A Cynic’s Guide to University


It’s Freshers’ Week!

That time of the year when loving parents drop their children off at their new homes, faced with the horrifying knowledge that next time they see little Simon he will probably have picked up a drug problem or an STD.

Meanwhile, for postgrads and academics, it’s the season when the nights start to come in, the essays don’t, and your social life becomes so barren that you find yourself cheerily greeting librarians you’ve only ever spoken to when they were giving you a fine.

But ‘Uni’, as it’s known to the syllable-shy, can be a mystifying experience for those not used to its peculiar ways.

Here, then, is a helpful little guide to what – beyond the kebabs, the ‘banter’, the tedious faculty meetings, and (if you are lucky) the odd tedious research seminar – university life is really all about.


Chancellor. Position given to minor local celebrity with more than one GCSE and who has appeared on Question Time at least once as something other than a heckler.

Vice-Chancellor. Local businessperson employed to give university press offices a constant flow of damage to limit.

Lectures. Proof that those who can’t teach, do.

Lecturer. Middle-aged member of the social elite who still believes that wearing a leather jacket, voting Labour, and saying ‘fuck’ makes them edgy.

David Willetts. Man with two brains, both of which are in his wallet.

Student Fees. The world’s cleverest tax on alcohol.

Freshers’ Week. A week-long opportunity to tell everyone what a colossal arse you were on your gap year.

Jagerbomb. Natural selection in a glass.

Student Politics. Left-wing Top Trumps.

Student Journalism. Writing for those who find the Morning Star too sensible and The Beano too complex.

University Libraries. The world’s most heavily subsidized internet cafes.

The ‘Ologies. Relatively new academic subjects of which the most useful are astrology and scatology.

Literature Studies. The analysis of great writers by bad ones.

Art History Degree. Extremely expensive way of working out that Brian Sewell is a moron.

Land Management. Economics degree for people with more acres than intellect.

Cultural Studies Professor. Person who failed A-Level English Literature but who has subsequently been trained to repeat the word ‘epistemology’.

Science. Subject that evolved out of alchemy, but which has become its reverse. Instead of turning base metals into gold, modern science looks for ever-more efficient ways of turning public money into worthless research.

Social Science. The attempt to understand social life by students without one.

Geography. Subject formerly derided as ‘colouring in’, which – in the ’80s – was felt too challenging for most public-school educated rugby players, so a computer system was invented to do the colouring automatically. This was named ‘Geographical Information Systems’ so that faculties could trick more jocks into enrolling by telling them they would spend three years playing around with GIS.

Economics. The attempt to argue that profit maximisation is the sole motive behind human decisions, by academics who claim they could have earned much more money if they’d chosen another job.

The Classics. The independently-schooled, learning the impenetrable, from the intoxicated.

University Public Relations. The ability to display an ‘Investors in People’ plaque while at the same time charging bright postgraduates thousands of pounds per annum for the privilege of becoming employable, keeping them on zero-hours contracts for years after they graduate, and then sacking them when their subject falls out of fashion.

Impact Agenda. Stupid policy aimed at ensuring the public, who pay for research, get to benefit from it.

Honorary Degree. Title given to minor luminary so that the university has something to withdraw from them once they are outed as a racist or a paedophile.

Richard Dawkins. University lecturer whose most famous book is also a good summation of his personality.

The New College of the Humanities. University for people clever enough to get 4 As at A-Level, yet simultaneously so stupid they’ll pay £18,000 a year to see Niall Ferguson lecture a couple of times.

Oxbridge undergraduates. Students with the shortest terms but the longest surnames.

Radical Oxbridge Don. Chardonnay-drinking Marxist who thinks that admitting straight-A students from state schools makes them a social revolutionary.

The Bullingdon Club. Dining society in which young Conservatives can destroy restaurants and pay for the damage, in training for later in life when they will destroy whole economies and get the rest of us to pay for it.

University Challenge. Opportunity for Jeremy Paxman to sneer at 21-year-olds who don’t share his knowledge of what’s written on a piece of card in front of him.

Seats of Learning. Library toilets.

Best years of your life. The years spent reminiscing about your time at university.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. John Cross says:

    Rather sophomoric really.

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