Chalk Talk: The man who turned down Grayling's offer of megabucks


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The Independent Online

To Politeia, the right-of-centre think-tank, for a talk on the future of universities by Lord (Martin) Rees, one of the UK's foremost scientists and former master of Trinity College, Cambridge.

He reveals he was once approached by Professor AC Grayling to be a guest lecturer at his new £18,000-a-year New College of the Humanities – now up and running with just 60 students in its first year.

It was mega bucks – £5,000 a lecture for up to 24 lectures – but he turned it down. "I thought any institution that pays so much for doing so little and still makes a profit is not going to give good value for students," he mused.

Of course, we won't know what the students think of all this because they all got an attack of the jitters and refused to talk on the record to our man Kevin Rawlinson when he went to visit them.

Meanwhile, back at the talk, Lord Rees was being questioned by Nick Hillman, special adviser to our universities minister David Willetts, who revealed the two had met once before. "I was Conservative candidate in Cambridge and I canvassed you in person," he said.

"Oh, what did I say?" asked Lord Rees.

"Go away – we're all Labour," came the reply.

The surroundings were just exquisite. The sumptuous armchairs were to die for, even if some were festooned with stickers pointing out that they were so treasured but ancient that it would be better if you did not sit on them. Welcome to Admiralty House in Whitehall for the launch of government social mobility tsar Alan Milburn's report on encouraging wider participation from disadvantaged groups at university level.

It is a Grade One listed building that first opened in 1788, and up until 1964 was the official residence of the First Lords of the Admiralty. Hardly an appropriate setting for the launch of a report about the disadvantaged, one seasoned hack observed. Then again it could be just the ticket for showing them what they should aspire to. After all, were they to succeed in their applications to Cambridge or Oxford, it would be just the sort of ethereal setting they could come across.