Are you having a laugh?

@Lord_Browne gained a following by poking fun at UK higher education’s upheavals. Now silenced by Twitter, he tells Sarah Cunnane about real universities, the trouble with students and how many Russell Group v-cs it takes to change a light bulb

November 10, 2010

It is the parody that has lampooned the recent upheaval in British higher education, taking aim at everyone from politicians to vice-chancellors and mission group heads.

But the voice behind the @Lord_Browne Twitter account remains stubbornly anonymous and is likely to remain so after the account was suspended recently.

However, Times Higher Education was granted an exclusive interview ahead of today’s protest in London against cuts to university funding and rises in tuition fees organised by the University and College Union and the National Union Students.

Hello @Lord_Browne. We understand you’ve recently been forced to take gardening leave from Twitter: why?

With so many young people going to university now, it’s really difficult to get a gardener with the right vocational qualifications.

If you were to go back to university now, what would you spend your loan on?

I wouldn’t take one out; interest rates have gone up on those loans since my day.

Which is your favourite mission group and why?

Russell Group obviously – in my opinion, they are the only real universities.

You claim to have written a list of universities you want to see the back of. Which five universities do you think the UK could do without?

Well, I hear that the student vote is going to cause problems for my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Bristol, Sheffield, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Norwich. So I guess if you shut down the University of the West of England, Sheffield Hallam, Cardiff, Edinburgh and the University of East Anglia, then the problem of the student vote would go away.

If you could sum up students in three words, what would they be?

Not paying enough.

There seems to be a certain frisson between you and NUS president Aaron Porter. Any comment?

I used to think that Aaron was a very eloquent, well-presented, helpful young man. Now I think that Aaron is a very eloquent, well-presented unhelpful young man. He can, however, put together an excellent combination of socks and ties.

What’s your favourite higher education joke?

How many Russell Group vice-chancellors does it take to change a light bulb?

None. They call in an ex-poly graduate to do it for them.

We’ve got some questions from Twitter for you, @Lord_Browne.

The first is from an anonymous source: What am I supposed to do if I can’t afford £9,000 a year for tuition fees? Where are the jobs for the school-leavers?!

You don’t pay the £9,000 upfront, you idiot. You can afford it – you just need to take on board massive debt.

@dani_beckett would like to know: Are you having a laugh?

How rude.

@benleto next, with a question he feels will be pertinent to graduates under the new system: Would you like fries with that?

I am more of a potato gratin kind of a guy.

@everythingabili asks: What makes you think someone who, until they retired, only ever had one job, can say anything useful about UK education?

The fact that Baron Mandelson, of Foy in the County of Herefordshire and of Hartlepool in the County of Durham, deemed me the best man for the job.

And, finally, @loracenna simply asks: Dude…WTF???!!!

I can only assume that this means ‘Well That’s Fantastic’ and is a comment on my recent report on higher education funding. Thank you.

Thanks for joining us @Lord_Browne. One final question from us: what will you be doing today?

Basking in the glory of having brought back student activism in less than two months, after the National Union of Students have been trying and failing for 20 years.

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