Laurie Taylor – 16 June 2016

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

June 16, 2016
Mother speaking to young son
Source: Alamy

Ask Mummy: an intelligent child’s guide to recent developments in higher education

“Mummy, what is a ‘challenger institution?’”
“Well, son, in the past, if you wanted to establish a university, you had to jump through lots of hoops. You needed a minimum number of students and were required to spend a lot of time proving that you were worthy of the university title. But ‘challenger institutions’ don’t have all that fuss. If you’d like your HE college to become a university then you can forget most of that time-wasting kerfuffle and start handing out degrees in no more than a couple of years. And then after another couple of years your college can become a fully fledged university.”

“Wow! What do proper universities say about that?”
“They don’t get to say anything. Oh no. That would be shockingly anti-competitive. As Jo Johnson, the minister for measuring, has pointed out, any consultation with existing universities over the relative merits of these challenger newcomers would be ‘akin to Byron Burger having to ask permission of McDonald’s to open up a new restaurant’.”

“But Mummy, aren’t burger bars in the business of making profits?”
“And so are most of the new challenger institutions. Except they’re selling degrees rather than cheeseburgers.”

“But Mummy, if there’s money to be made, might not some of these for-profit colleges be tempted to take short cuts?”
“Well, critics of these new developments might instance the for-profit West London Vocational Training College in Cardiff where a recruiter was recently filmed by the BBC telling potential students that they could cheat on their coursework and lie about their qualifications in order to obtain a publicly funded student loan.”

“Was that all?”
“Well, there was also the revelation that not one of the students whose files were examined had the qualifications necessary to take the business courses the college offered and that samples of student work showed a lack of language proficiency as well as evidence of significant but unpunished plagiarism.”

“Was that all?”
“Well, it did also turn out that the former principal of the college had falsely claimed to have a Cambridge PhD and that tuition fees totalling £175,000 had been paid to the college by the end of November last year.”

“So hardly a Byron Burger college. More of a dodgy kebab house?”
“Time for bed now, darling.”

Lower second triumph!

Hats off to Mike Dunkley (21) who yesterday broke all recent records by becoming the first finalist on our BA Media and Cultural Studies course to obtain a solid lower-second-class degree.

Mike admitted that his lower second had been a struggle. Even though he’d not attended lectures and not submitted coursework, he was still being told that he was very much first-class material. It was only his failure to sit six out of the eight finals papers and his blatant plagiarism on the other two that finally clinched that elusive lower second.

Dr E. G. Enabler, the external examiner for the department, also praised Mike’s achievement. “I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve nudged up Poppleton lower and upper twos in order to meet the university’s first-class target. But Dunkley’s inability was completely incorrigible.”

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Reader's comments (3)

I am usually with you Laurie, but this time I am not sure. All the sins you predict for the Challenger Institutions are already deeply ingrained in existing universities, Russell Group or otherwise. The existing universities are in the business of making money, whatever their charity status, and their operation is dominated at all levels by financial considerations. They are in the business of taking shortcuts, cheating and inflating grades. For instance, at my university (Russel group) everyone knows that many Chinese students have a very poor command of the English language (whatever their certificates may say), but they come with hefty fees, so the university turns a blind eye (and the lecturers are left with an impossible job). We provide a lot of feedback to third year students just in the month leading to the NSS (unlike the remaining 35 months), to encourage them to give us better score. We cheat on employment stats of recent graduates. We lie on contact hours at open days, when we use every trick of the trade to convince parents and kids that we are the best department on the planet. We give everyone with a pulse a good degree, unless they really behave like your Mike Dunkley. I could continue, but my point is that there is little to gain in closing the door to newcomers when the horse of good education has bolted long ago.
"The existing universities are in the business of making money, whatever their charity status" For whom? They are not businesses with shareholders and any annual financial surpluses that are generated can only be held as reserves or used for future investment.
Paul, you might want to consider what's been happening to non academic costs headed by, inter alia; senior management salaries, external consultants, 'strategic' travel, stellar property developments, business partnerships, staff 'development' and 'quality' control. All supported by a bloated support system which has successfully, and quietly, infiltrated the fear zone of VCs' thinking. These costs sap reserves and undermine investment because they displace funds and distort funding.


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