How much do your children understand about higher education?
In this occasional new series, The Poppletonian will invite a campus mother to explain a distinctive higher education phenomenon to their own child. This week’s conversation is between Dr Helen Spriggs (Biology) and her daughter Annie (St Botolph’s Primary).
Mummy, what is the Russell Group?
Well, Annie, it’s a group of vice-chancellors and principals from the 24 UK universities that claim to lead the way in teaching and research.
Who’s in charge of such an important group?
For 10 years the Russell Group had a very fine director general called Wendy Piatt.
Why did you say ‘had’, Mummy? Isn’t Wendy there any more?
Well, some trouble began when Wendy went on a Russell Group business trip to Singapore and while she was there she enjoyed a liaison with a married man called António Horta-Osório, who is the head of Lloyds Banking Group. And when he got back home and news of that liaison came out in the papers, he had to make a fulsome apology to all his 75,000 staff before resuming his normal work.
But Mummy, what happened to Wendy when she got back home?
That was rather different. One professor said that while the private life of individuals was their own business, it was “disreputable behaviour” to go on trips on behalf of universities and then use them to meet a secret lover. It should, he said, “lead to resignation to safeguard the reputation of our top universities”.
So what did the Russell Group do?
Well, darling, they held a long inquiry and found at the end of it that Wendy Piatt had not made any false expenses claims.
So she’d done nothing wrong and could go back to work as head of the Russell Group?
Not quite. As it turned out, she decided at that very moment that she should take a new direction and promptly offered her resignation, saying that she wanted to “explore new challenges”.
Phew. That was a bit sudden. But does that mean that the Russell Group can now say it’s once again reputable?
Only as long as you don’t mention the disreputable average rise of 5.9 per cent that many of its members have recently awarded themselves, or draw attention, for example, to the vice-chancellor of Glasgow, who was paid a salary of £276,000 plus a £46,000 pension contribution in 2015-16 and yet still claimed £3.30 for a Starbucks coffee in Beijing and £3.55 for coffee and cake at Pret A Manger in Trafalgar Square.
Was Wendy still around to defend such behaviour?
Oh yes. She said that her vice-chancellors deserved all that extra money because they provided first-rate leadership.
So she stuck up for her Russell Group vice-chancellors with her parting breath?
Now you’re being sentimental!