Cor blimey, prof. What made you do it?

`Stark staring bonkers.' That was the verdict on Colin Sumner when he gave up being a Cambridge don and headed for the fresh pastures of London's East End. John Izbicki investigated, and yes, he did it on purpose, and no, this professor isn't one sandwich short of a picnic by the River Cam ...

What makes an eminent don leave cushy Cambridge for a less privileged existence in London's East End? What induces him to swap a student-staff tutorial ratio of 2:1 for a class ratio of 19:1?

Some colleagues called Colin Sumner, 48, "stark staring bonkers" when he decided to abandon his post as lecturer at the Institute of Criminology for a chair of law at the University of East London. A shocked colleague told him he was "the first person in 700 years to leave Cambridge - er - voluntarily". And when he inquired what staff turnover there was at the Institute, the reply was a categorical: "There isn't one."

So what has this former polytechnic got that Cambridge hasn't? Professor Sumner, dapper behind a desk stacked high with papers, essays and reports, agreed that the offer of a chair and the remuneration that accompanied it were not irrelevant to his decision. But these were by no means the only grounds for his divorce from the internationally renowned research centre that had employed him for 18 years.

"I wouldn't have been promoted at Cambridge if I had stayed there for another 18 years. I was treated globally as a professor, but was never paid as such. There is an overall lack of promotion at Cambridge. One can be stuck at the top of the lecturer's scale for years and years," he declared. He added: "It became increasingly irritating to see academics at the new universities being paid between pounds 5,000 and pounds 10,000 more a year than their counterparts at Cambridge."

Cambridge, it would appear, comes gift-wrapped in myths. According to Professor Sumner, undergraduates are either crammed into crowded lecture theatres, or in a one-to-one tutorial. Seminars where, say, seven to a dozen students may discuss a problem and spark vibes off each other are almost non-existent. Yet Oxbridge is being spoon-fed an additional pounds 35m a year - additional, that is, to the kind of funding enjoyed (or these days, tolerated) by other universities - to support the luxury of a tutor- student tete-a-tete system.

"Cambridge is given a great deal of money, but it is rarely passed on to individual departments. In many ways the University of East London is better-equipped than Cambridge. Not all colleges are wealthy; far from it. There is Trinity College, among the richest, at one end, and Hughes Hall at the other."

Professor Sumner does not believe he will be the last to quit Cambridge. In fact, he forecasts a gradual shift of academics from the older to the new universities. "Many others are leaving or considering leaving," he said. They are in tune with the ideology of the former polytechnics - wider access to those who might have missed out on educational opportunities the first time round, and to those from minority ethnic groups. Cambridge, on the other hand, still cannot attract enough students from state schools.

Sumner feels that Cambridge treats its academics more as individual "consultants" than as members of a research team. "The job was getting too easy, and perhaps I was in it too long. I just felt I could have done so much more. But I was undervalued and over-administered."

So how does UEL differ? "Oh, in so many ways. One feels immediately at home. Everyone goes round smiling. And whereas in my social science lectures at Cambridge 99 per cent of the students were white and straight out of school, here it is a multicultural society, with 60 to 70 per cent in the law school from minority ethnic groups - a high proportion of them mature students. Well over half are women, whereas only about one in four studying law at my Cambridge Institute was a woman."

He describes East London students as "more aware, more streetwise, with good all-round experience". Most postgraduate work is part time, with police officers, journalists and administrators attending courses. "In Cambridge it was just like teaching at school. The students were fresher, certainly, and I'm not saying they weren't bright. On the contrary. But the work at UEL is at least as good, possibly even better. There's a wider range of perspective, mainly because so many UEL students have already experienced the world of work."

Frank Gould, UEL's vice-chancellor, certainly agrees with Sumner's view that too much public money is being pumped into Oxbridge to support the collegiate system and one-to-one tutorials. He wants the money (pounds 35m a year) used differently. "It could fund scholarships and bursaries to encourage bright men and women from lower-income backgrounds to enter higher education."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Nursery Room Leader

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: JOB DESCRIPTION - NURSERY ROOM LEADER...

Nursery Room Leader

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: JOB DESCRIPTION - NURSERY ROOM LEADER...

Foundation Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Early Years and Foundation stage Prim...

Primary Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers needed for ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone