Reality TV takes its finals bow

June 4, 2004

It's exam time, but not as we know it. Ted Prince has a killer idea that could catch on

Publicity, like love, is a many splendoured thing. It comes in many different guises. At the University of the M25, we like to think of ourselves as pioneers, pushing back the boundary of how to sell the positive message about our educational mission. And subscribers to our magazine Hiya! will know all about that.

Of course, there's still room for the old promotional favourites. And we're always ready to share our good-news formula with other institutions.

Hats off - or, should we say, jackets off and slung over the shoulder - to Manchester University for taking our advice about getting column inches with an honorary degree. The Bee Gees were an inspired choice - one that endorses the highest principles of the university system.

It's also good to know that the number-crunchers at the London School of Economics were ready to take a leaf out of our logbook when they announced their own Beijing subsidiary for the summer. And, in the spirit of common academic endeavour, the offer of joining the UM25 cluster is still open to them.

But enough of such triumphs. We're already taking another flyover to the future. The latest groundbreaking initiative has come from one of our more visionary subject areas - the department of reality television studies.

This time of year is now synonymous with Big Brother . The authentic voice of the British summer is no longer the strawberries-and-cream tones of a Wimbledon commentary, it's that Geordie feller from Big Brother and his:

"Day 15, the housemates have been showing off to the cameras again."

Our Big Idea is to turn the reality TV cameras on to higher education, using a group of students preparing for their final exams as our guinea pigs.

So far it's only at pilot stage, but we're confident that It's the Finals Countdown will become a regular summer feature.

The format involves eight students, who are wired up for sound and who have been fitted with their own cameras - a bit like a miner's helmet with a flexible camera. The viewers can watch their every move as they get ready for their finals.

You can imagine the tension. It's the night before the first exam and one of them has hit the bottle. He wants to tell everyone that his mother never showed him any affection and it's all her fault that he's going to miss his exam.

It's the morning of the exam and just to liven up the show we tell another student that her entire family has been involved in a freak road accident.

How will she take this twist of fate? Will she laugh when she learns we were only joking?

It's going to be unmissable television. Who will run from the exam room jabbering in panic? Who will coolly walk off with the glittering prizes?

Of course, there has to be something in this for us. And we're going to use the series as a showcase for our academic expertise - get the psychologists to give their spin on what's happening to the contestants, get the communications department to run a load of spurious money-spinning phone votes.

Needless to say, the vice-chancellor wants to make an appearance - and he's written himself into the script as a kind of Wise Old Philosopher, offering his own homespun wisdom at the end of each show.

This is television, where subtlety doesn't exist, so he's been dressed up in a brightly coloured, US-style academic gown and cap. He looks like a minor character from The Canterbury Tales .

It really is a new era for television. And if the ivy-and-Jags merchants at Oxbridge try to muscle in on this, remember - you read it here first.

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