Education: Only excellence is good enough: Derek Roberts, 60, University College London.

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The Independent Online
DEREK ROBERTS has one clear aim for UCL - he wants every department to beat Oxford and Cambridge in the research ratings.

Dr 'Yeltsin', as he is sometimes nicknamed, is a renowned pugilist among vice-chancellors, who wants to run a top-class research institute with top-class students. He is not concerned about widening access and is largely against development research money going to the new universities because he does not believe in spreading scarce resources too thinly.

Unlike most vice-chancellors, he has spent a large chunk of his career serving industry and was latterly a joint deputy managing director of the General Electrical Company. His industrial background has undoubtedly taught him to carve his own path relentlessly.

On the subject of teaching, for example, he is unequivocal: 'Our teaching here has to be excellent - nothing else is acceptable. If it is to be judged on the delivery of cost-effective, mass higher education we're not interested in participating in that.

'At UCL we still believe in small group teaching and in the benefit to students of being taught face to face by staff who are world experts in their field. We nail our flag to that mast.'

One of his main concerns is with the 'penny-pinching' attitude of government over academic staff pay and the funding of new blood posts: 'Academic staff are grossly underpaid, but I have written and talked to ministers and can get neither sense nor logic out of them.'

When it comes to working with other vice-chancellors, Dr Roberts is interested in the affairs of Oxbridge, Warwick, Imperial - his immediate competitors - and little else. The full body of vice-chancellors, he says, cannot be expected to have a common voice. He fears collective decisions would pander 'to the lowest common denominator'.

Indeed, Dr Roberts can see no good reason for polytechnics becoming universities: 'They had a role to play as polytechnics but if you look at the last research assessment exercise, not one of them moved up from the bottom section of the league table. Now they'll be judged alongside the Oxbridges with all the rest.'

(Photograph omitted)

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