Laurie Taylor – 3 March 2016

The official weekly newsletter of the University of Poppleton. Finem respice!

March 3, 2016
Man racing horse across shallow river
Source: Alamy
Level playing field

Another Russell Group triumph!

What makes the Russell Group so very special?

The answer hardly lies in the distinctiveness of its members. After all, research by Vikki Boliver of Durham University has shown that “nearly all of the present Russell Group members in terms of research income and admission standards have more in common with other pre-92 universities than with Oxford or Cambridge”.

But those still searching for a unique achievement need look no further. In what is being described as “a triumph over the odds”, more than a quarter of Russell Group universities, despite repeated concerns expressed by every major body concerned with inequality, actually managed, between 2014 and 2015, to accept a lower proportion of students from poor backgrounds than they did 10 years ago.

Oxford and Cambridge proudly came first in “the inequality stakes” but they were closely followed over the line by the University of Exeter, Imperial College London, Queen’s University Belfast, Durham University and the University of Glasgow.

One admirer of the Russell Group’s achievement, our own Director of Student Admissions, Dr T. C. Charon, told The Poppletonian that in the past, Russell Group universities had been aided in their commitment to inequality by the reluctance of disadvantaged students to apply. But now this reluctance had declined, the group had come up with a brand new discriminatory device called “the state school penalty”.

This, in the words of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, ensures that “a state school pupil who applied to a Russell Group university would need to achieve one grade higher in their A levels to be admitted as an otherwise identical privately educated student”.

All in all, said Dr Charon, this “state school penalty” should do much to bolster the Russell Group stance towards disadvantaged students, which was popularly known as “Décourager Les Autres”.

Red toy robot

Knock knock. Hugh’s here.

It sounds like a wonderful new service for students: a walking talking library robot that can take verbal requests, work out where a particular book is to be found and then lead the enquirer to the relevant bookshelf.

But “Hugh”, as the robot has been named by its Aberystwyth University inventors Pasi Sachiti and Ariel Ladegaard, has been denounced as “dangerously out of date” by a leading member of our own library staff.

According to Doreen Tomelty, formerly an Assistant Librarian but now Deputy Director of Advanced Technological Retrieval Systems, the robot’s operating system fails to take into account some of the most recent developments in “library services”. “In the first place, it seems that ‘Hugh’ will be readily available to deal with requests whereas in a properly modern university library staff are necessarily concealed for long periods behind frosted glass doors marked ‘Binding’ or ‘Cataloguing’.”

Neither did “Hugh” appear to be programmed with that other component of contemporary librarianship, a readiness to tell the enquirer that the book they want is housed in an off-site storage facility, or to tell them to search for it themselves in the overcrowded terminal-deficient Learning Resources Centre, or to ask them to come back again when the library is less busy.

Ms Tomelty did, however, see some promise in “Hugh”. “I note”, she said, “that the inventors describe the next step as looking at how the robot can be made to move around ‘without bumping into people and library furniture’ .” Once acquired, such a skill would, she believed, give the robot “a distinct edge” over several of Poppleton’s academics.

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