Sorry, Borat, I had to steal your film title.
They say money can’t buy you love, but can it buy you a degree? In Nigeria, perhaps, or Saudi Arabia, but here in the UK? Perhaps at one of the universities-in-name-only, former polytechnics or technical colleges such as the University of Luton, or the University of Bolton. But not at a real university. Not at Oxford, surely? The Times reports otherwise:
Fears have been raised that Oxford dons will be pressurised into accepting less academic students, after the university accepted a £2 million gift in a deal with the defence minister of Saudi Arabia.
Oxford has promised to help “expedite the application process” of ten scholarship students from the Prince Sultan University (PSU) over 25 years, and identify suitable colleges for them.
“Expedite the application process”? I assume this does not just refer to a more efficient filing system.
The arrangement has infuriated senior academics who are concerned that it will blur fundraising and academic objectives at the university.
In a memorandum of understanding, Oxford thanks Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud for his “munificant benefaction to the Ashmolean museum (at Oxford)” in support of its Islamic gallery and the scholarships in the Prince’s name.
“Munificent”, surely? I hope this is a misprint in The Times, otherwise it would seem standards at Oxford are dropping already in the interests of “diversity”. And what is a “memorandum of understanding”? It sounds like mutual back-scratching to me. Oxford has to understand that Saudi students will have a different understanding of academic subjects from that of other students. Oxford must be understanding about this, and understands that more funds will be forthcoming as a reward for being so understanding.
Oxford has academic arrangements with other international universities, but critics point out that they are largely arranged between individual colleges and leading institutions, such as the Ivy League universities in America.
PSU was established in 1999 and offers degrees including computer science, information systems, accounting and marketing, largely for men.
In other words, PSU is a glorified technical college, like the “Universities” of Luton and Bolton. I am not qualified to comment on degrees in computer science or information systems. Regarding accountancy, however, this is not a fit subject for an academic degree. Professional accountancy examinations, by which I mean those of the Chartered bodies, are extremely difficult and rigorous. However, graduates in accountancy who train for these examinations score no better in them than those who have a degree in another subject, even English or History. Accountancy degrees teach subjects like “the philosophy of the balance sheet”. The balance sheet does not need a philosophy; it is a useful tool. As for marketing, this is a skill I admire, but it is a skill. It is not an academic discipline at all, whether studied for a degree or for a professional qualification. Marketing, in this sense, is an arbitrary collection of spurious theories, couched in impenetrable – because meaningless – jargon. Alan Sugar in his prime could have sold ice to the Eskimos. Did he need to know about the “five p’s” – product, price, place, promotion and people? Five p’s that could easily be four p’s, or six p’s, or five t’s? No, Oxford should not “expedite” entry for these students.
Nicholas Bamforth, a don at Queen’s College, said that the deal showed a need for scrutiny of the university council.
“I’m surprised the university did a deal with such a new institution that doesn’t admit women to do the same range of degrees as men,” he added.
He should be disappointed, certainly, but not surprised.