In what is being described as “a well-organised sting”, our reporter, Keith Ponting (30), posing as the deputy vice-chancellor of a provincial university, recently met with a senior representative of the Russell Group and discussed the best way for his own institution to become a member.
He was initially told that admission to the group was based on purely academic considerations. It was necessary, said the representative, for an applicant to show, in the words of the group’s 2012 report, that they were worthy to be counted as one of the “Jewels in the Crown”.
Ponting, in his disguised role, then suggested that his university might well be in a position to offer a very hefty annual subscription for the honour of belonging to a club that placed such a high priority on pursuing its own aims at the expense of the rest of the higher education sector.
At this point, as the covert video shows, the Russell Group representative began to speak in hushed tones:
“Quite frankly we’d love to take your money. I mean the more cash we have the easier it is to add to our present 15 full-time equivalent staff and the easier it is to provide the type of hospitality that David Willetts has come to expect on his many visits to the group. But we can only increase our annual £1.8 million take from membership fees by accepting new members. And that affects the exclusivity that is our principal selling point.”
Ponting is seen expressing sympathy before the man from the Russell Group continues:
“So what we’ve done is to root out a few universities like York and Exeter, where they’re so anxious to imagine that they’re on a par with Oxbridge that they’re prepared to fork out £500,000 each for the privilege. But here’s the thing. Strictly between you and I, they’re not real members. Not at the top table. Not, as we like to say, in the Athenaeum Drawing Room. Not so much jewels in the crown as moolah in the bank.”
(NB: Poppleton University is currently a member of The Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Cash University Group, whose members have been characterised by critics as “blots on the escutcheon”.)
Getting along with nobody
According to a US study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, there is little to choose between the amount that students learn from a stumbling, note-bound, hesitant lecturer and one who lectures fluently without notes.
However, Dr Fritz Itzig of our Psychology Department has significantly expanded this finding by comparing the amount of learning achieved by students who attend a normal lecture and those who sit silently for an hour in a lecture room in which there is no lecturer present.
Results showed no significant difference in learning between the two groups, an outcome that Dr Itzig describes as “a pedagogic breakthrough” in that it frees academic staff for more obviously efficacious tasks such as cleaning their own offices.
Dr Itzig is currently extending his experiment to other areas of university life. In particular, he is anxious to know if the managerial functioning of Poppleton University would be in any way affected by the immediate removal of our vice-chancellor.
A synthetic a priori and a small portion of noumena were left behind in the examination hall following the Kantian Philosophy paper. These are now available for collection from the departmental office.