Jaws dropped last week when Sir Alec Broers, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, appeared not to know that universities that recruit students from underrepresented neighbourhoods get extra cash for it.
Sir Alec questioned Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, about the funding premium in front of disgruntled vice-chancellors at the Hefce conference in Manchester.
So does Cambridge take so few students from poor neighbourhoods that Sir Alec hadn't noticed the premium's existence? Or was he trying to make the point that the premium amounts to just 0.2 per cent of the university's income from the funding council? A call to Sir Alec's office produced an enigmatic response - that the question was posited in "innocent curiosity".