Monday, 4 April 2011

Universities: What's in a Name?

‘These are the neighbours, and that like they run in the Thames valley’, remarks Dick Hammond proudly as he sets off across a transfigured London with William Guest in Morris’s utopia (ch. IV). But Thames Valley University, I learnt today, doesn’t want to keep a name that thus finely resonates with Morrisian utopian values. Instead, orienting itself rather to what Morris, after William Cobbett, contemptuously referred to as ‘the Great Wen’, it wants to rename (or should that be rebrand) itself as the University of West London.

The change of name, the University’s website tells us, is not just a matter of geographical reorientation. Rather does it also signal a ‘change of emphasis in terms of its mission with a strong focus on employer engagement’; and since the new Chancellor Designate of Thames Valley/West London University is the President and CEO of Strategic Hotels and Resorts, it certainly sounds as though they have the right kind of man for the job.

In short, to rename yourself as the University of West London is to play your own bit part in that wholesale commercialisation of British universities which Laurie Penny finely exposed in her ‘Dispatches’ programme on Channel 4 this evening. One might think the scale and cynicism of all this (especially as reflected in Vice Chancellors’ pay and perks) is far beyond anything that Morris himself could have imagined; and yet since Old Hammond informs William Guest in News from Nowhere that in the Victorian period British universities ‘became definitely commercial’ (ch. X), Morris might in fact not have been that surprised after all.

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