A most unequal match

December 4, 2014

Source: Alamy

Schoolgirl errors?

One of our leading pro vice-chancellors, Dr Janet Balsam, has denounced the “naive and immature” portrait of higher education recently articulated by Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students.

Dr Balsam detected what she described as “a host of errors” in Ms Pearce’s analysis. High on the list of such errors was Ms Pearce’s subscription to the “shibboleth” currently being peddled by every major authority on higher education (including the Higher Education Commission) that the current funding system for higher education was “unsustainable”.

This was “a bad enough mistake” but, according to Dr Balsam, Ms Pearce then went on to “compound her ignorance” by suggesting that the dramatically increased spending on marketing by universities (a 33 per cent increase between 2010-11 and 2012-13) had done nothing to “improve the student experience”.

But what Dr Balsam described as “Ms Pearce’s most grievous failure of understanding” was her claim that our great institutions of higher education were on their way to becoming “a homogeneous blob of identikit universities all vying to get ‘bums on seats’ ”.

Dr Balsam admitted that she had initially wondered how anyone could make so many fundamental errors. But she then learned that Ms Pearce had, by her own admission, never actually been to university. This, said Dr Balsam, readily explained not only her analytical incompetence but also her temerity. After all, how could someone who’d apparently never proceeded beyond A levels “have the gall to suggest” that a system of higher education funding and marketisation rigorously devised by a man with two brains and a first-class degree from Oxford was a total and unmitigated disaster?


Blame and shame

“It’s a very dangerous precedent.”

That was how Janet Fluellen, our seriously overpaid Director of Curriculum Development, described the recent suggestion by Douglas B. Kell, research chair in bioanalytic science at the University of Manchester, that “if university economics teaching were not broken”, more might have been done to protect university pensions from “the hedge funds, commercial banks, and other parts of the financial services industry”.

“If we were to go along that path,” Ms Fluellen told our reporter, Keith Ponting (30), “there’s a very real possibility that we’d start blaming our English and Related Studies Department for Fifty Shades of Grey or even begin to suggest that our Politics Department was in some way responsible for the whole business of Ed Miliband.”

However, Ms Fluellen did accept, after further questioning from Ponting, that it was “just possible” that our Philosophy Department’s persistent subscription to the Heideggerian claim that an optimistic metaphysics cannot cope with the evidence of meaningless suffering might have “marginally detracted” from our vice-chancellor’s well-known philosophical commitment to blind optimism.


Thought for the week

(contributed by Jennifer Doubleday, Head of Personal Development)

My thanks to Mr Ted Odgers of Media and Cultural Studies for this interesting addition to our collection of “Good games to play at Xmas parties”. Here are the basic rules: All members of the department should arrange themselves in seats around the senior common room and proceed to get seriously inebriated. One member of the department should then leave the room. The task for those remaining is to guess who’s gone.


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