The year in higher education quotes 2013

January 2, 2014

Christmas is over and winter’s grip will tighten in the grey weeks ahead. The only crumb of consolation offered by the New Year is the chance to take stock of the past 12 months and to learn some lessons for the future in a spirit of clear-eyed self‑knowledge. For Times Higher Education one lesson is crystal-clear: never interview Bob Geldof again. Here are a few of the most memorable – and sometimes least lucid – THE quotes from 2013.

  • “Dude, I haven’t a fucking clue.” It may sound like David Willetts explaining the long-term funding plan behind the abolition of student number controls. But it was actually Mr Geldof, after being asked by THE about the topic of a guest lecture he was about to give a few minutes later. Speaking before the January event at Hult International Business School, he cheerfully admitted that he had “never heard of the place”. Luckily, he managed to pull together some thoughts on the lecture topic of leadership and entrepreneurship based on his career in the Boomtown Rats. Mr Geldof concluded: “Now I’ve thought about that I’ll waffle on about that for an hour [for the lecture] and that’ll be it…what was the other thing I was supposed to be talking about?”
  • “I can’t believe you can’t think of better questions than this dude, I really can’t.” THE was again addressed as “dude” by a man of a certain age – this time by writer Hanif Kureishi in a November “HE & me” interview after he was appointed professor at Kingston University. Was Mr Kureishi skilfully deconstructing the format of the Q&A interview or is he just a pain? We leave it to his new colleagues at Kingston to judge.
  • Marketing and branding consultants would tell you that their expertise is needed more than ever by universities seeking to navigate an emerging market. But marketing and branding consultants do, also, talk some formidable nonsense. September brought news that the University of Essex had shelled out for advice from the consultancy eatbigfish and its “Challenger Lighthouse Identity Programme”. The scheme is for brands that “project what they believe like a lighthouse” and are “anchored on a product rock”. In what appears to be English, the firm added of the programme: “With strategy and execution running together the deliverables for the process are both tangible – a 3-5 year vision and illustrative executional ideas to accompany it – and intangible – ownership and alignment across a team through co-creation and addressing all needs.” Meanwhile, for Rebecca Price, partner at marketing agency Frank, Bright & Abel, universities trying too hard to emulate their high-status rivals were like a teenage girl “who’s got black hair and brown eyes who longs to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed”. In November, she advised institutions “to get to the point where they realise: ‘Look love, you may not be blonde-haired and blue-eyed, but you’re lovely, and this is how you’ll make the best of it’.” Ms Price’s problem was the opposite of eatbigfish’s – her meaning was clear.
  • Universities and the men who lead them (that’s nearly always accurate) also produced some memorable quotes. “Ready, fire, aim” was the radical strategy proposed in March by Nick Petford, vice-chancellor of the University of Northampton, who told a conference that universities should “get ready, fire and then think about it afterwards” when trying new ideas. That strategy had already been adopted by the University of Central Lancashire when it inserted itself into one of the most heavily militarised places on the planet – building its Cyprus campus in the United Nations buffer zone separating the island’s Greek and Turkish communities. That brought criticism from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, who said the campus “raised concerns with regard to security, and law and order”, it emerged in January.
  • Finally, there was a fond farewell to the 1994 Group, which disbanded in November with its member vice-chancellors declaring that it had come to a “natural end point” – so natural an expiration that it happened at a board meeting only days before the group was to relaunch after a costly rebranding exercise. Hopefully higher education can avoid too many sudden “natural end points” in the year ahead.

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