A clever caricature

January 30, 2004

Is Alan Ryan the fictional lovechild of Laurie Taylor and Ricky Gervais (Opinion, THES , January 23)? Or is he just a don from another planet?

Reading that Ryan, if real, is riled by notions of equality and social justice -which he believes to be hypocritical - I didn't know whether to laugh or "shed tiers" at the cascade of disingenuous non sequiturs and insults.

As a state-schooled undergraduate at Christ Church, Oxford, in the late 1980s, I remember New College fondly for its idyllic Pimms parties and theatricals in Garden Quad. With its mostly privately educated students, it was a haven of pampered privilege. I had a fine old time - rowing, parties and occasional lectures and Socratic musing on truth and beauty.

There is indeed a world of difference between New College, Oxford, and new universities but the difference is one of wealth and background. At the University of East London more than 40 per cent of students are working class, but nearly all have to work to make ends meet. Most are mature and half study part time while working and looking after families.

Our dropout rate is high, though falling, because for too many the academic dream is stymied by economic reality, not lack of ability. However, the majority do gain their degrees and go on to successful careers.

And, yes, we do discuss truth, beauty and goodness as well - qualities sadly lacking in Ryan's confused musings. But on reexamining the photo of a bearded don in a comedy "thinker" pose, I realise that we have all been fooled once again by a clever caricature.

Patrick Wilson
University of East London

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