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Rector Retracts "Ill-Considered and Clumsy" Comments

Apr 22 2004 01:45
Nia Stevens
Sir Richard Sykes has apologised for referring to some Universities as "third class", remarks which prompted calls for his resignation from HEFCE.
Sir Richard Sykes, Rector of Imperial College

It was in an interview with the Financial Times last month, Sir Richard voiced concerns over Governmental Higher Education policy. He gave the opinion that funding what he referred to as "third rate" institutions was a drain on better Universities, illustrating his point by stating that "a penny spent here [Imperial] is a hell of a lot better than a penny spent at Luton for the economy".

Following the public airing of these opinions, several Vice-Chancellors, mainly from newer Universities, made it clear they felt his position on the Higher Education Funding Council for England was untenable and called for his resignation from the board.

It emerged yesterday however that Sir Richard has written to apologise,12399,1197528,00.html to Luton University Vice-Chancellor, Prof Les Ebden for the comments. The letter, dated 7th April, explained "I was trying to emphasise that Universities are different and need to be treated differently but my language was ill-considered and clumsy and I am sorry to have caused offence." In a similar letter to HEFCE Chairman, David Young, he claimed that his comments had been reported "in a selectively and incomplete way and, to some extent, out of context" and that his intention had been to "illustrate the diversity and differences - in mission, purpose and courses offered - within our higher education system and the way they are funded". Interestingly, Sir Richard’s statements bear echoes of those of Prof Edben who, in response to Sir Richard’s original comments regarding Luton University, expressed "we have different Universities doing different things".

Though this diplomacy appears to have smoothed some relations, with Prof Michael Driscoll (Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University) stating "We're pleased Sir Richard has seen the light and believe the matter to be settled", it appears that a wider question may have been thrown open. Prof Michael Sterling, Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University and chairman of the Russell group, has voiced concerns over whether Vice-Chancellors should be allowed to sit on the HEFCE board at all.

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Discussion about “Rector Retracts "Ill-Considered and Clumsy" Comments”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Apr 22 2004 08:42

He made the comments in March and apologised a month later - what a prick. His comments were an absolute disgrace and should be condemned by everyone. His apology has come far too late.

Apr 22 2004 09:02

He goes on and on about Imperial's image and then he makes a blunder like that.

"Imperial College: where science is leading". Not quite. The message he's sending out is "Imperial College: where a bigoted elitist is leading."

Could you imagine the top man at Oxford or Cambridge saying something to the effect that "we are great and the rest of the universities should be closed down?" Great 'image' work Rich.

Apr 22 2004 09:48

Minor clarification: he apologised early April but we only heard about it now. Sorry I didn't make that clear before.

4. Beci   
Apr 22 2004 10:37

Is that an old picture, or has he dyed his hair? I swear he's got more grey hair than that. Plus, he should have gone to specsavers...

Apr 22 2004 11:24

Yeah what a hypocrite, if he's really interested in less money going to lesser institutions that contribute far less than IC and teach somewhat nonsenical subjects he should look closer to home-it's about time we closed Wye down.

Apr 22 2004 13:34

Sir Richard is a great bloke. Maybe people should judge him once they have met him face to face, (like I have).

Apr 22 2004 13:54

"Could you imagine the top man at Oxford or Cambridge saying something to the effect" possibly not, the top person at Cambridge is actually a woman, not a man. If you want to be left wing, at least be politically correct when you're doing it.

Anyhow what was all that stuff the Rusell Group and various other open letters petitioning the Government about then...............(It had signitures from Oxford and Cambridge)

8. Beci   
Apr 22 2004 14:30


Where did that come from?

Wye is currently thriving, with a new generation of students. Applicants for places next year are 4 applicants to each available place. Surely, if Wye is not a decent institute, then there would be no students applying to come here.

9. Nia   
Apr 22 2004 15:16

Yeah, old photo I think. I stole it from the IC website. I had another one I'd hoped to use but even after much fiddling it was still too poor quality.

On a different note, I rather think that whether or not he is nice to chat to in person, agreement/disagreement with his political views and whether these comments were the wisest way to express those views are 3 separate issues.

Apr 22 2004 15:25

Beci says "Surely, if Wye is not a decent institute, then there would be no students applying to come here."

Really? There are 100 applicants per place for "Pop Idol" does that make it worthy of excessive government funding?

Popularity does not equal quality.

Apr 22 2004 18:29


We've had this debate before. Please go to if you want to bore us with yet more mindless anti Wye rubbish.

As for our Rector's retraction:

There's more about this in today's Independent (In the Educational Supplement that nobody bothers to read). The article confirmed that Ebden is happy with Syke's apology and is happy move on. We can probably draw a line under the issue regarding relations between IC and Luton / other ex-polytechnics.

However I think this mini-fiasco highlights the alarmingly poor state of affairs that the HEFCE board is in these days. Why should Sir Richard, a member of the HEFCE board, need to resort to the media to get his point across to other board members?!

Apr 22 2004 19:05

If our degrees are so very inferior, perhaps Emmanuel would like to come and write my coursework for me...

(ie. 6500 words including ecology, mathematical modelling, biochemistry, epidemiology, genetics and other such intellectually insubstantial areas- hence I haven't had a chance to write that FAQ page yet- and no, horse-riding and tractor drinving don't count for course credit)

Apr 22 2004 19:06

...and before anyone else notices, yes, that should read driving- since the merger, Wye students are expected to end up literate too!

Apr 22 2004 20:08

To John I am quite aware of the previous debate you buffoon this does not preclude me making a point here. To dear Nichola, good luck on your coursework I hope it't not too challenging. I remember when I had to do a similar thing a few years back- it was called Key Stage 3.

At Imperial we have exams.

Apr 23 2004 00:28

6500 words is nothing. 1500 deleted posts is something.

Apr 23 2004 09:01

I am familiar with national examinations- SATs and more- they do actually expect us to have done these things called A-levels now (and if they are getting easier, they're getting easier for people who will go to South Ken too). I've seen some of the science modules (such as microbiology) that final year C&G students sit- to call it AS level biology would be no exaggeration at all- have you done the same for any of ours?

Apr 23 2004 11:50

I think Sir Sykes has a valid point. There are 1st, 2nd, and dare i say it 3rd class institutions. Ask any final yr applying for jobs at the top investment banks/ any students other than oxbridge, imperial or lse get in. I have been working in the city for 2 yrs now and have only met 2 guys outside the above mentioned unis (warick maths)...even UCL grads only manage to get into 2nd/3rd rate city jobs..i.e pwc accountancy.

So the reality is if you want a great (elite) job you have to go to an elite university. I say shut down the bottom 20, use their money to help fund decent universities so students dont have to struggle with fees.

Apr 23 2004 12:01

What's wrong with PWC- I've heard that before.

Also it seems that this year the banks have not been hring many people- do you have any info on that am quite interested!

19. Ameet   
Apr 23 2004 16:13

the above pratt said: "So the reality is if you want a great (elite) job you have to go to an elite university."

depends what u classify as a great job. I would say a social worker, or a nurse, or a doctor, or a street cleaner has a "greater" job, contributing to society, than a Pratt like you who works in the city, basically helping rich people become richer.

Apr 23 2004 16:26

Ameet finance helps fund investment in infrastructure factories etc. Most of the money also goes to Pension funds or mutual funds- I think. So the money is going to help create jobs, help the elderly and provide the street cleaner and the nurse with a pension when they retire. actually I think that the investment banker is kind of like a modern philantropist, a Robin hood figure helping the poor get richer. I'd rather be a banker than a baker or a candlestick maker any day. What do they contribute anyway- candles? I have lightbulbs, Bread- well I can eat crackers- actually I am crackers

Apr 24 2004 15:44

I don't think you can call an investment banker a philanthropist because they do paid work for people to build their pension funds.

Everyone I know who's going into banking (not me!) did it for the 40K starting salary, golden hello and career prospects.

I'm sure a good majority of street cleaners are in it to earn a living too.

What about you Ameet? Are you set on some nobler cause or is that just sour grapes because UBS/GS didn't give you an interview!

22. Pitta   
Apr 24 2004 15:52

Actually the starting slary is more like 28 K...

Apr 24 2004 17:14

or to put some of these statements another way - if you want elite pay you need to go to an elite university... and consequently shouldn't have too much trouble paying off the tuition fees.

(it's people like me who go to an elite university then decide to get a job in an off-licence for minimum wage for the next 10 years who have the problems :-))

24. Lafa   
Apr 24 2004 19:23

Yeah well if you want to work as a(legal) drug-dealer you aint gonna get no sympathy from me...

Apr 24 2004 20:31

Alcohol is not a drug. It's a drink.

26. Seb   
Apr 24 2004 21:30

You're not quoting Chris(t) Morris, are you?

Apr 24 2004 22:12


are you sure the "above" person is a Pratt? Just wondering about the factual accuracy of your claim....

28. eh?   
Apr 24 2004 22:17

how is alcohol not a drug?

Its even controlled by the state. You can only buy it from certain places, at certain times (although you are allowed to make it yourself...)

You are even not allowed to be in control of a car (etc.) whilst your body contains a certain amount of it. I cannot imagine why tho. Surely not because it is a mind altering substance.


Apr 25 2004 00:58

I think most people would agree that alcohol is a drink. And if you want to talk about psychoactive chemicals then, if you think about it, clearly oxygen is the most psychoactive of them all. Is oxygen a drug - obviously not. Same goes with alcohol. QED.

I do drink and drive. In fact a couple of shots of whisky helps me relax and drive more smoothly (whilst remaining safely below the legal limit).

(and that was a quote from CM)

Apr 25 2004 10:21

Definition of the word Drug:

A chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behavior and often addiction.

Thus, as a substance that changes the workings of the central nervous system, Alcohol is a drug. In fact, there are some politicians that want to ban it.

Apr 25 2004 11:12

I'm afraid I'll have to contradict Every substance affects the central nervous system most of all oxygen and water.

If you eat a bag of sugar you will hallucinate - is sugar a drug? No, it's a condiment. Is wine a drug? No, it's a drink.

They have proven that cholesterol laden burgers produce a mental 'high' (releasing certain pleasurable neurochemicals) and are highly addictive. Are burgers drugs? - no they are a food.

Apr 25 2004 11:16

A glass of wine a day may prevent heart disease. A Mcdonalds a day will probably kill you by the time you're forty.

Which one's the drug?

Especially considering that the latter is also far more addictive.

Apr 25 2004 11:20

I am a multinational drug-dealer (millions are hooked every day but you do not know it):


Apr 25 2004 12:02

Alcohol changes the chemical composition of the brain, not by causing the release of endorphins, but by limiting the removal of chemicals (eg. Dopamine) in the brain.

Long term use causes a sustained change in the physical attributes of the brain, leading to a state whereby there is a feeling of a "need" for more, coupled with a physical response that can only be lifted by the ingestion of more.

If you've been drinking alcohol everyday for 5 years, you're more likely to display a physical need for more alcohol than that shown for a McDonalds. Besides, any foodstuffs can produce a "high" which is why people carry on eating them.

Also, whilst a person that eats a large amount of McDonalds may show an addictive response, they don't show a change in mental condition. If you want to say that the McDonalds will kill you, you're forgetting that with Alcohol you get poverty, depression, suicide, a possibility of a mental disorder (eg. schizophrenia, psychosis), and, eventually, all of the bodies functions stop working. Alcohol has a far higher chance of killing you than McDonalds.

Apr 25 2004 13:31

why so wide?

Apr 25 2004 13:43

No, that's 100% wrong. Not all foodstuffs produce the 'highs' that fatty and sugary foods do. Taking 'drugs' such as opium regularly is far better for you than going to McDonalds on a daily basis. The only reason MacDonalds aren't (yet) seen as drug pushers is that they have attained legitimacy through marketing - in a similar way to cigarettes.

It comes down to abuse. A chemical becomes a drug when it is abused. McDonalds encourage drug-abuse through aggressive marketing, especially towards children. They're as bad as the local crack dealer.

"Would you like to super-size your meal, sir? And a McFlurry? How about some charlie? Mescaline? Speed? 4-Dihydroxylphenylmethbenzoate? I got some reeeeal good sh** here. Take a sniff of that sh**. Hell yeah."

Alcohol on the other hand is a drink.

Apr 25 2004 14:01

Apologies - it appears that a link I posted has caused the discussion board to inflate.

38. Ameet   
Apr 25 2004 21:40

so coming back to the point, the rector is a f**king dickhead

Apr 25 2004 22:14

Glad I didn't vote Ameet for president then.

"The rector is a f**king dickhead". You only make things better by suggesting solutions to problems and NOT by insulting or moaning at people

40. amram   
Apr 25 2004 22:32

Drugs or no drugs- you can't beat Mcdonalds Chips theyre fantastic!

I'm lovin it!

And what a way to forget exams for a few minutes. Although I like the opium idea- we shoul open up an "opium related" den at IC. We could synthesise legal alternatives.

Heck we should open up a Mcdonalds at IC- much better than the c**ppy JCR food and probably cheaper...

Bye bye for a while fans...

Apr 26 2004 08:52

"The rector is a f**king dickhead"

The point I was making was that for all his efforts to change IMperial's image, to change the way we even talk and present ourselves, he went and made a blunder like that in the public eye. The top man or woman at Oxbridge wouldn't make a comment like that because they realise the implications. The man's a hypocrite.

"Third-claass I tell ya... we are 1st class...well Luton they are roobbish they are 3rd class...we're two classes better than them..aye"

I pity the fool.

Apr 26 2004 09:19

Err, does this mean Unimpressed II is Ameet?

43. Seb   
Apr 26 2004 13:25

Wimp. He should have just re-iterated that Luton is third rate, citing it's lack of maths teaching as evidence.

Apr 26 2004 20:25

No it doesn't. I was bringing the discussion back to its roots via a controversial statement.

Apr 26 2004 20:33

I was just refering to Unimpressed II saying "The point *I* was making" when I had asked why Ameet made a point

Apr 26 2004 21:02

Okay - I can see why you got confused.

47. ss   
Apr 28 2004 01:52

Seb - and the Luton rector can argue we're 2nd class for not offering creative writing and public relations. Perhaps the rector should take the course?

48. Seb   
Apr 28 2004 10:59

We do do creative writing:

Lab write ups, grant applications...

And we don't need public relations. Though recently stolen by nurses the unofficial Imperial motto comes to mind: Too clever to care.

Closed This discussion is closed.

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