Predictive text and the surprising shape of things to come

Well, we didn’t see that coming but Patrick McGhee did: the v-c consults the oracle and offers his forecast for the year ahead

Source: James Fryer


In a surprise move, the UK Border Agency introduces a new requirement: basic fluency in Welsh will now be an essential criterion for UK student visas. “The introduction of IWLTS 5.5 as well as IELTS 6.0 is wholly consistent with our immigration policy. Britain is open for business,” the agency states.

A new mission group is formed: the Non-Aligned Alliance of Non-Aligned Universities.


London Metropolitan University wins a judicial review over the withdrawal of its highly trusted sponsor status and is awarded £980 million in compensation. London Met supremo Malcolm Gillies describes this outcome as “somewhat at the upper end of our expectations”.

Several universities reject massive open online courses, or Moocs, in favour of basic open organised collections. “Boocs” - print versions of cloud-sourced digital material bound together and published in the tens of thousands - are hailed as the next big thing in higher education. While completing a Booc does not in itself secure academic credit, the user is expected to experience mild feelings of intellectual euphoria.


A Treasury minister confirms complete commitment to the science budget - even at the expense of “whatever else it is that BIS does”. Academics are sceptical of claims that “the ring-fence can be maintained simply through a reduction in back-office services”.

Following an initially successful membership drive, a number of institutions leave the Non-Aligned Alliance. “Our position is clear,” says one vice-chancellor. “We are repositioning ourselves as a non-aligned non-aligned university in order to distinguish ourselves from the merely non-aligned.”

The Home Office confirms that it is unable to find enough cash to pay London Met in full. The university accepts the offer of UKBA ownership as part payment.


It emerges that ring-fencing the science budget has led to thousands of redundancies in the Civil Service and the funding bodies. “We can confirm that there is now literally no one left to administer the science budget,” an official says. “If researchers could call in and help themselves to the cash they need for whatever it is you boffins do, that would be incredibly helpful. Please bring a wheelbarrow.”


A spokeswoman for the Russell Group slams the “grotesquely bureaucratic and burdensome arrangements” of the new Open Door Funding Scheme. “We fail to see why we need to bring our own wheelbarrows. As we speak, our rivals overseas are being provided with not only wheelbarrows but also huge skips on wheels with which to carry research cash away.”


The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Stanford University announce that Moocs were a big hoax. A spokesman says: “Like, right, we’re going to give away degrees online for free? I mean, c’mon!”

Meanwhile, London Met inspects 126 government departments. It finds them lacking in diversity and global literacy, and concludes that they are making insufficient effort to boost the UK economy.


Research excellence framework fever spikes as academics rush to spend cash by the end of the financial year. “We have literally no idea what we have bought,” one finance director says. “I believe Dr Swanson has inadvertently put down a deposit on 269 MRI scanners and Professor Smith may have secured a majority holding in Beijing Photovoltaic Associates International. Dr Nugent came close to purchasing a new photocopier but obviously we have robust procedures in place to stop that sort of thing.”


Another downturn in applications prompts a rethink on technological support for clearing. “From now on it’s basically young Henderson and her iPad,” a Universities and Colleges Admissions Service spokeswoman explains.

The National Union of Students calls on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to introduce some arbitrary new student loan arrangements. “Our focus groups indicate that we are perceived most positively when criticising obscure features of the repayment scheme. Can you come up with some more? Frankly we need the exposure. It’s either that or going back to saying ‘neoliberal’ a lot, and nobody wants that.”


ABB+ equivalences continue to complicate the admissions process during clearing. A Brighton man with a level 5 swimming certificate secures an unconditional offer to study nanotechnology at Imperial College London. By contrast, Nobel laureate Sir John Bertrand Gurdon applies to study English literature at five universities and is rejected by every one. A BIS spokesman says: “Getting into university should be hard. We are committed to getting more Nobel prizewinners into higher education (our ELQ policy notwithstanding).”


In a surprise development, the University and College Union announces that it is in advanced merger talks with the CBI. In a joint statement the organisations declare: “While we are not obvious bedfellows, much of our work involves saying the government is useless in one way or another. We are therefore keen to exploit emerging synergies.”


The UCU announces the immediate suspension of its “Press Officer for a Day” student internship scheme.

The Quality Assurance Agency launches its own fragrance, “Confidence”. Its slogan: “Heavy breathing, light touch”.


A university rejects allegations of reckless overseas development: “Our new North Reykjavik Campus confirms our growing reputation as a major higher education provider in the Arctic Circle sub-region. This is a genuine bilateral partnership with the people of Hafnarfjordur.”

A busy vice-chancellor declines an invitation from a leading higher education magazine to write predictions for 2014. “As if! I’ve got actual work to be getting on with. And stop ringing me on this number.”

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