“Let’s hope Jo turns out like good old Willetts.”
That was the reported reaction of a leading member of the Russell Group to the news that Jo Johnson, the Orpington MP and brother of London mayor Boris Johnson, was to be the new minister for universities and science.
“You know, the great thing about good old Dave”, continued the anonymous source, “was that he was hardly aware that there were any universities outside the Russell Group. So he’d always pop round to ask our opinion whenever he wanted to discuss any new policy initiative such as reforming A levels or raising tuition fees. And, of course, we were always there to explain to him how our own elite interests could be presented as beneficial to the entire university sector.”
Our source detected some reason for optimism in the news that Mr Johnson had been a member of the University of Oxford’s Bullingdon Club. “Quite frankly, anyone who has experienced that club’s principled commitment to fine dining, social exclusivity and total insensitivity to those who do not enjoy the same privileges as themselves could be expected to feel thoroughly at home with the Russell Group.”
(On other pages: Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, makes the case for even higher tuition fees.)
That was the initial response from our vice-chancellor when he was asked by our reporter Keith Ponting (30) if he agreed with the recent insistence by Zara Whysall, senior lecturer in management at Nottingham Trent University, and Anne-Marie McTavish, head of the department of management at Birmingham City University, that vice-chancellors should increasingly be drawn from non-academic backgrounds.
When pressed to elaborate, he said his own background as head of the “Assorted” division of United Biscuits had equipped him to deal with “the exigencies of a marketised university going forward”.
“I simply thought of academic departments as so many biscuit varieties. So, when I was forced to close down the Department of Philosophy in the wake of its poor research excellence framework impact score, I found the decision much easier when I thought of the department as a failed biscuit – say, a coconut digestive or a chocolate-covered gingernut, rather than as a collection of inadequate human beings.”
Our vice-chancellor admitted that his current concerns were with the Department of Sociology. “I don’t want to speak prematurely,” he told Ponting, “but it’s pretty clear from where I’m sitting (the throne room in the administration block) that it’s already several biscuits short of a meeting.”
In last week’s Poppletonian we complimented the QAA for the manner in which its well-established commitment to lack of transparency had been enhanced by its reversal of the promise to publish the result of the University of Southampton’s successful appeal against its critical findings.
We now realise, following the news that the QAA has also gone back on its promise to publish the results of another successful appeal against its critical findings by the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, that we should also have complimented the QAA on its singular capacity for speaking out of both sides of its mouth at the same time. Apologies for this omission.
Thought for the week
(contributed by Jennifer Doubleday, Head of Personal Development)
Next week’s visiting lecturer in our Built Environment series is from the Department of Architecture at King’s College London. Apply in the usual manner, marking your application “Vandal”.