew out during his talk – his denture fixative had been confiscated as he boarded his plane at Belfast as a suspected possible “liquid explosive.”

Coghlan’s goatman turns out throughout Europe – Pan and the Satyrs of Greece and Rome, the Danish geetman, the Scottish urish, and the nastier German bokschit. Pan is far older than the gods of Olympus, and was originally part of a whole race of Pans. Modern American legends – like the axe-wielding, murderous goatman of Prince’s County, Virginia – superimpose gone-wrong genetic experimentation nonsense onto older spooky campfire stories.

If you missed the Weird Weekend talks, you can still see highlights on CFZ TV, accessible via the CFZ website.

Jackalope, a fake monster made from deer antlers and a stuffed hare, on show in the CFZ museum
Weird Weekend was also a chance to visit the CFZ’s new headquarters at Myrtle Cottage, Back Street, Woolfardishworthy. The new office was as busy and crowded as my carriage on the “Tarka Line” when I visited, and the conservatory featured a jackalope, a pilot whale skull connected to the Mogwar sea serpent legend, and live snapper turtles and soft-shelled turtles, some of which came the CFZ’s way following Customs seizures. Cuthbert, one of their soft-shelled turtles, is the only known example of a newly discovered species.

Mr Downes rounded off by promising more CFZ expeditions soon – to Orange Country, Texas, in search of a mystery “double-bed sized” snapping turtle, a trip to look for mystery lizards on uninhabited islands in the Canaries, a second Mongolian Death Worm trip, and an expedition to find “the world’s largest earwig” in the South Atlantic on St Helena – the island of the giant insects.

Veteran Fortean John Michell is among the speakers already booked for Weird Weekend 2007, back in the Sports and Community Hall on 17th-19th August. Over dinner in the Farmer’s Arms pub afterwards, eating from a cryptozoology-themed menu that included Beast of Bodmin Steaks, Mr Downes promised the next Weird Weekend would also include Morris dancing and a parade by the local village kids dressed as monsters. “A bit like in The Wicker Man, or like one of those strange villages coming out of the mists in Hammer House of Horror?” I asked.
“Yeah! That’s right!”

© Copyright Matt Salusbury 2006

UPDATE: The local Morris team were unavailable for Weird Weekend 2007, and the proposed children's fancy dress monster parade turned into a Chinese-inspired dragon dance at the opening ceremony and a youth cavorting in a gorilla suit during a rendition of "Hunting The Bigfoot" by a local teenage band.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Website update 21-05-08

The website www.mattsal.com has had its quarterly update, see WHAT'S NEW on the front page. The 'Education, education, education!' page, featuring articles on education, has finally gone live.

EU's ERF cash up for grabs

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, March 2008

The European Commission opened applications for its huge European Refugee Fund (ERF) in January this year. In the context of the EU’s English-speaking countries – the UK and Ireland – the fund will make available in its first year €1 million for English classes aimed at migrants to Ireland and other projects aimed at integrating refugees there, and £1.7 million for similar projects in the UK.
The ERF has a total of €759 million (£576 million) for the period 2008–13 to ‘improve the efforts of member states to grant reception conditions’ to refugees. In the UK and Ireland this translates into cash for Esol projects. The UK’s Border and Immigration Agency has invited tenders for projects aimed at refugees, including in its advertising references to ‘local authorities, adult, FE and Community Colleges wishing to offer or expand capacity for Esol courses’. In Ireland it is the Reception and Integration Agency that will distribute ERF money.
The ERF will fund up to 80 per cent of eligible Esol projects, which can last up to three years, with awards ranging from £30,000 up to a maximum of £303,000. Applications for this year’s round close on 31 May. Schemes need between two and 24 partners, all of which must be not-for-profit organisations. The director of an ethnic minority community centre in north London that runs Esol projects told the Gazette he believed community groups would stand a better chance of securing ERF funding if they became part of a bidding consortium with larger organisations.
The ERF succeeds the European Fund for the Integration of Third Country Nationals, which in the UK and Ireland provided some funding for Esol and citizenship classes for legal migrants who had arrived from outside the EU in the last five years.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

Russia row rumbles on - British Council in Russia

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, March 2008

In the aftermath of the British Council closing its St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg offices in mid-January, the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has suggested that these could re-open if Britain restarts talks on counter-terrorism with Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, and on easing UK entry requirements for Russians. ‘Russia is for a legal resolution of the problem related to the British Council,’ he told the country’s ITAR-TASS news agency.
The Council said it had decided to close the two offices in order ‘to protect its workers’ after Russian nationals it employs were interviewed by state security-service agents. Also in mid-January, the director of the St Petersburg office, Stephen Kinnock, was briefly detained for alleged drink-driving. ‘The Russian authorities have made it impossible for us to operate,’ said Martin Davison, the Council’s chief executive.
The UK’s Foreign Office would not rule out the expulsion of Russian diplomats if intimidation of Council staff continued.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

No Spanish please! Spanish ban on Nevada school bus

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, March 2008

The superintendent of a rural school district in the US state of Nevada has ordered Hispanic children to speak only English during their journeys on the school bus.
School district superintendent Robert Aumagher’s letter of 12 October 2007 announcing the ban went to thirty families in Dyer, a small farming community close to the California border. Most of the children whose families received the letters had been in the US for a year or less. Letters from the Esmeralda County School District announcing the ban were translated into Spanish.
The English-only edict appears to have followed an incident on the school bus in which a student was ‘disrespectful’ to the driver or a tutor, according to school board member Rita Gillum, who voted for the order. She could not provide details of the incident when interviewed by the Las Vegas Sun, but said that when the school bus driver ‘has no idea what they were talking about it can be very disrespectful’.
Newly arrived immigrant children ask for help with their homework from students who are more bilingual, and parents say that their children are now afraid to discuss homework assignments on the school bus.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada believes that the English-only order violates the US Constitution, and ‘students have a right to free speech, just like anybody else’.
In January 2007 English-speaking students were excluded from their school bus in St Paul, Minnesota after the route had been turned into a mobile Hmong-language supplementary school for the local Indochinese ethnic minority.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

So farewell then, Tefltrade.com

Lines on the demise of English language teaching's sweariest blogosphere rant

Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, April 2008, as an editorial

Despite numerous attempts by school owners to get it shut down, the Tefl trade blog beloved by put-open English language teachers everywhere, has finally had its last post. It was ended not by libel writs but by the desire of its blogger, ‘Sandy McManus’ (not his/her real name) to ‘turn my attention to something a little more uplifting.’
The revelation that convicted peadophile James Fraser Darling (see September 2007’s Gazette) had been taken on by several EFL schools in Indonesia was just one of the useful bits of intelligence coming the Gazette’s way thanks to McManus and the Tefl trade blog. As well as turning its spotlight on serial malpractice in the industry in the style of UK investigative and satirical magazine Private Eye, Tefl trade was also consistently hilarious and its tirades against the industry could be guaranteed to contain plenty of swearing. Its Crap Jobs column (‘£7.50 an hour, anyone? Don’t all jump at once’) was a shocking but true barometer of Tefl’s race to the bottom for teachers’ pay, and the tendency of teachers to whinge rather than doing anything about it.
‘Sandy’ told the Gazette ‘I do have an MA to finish, as well as some other vague plans for continuing writing of some sort or another, but I need some free time to collect my thoughts, without the self-inflicted pressure of keeping Sandy’s UK Tefl blog going.’ You can still see the now static Tefl trade blog online, and more of the same on The TEFL Blacklist, which ‘Sandy’ admitted was his/her baby, but that he/she ‘passed the reins over early last year.’
We reproduce here in full Sandy’s last blog, expletives deleted:
‘So that’s it then - I’ve decided. There’s no point at all in my keeping this blog running, so this will be my last posting.
I mean, why should I waste my bloody time tilting at windmills, and to such little effect? If there are ‘teachers’ back in the UK who want to work for nine quid (£9) an hour and think of themselves as professionals, then let them - it’s their problem, not mine. Or maybe they just don’t give a s*** about the ‘profession’, and are quite happy to stagger into class and deliver a heap of s**** day after day. Again, that’s not my problem, is it? Why should it be my bloody concern?
Fact is, I’m not doing my health, both physical and mental, a whole lot of good by spouting so much negativity about a job that so few people really care about, anyway. ‘Never has so little been done by so many for so few pounds’, you might say.
And let’s face it - why should I spend hours every week hunched over a second-hand laptop, seeking out shysters (unscrupulous practitioners), and spouting my half-baked venomous drivel, when I’ve got my kids to play with, dozens of books to read, and crummy old videos of Mind Your Language (1970s sitcom about an English class for migrants) to watch - just why? There’s a life out there - something positive - and I need to start embracing it before I go completely crackers.
So that’s it, then. The rent on this site will be up for renewal soon, and I shan’t be paying it. Soon afterwards, the cyber curtains will fall, and TeflTrade will become part of history - or just forgotten. And to be honest, I don’t really care whether ‘Sandy McManus’ is looked back upon as a legend or a lout.
If I ever go back to working in English as a Foreign Language teaching in the UK (God forbid!), I might consider reviving the site - but I can’t really see that happening. Of course, if there’s anybody out there right now who’s keen to take over the site and do its dirty work, - well, just set up your very own ‘TeflTrade’ on blogger.com. I won’t be complaining.
In fact, I won’t even be looking.’

While the Teftrade homepage seems to be down, there still seems to be some Tefltrade activity continuing here , and McManus posts out alerts of occasional new postings to his/her invite only email list.

English dents caste system in India

By Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

Proficiency in English is an important factor in helping to free Indians, particularly women and girls, from the shackles of the India’s ancient caste system.
The caste system has proved hard to dent despite a series of quotas for university places and jobs to be filled by people of low caste and by Dalits (so-called ‘untouchables’, who lie outside the caste system). In a new study published in the American Economic Review, Indian economist Kaivan Munshi and an American colleague examined twenty years’ worth of data on school enrolments and income in Mumbai (Bombay). Over that time India has seen a big rise in non-traditional white-collar jobs thanks to globalisation.
They found that low-caste boys still tended to attend schools that taught in Marathi, the local language, and from which they would graduate into ‘blue-collar’ occupations traditional for their caste. However, some broke with tradition and enrolled in English-medium schools. In a 1990 sample of over 4,000 low-caste males around Mumbai, those with a command of English earned 24 per cent more on average than those with little English.
More dramatic were the changes that English proficiency brought to the lives of low-caste women. In 1980, very few low-caste women were in paid work. But low expectations of them meant there were fewer stereotypical attitudes affecting their choices in education, and many more ended up in English-medium schools than the boys. The impact of this was clear: roughly 2 per cent of women surveyed in an area just outside Mumbai and who had been to Marathi-language schools were in work, compared to nearly 14 per cent of English-speaking women.
Women have surged ahead in education and employment, so much that low-caste families are now willing to spend more on educating their daughters than their sons. Low-caste women are also breaking down social barriers by marrying outside their caste: nearly a third of those who had been to English-medium schools had done so, compared to fewer than one in ten who had attended Marathi-medium schools.
The study concluded that English was the most significant of various ‘forces of modernisation [that] could ultimately lead to the disintegration of a system that has remained firmly in place for thousands of years’.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

All change for ESL? - US presidential candidates on English as a Second Language issues

Matt Salusbury

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

Candidates in the US presidential race have all taken positions on the English language.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton says English should remain the ‘unofficial spoken language’ but should not become the official language if such a designation would permit all official documents to become English-only, as this would disenfranchise some Chinese who had lived in New York for 50 years, for example. Senator Clinton drafted the Federal Access to Employment and English Acquisition Act, which aims to help individual states meet the growth in demand for English language courses.

Republican front-runner John McCain says a requirement to learn English must be one step on ‘a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants’. At the same time, he backs allowing state schools to continue teaching some subjects in languages other than English, a view unpopular with his party’s more conservative elements.

Clinton’s Democrat rival Barack Obama, has pledged his support for bilingual education and promises to help ‘limited English proficient’ students progress by making schools accountable for ensuring they complete their education.

Copyright: English Language Gazette

Update, May 2008; Obama supporter Senator Edward Kennedy has proposed extending the No Child Left Behind Act, which compels the 50 States to reach minimum targets for achievement for all school students, regardless of whether English is their first language or not. He proposes that all 'English Language Learners' (children whose first language is not English) be taught be certified ESL-qualified teachers at pre-school kindergarten classes as well as primary and secondary schools. Very few ESL-qualified pre-school teachers exist.

Irish evolution

The market for business English courses in Ireland continues to grow and evolve

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

The business English market in Ireland is growing. But, as Adrian Cummins of the Irish national association for English language schools MEI-Relsa told the Gazette, Ireland is keen to ensure that there’s a good mix of general business English courses and more ‘high-end’ intensive courses for executives, and a mix of nationalities on those courses.

Thirty per cent of the employees in Dublin’s International Centre free trade zone are reportedly non-Irish nationals, and most language schools in Ireland now offer business English courses, usually ‘combination’ programmes, with, for example, general English in the morning and business English in the afternoon. Students on combination business English courses are a mixture of executives, those relatively new to business and a new type of customer – longer-term students from international companies sent to Ireland.

The executive sector is a growth market which is being actively targeted, especially executives from Spain, who take advantage of Spanish government MEC grants to study English. Few EFL schools in Ireland offer business English exams. Some run courses that end in the Cambridge Esol Business English Certificate (BEC). Adrian says some business English students ‘like to be certified’ at the end of their course, and thinks these tend to be university students at the pre-experience end of the business English market.

Work experience programmes have always been a strong point in Ireland and continue to grow, with students from Germany, France and Italy particularly well represented. These are typically four to six weeks long and ‘cross sector’, with stints in all sorts of industries. A lot of work experience people find placements in IT or administration. Some schools offering work experience specialise in certain markets, with one school having won a contract with a Korean company for business English courses followed by an internship.

Current target markets are ‘those where visas are easier’, countries whose nationals don’t need a visa to study in Ireland for a stay of up to three months, like Korea or Japan.

With the relatively sudden influx of migrants to Ireland, there’s an embryonic public- sector Esol industry, with further education colleges offering general Esol to migrants, most of whom come from the EU. Adrian says that privately owned business English providers are already encountering competition from this new sector.

Gary Tennant, director of business English courses at Dublin’s Atlas Language College, says that when he came to the UK five years ago he found that in ‘quite prominent schools, business English was topic-based with a heavy reliance on textbooks’. Now schools like Atlas are emerging as business English specialists. Atlas now offers tailored programmes, with clients choosing from a menu of skills-based mini-course options.

Kilkenny School of English in the south-west of the country also seems to be branding itself as a specialist business English school, with tailored in-company business English classes, and by moving into the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) market.

How are teachers recruited for Irish business English courses? According to Adrian, ‘teachers recruited through the usual means’ usually have a the initial Celta qualification or the higher Delta or equivalent but not a specific business English qualification. Adrian wasn’t aware of any course provider in Ireland that offered specialist courses in teaching business English. He admitted that there were not a lot of business English teachers and that there’s a demand for ‘teachers with proper criteria… We’d like to attract more native speaker teachers, although work permits are an issue.’ Gary says that the quality of training courses has improved vastly over recent years, with accrediting body Acels ‘upping the standard every year’.

Celta - Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching for Adults
Delta - Diploma in English Language Teaching for Adults

Matt Salusbury, news and features editor English Language Gazette
Copyright: English Language Gazette

Indian destinations

Where are Indian students going to study abroad?

Traditional destinations shouldn’t take Indian students for granted as they look at more exotic options

Matt Salusbury reports

This article first appeared in the English language teaching industry trade paper English Language Gazette, May 2008

India is a huge market for English-medium higher education courses. We emailed India-based subscribers to our digital newsletter asking them about where Indians are going to study abroad.

According to ELT professionals the US, UK and Australia are the most desirable destinations for Indian students. One also mentioned Canada, while another identified Singapore as a big destination.

Which markets are growing as destinations for Indian students? ‘Australia is becoming more attractive. Europe is the next attraction because they are more friendly and affordable,’ said one. Another view was that ‘Australia, Singapore and Russia are gaining fast. Many medical students are also looking at options in China and Russia as studies there are less expensive than India and the US and the UK.’

Australia and Singapore are perceived by Indian students as countries for which it’s relatively easy to get student visas. Germany and France have a reputation for advantageous arrangements for student grants and tuition fees, with France in particular becoming a favoured destination for research students.

One respondent told us, ‘Many Ielts candidates state that they are going to Australia because they have heard that getting an Australian visa is easier than getting a visa to the UK and US.’ Universities Australia last year signed ‘international counterpart agreements’ on student exchanges with India, which should result in more Indian students in Australia.

When it comes to visa hassles for the US and the UK, we were told that these two countries are ‘feared’ by Indian applicants.
A sharp fall in the quota of H1-B work visas issued by the US for skilled professionals, capped at 65,000 visas per year after 9/11, was keenly felt by the non-resident Indian diaspora, and the assumption seems to have taken hold that student visas are also much harder to get.

What reasons do Indian students give for choosing a course abroad, and why don’t they instead choose to study at one of the over 113 higher education institutes in India? Admission to specialised higher education courses within India is seen as limited, with ‘candidates screened with stringent entrance exams’ and the policy of positive discrimination making access to these institutes difficult for those not covered by ‘reservation’ – keeping a percentage or quota of university places for applicants from lower castes. Other factors attracting Indians to study overseas are ‘better job prospects, greater status in society and larger pay packets after studies.

Indians abroad mostly study ‘postgraduate and technical courses – MBA, commerce-related and applied sciences are the preferred courses. Most students go abroad for postgraduate studies, although the number of students opting for undergraduate studies abroad is also up.’

It’s clear that the traditional destinations for Indian students had better watch out. Increasing numbers of Indians are going to study in countries that aren’t even regarded as English-speaking – Germany, which issues student visas to Indians for postgraduate study only, France and the rest of Europe, Singapore and even China and Russia for medical training.
It seems to be a difficult process to open a joint venture university in India, with probationary periods of state approval to go through and huge ‘security deposits’ payable to prevent a foreign university closing up after only a few years and stranding the students. But some of the traditional markets for Indian students are establishing a foothold in India beyond the usual recruitment office they have based there.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s India visit last year saw the launch of the UK–India Education and Research Initiative. Coventry University is now running a physiotherapy degree with Bangalore’s MS Ramaiah Technology Institute, and University of London’s external study business courses can now be taken at the University of Delhi. Open Universities Australia also has centres in four Indian cities. US universities such as Yale are hoping to open greenfield site campuses in India. It’s likely that more Indian students will in time go for a higher education course with a foreign university based in India, rather than actually going abroad.

Thanks to Francis Peter, who is a teacher trainer at Loyola College Chennai, and to Hutoxi Randeria, who is a freelance educational consultant.

Copyright: English Language Gazette