Quangos need lively minds that are capable of challenging accepted wisdom if they are to improve the services they oversee. Higher education funding councils are no exception: the parlous state of university budgets demands a creative approach. But Sir Richard Sykes strayed beyond the norm with his dismissal of "third-class universities", begging questions about how he can serve on a body that allocates many millions of pounds each year to institutions that he would place in this category.
This week's Budget made clear that the government intends to persevere with its "bums on seats policy", as Sir Richard characterises its 50 per cent target. Inevitably, that will involve the Higher Education Funding Council for England supporting more students at universities such as Luton and recognising that they require more support than those at the likes of Imperial College London. This is not to pretend that all institutions are the same, as Sir Richard claims; rather the reverse.