Under a raft of radical measures being considered by the coalition government, “elite” universities will need to demonstrate they understand the concerns of hard-pressed taxpayers in their promotional literature.
All large research-intensive institutions will be required to include positive images of their university leaders taking part in “normal, everyday activities”, such as getting the bus, drinking tea and enjoying a hot pasty from bakery Greggs as part of the plans.
The moves, which will help universities shed their “rich toff” image, are to be overseen by Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, when he takes over as director of the Office for Fair Access in September.
“Summer schools, campus visits and mentoring can only do so much,” a source told Times Higher Education. “If universities really want to prove they are no longer ivory towers, then we need to see vice-chancellors doing things students can relate to.
“If we had a photo of Eric Thomas [president of Universities UK] eating a sausage roll or Michael Arthur [vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds] tucking into a pasty, it would do wonders for higher education’s image.
“This is outreach in its purest form. David Cameron and Ed Miliband have shown they are men of the people: it’s now the turn of vice-chancellors.”
Other proposals could see mandatory pasty shops at every Russell Group university and a ban on Jack Wills clothing stores within five miles of any campus.
Any vice-chancellor who refuses to be pictured with a pasty or similar hot food item could face the “nuclear option” of losing millions of pounds in tuition fees, a Whitehall insider stated.
“Image is everything to Les – PR stunts like this are exactly what is needed at this moment,” he added. “It might sound like a trivial thing to worry about, but Les is set on it.
“Anyone who knows about his authoritarian management style knows not to mess with him on this. If they defy him they will feel hismuch-feared ‘iron fist’ crashing down on them.
“He also wants to ban sushi, pashminas and Ugg boots from universities: his hatred of all things middle class is scary.”
However, Ivor Binhad, senior director in propaganda studies at the New Policy Interact Forum, questioned the policy.
“Eating a pasty is certainly the way to win hearts and minds now, but how long will this zeitgeist last? Further study is needed to see if consuming cold food, such as pork pies or an iced Belgian bun, might have a more enduring impact on students’ perceptions.”
In a statement, the University and College Union raised concerns about regional inequalities associated with the policy, suggesting that those in the South West of England would have access to a cheaper, better grade of baked meat pastry product than those in Greater London and its environs.