Poppleton University

Poppleton University (founded ca. 1979[1]) is a fictional British university in the column that Laurie Taylor writes for Times Higher Education.[2] Poppleton has also been used as the name of an example university by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in official documentation.[3]


Poppleton University is supposedly named after the real villages Nether Poppleton and Upper Poppleton near York, in Yorkshire, England. Laurie Taylor taught for many years at the University of York.


Poppleton[1] as described by Taylor, was formerly a polytechnic. When the government abolished polytechnics in the 1990s, Taylor modified his fictional creation by telling of how Poppleton applied for and was eventually awarded university status with power to award its own degrees. Elsewhere we learn that the university was once called the "Poppleton Institute for Joined-Up Writing" (suggesting a very lowly origin) though at other times Poppleton seems to be a collegiate university in the model of Oxbridge.

In Taylor's work there is also sometimes reference to a nearby institution of lower status, City University, Poppleton. The University of Uttoxeter is another fictional institution to which reference is made.


Regular characters feature in the satirical column. They include:

  • Professor Lapping. Barely competent Head of department of Media Studies.
  • Maureen. Secretary of the department, takes on most of the roles that Professor Lapping and the other academic staff ought to fulfill.
  • Dr Quintock.
  • Dr Piercemuller. Rarely in the university, takes numerous research trips to exotic locations.
  • Mr Odgers. Lecturer with extreme Marxist views.
  • The Vice-Chancellor.
  • Mrs Dilbert. The Vice-Chancellor's secretary, signs most of his letters in his absence.
  • Jamie Targett. Bureaucrat fluent in management-speak.
  • Jennifer Doubleday. Spouts New Age rhetoric supposed to promote staff and student well-being.
  • Keith Ponting (30). 'Intrepid reporter' on the campus newspaper The Poppletonian
  • Dr K. T. Rounding Upwards, Head of Mark Adjustment
  • Louise Bimpson, Corporate Director of the (ever-expanding) Human Resources team


  • Snobbery shown by the established British universities to the cynically named "former polytechnics", an example being:[4]

Our Vice-Chancellor has reacted angrily to the revelation in The Sunday Times that John Denham, the Universities Secretary, is about to ask former polytechnics to revert to their previous role rather than continue with their attempt to "ape leading academic institutions". "This would be a dangerously retrograde step," he told a hastily convened press conference. "Is the minister seriously suggesting that this great university should go back to the bad old days when we were merely Poppleton Polytechnic? Back to the bad old days when there was an inadequate library, hopelessly dilapidated buildings, low-morale staff and little or no funded research? Back to the bad old days when our present SCRs were only staff rooms? Back to the days of grubby degrees in plumbing rather than our pioneering new degrees in Aromatherapy and Surfing Studies? Back to the days when we lacked our present heraldic logo, when there was no Latin used in our degree ceremonies"

...and although this is a fictional account there are real examples of use by government and academics.[5]

  • Mergers with lesser institutions verging on the ridiculous, such as plan to create the UK's first "Dancing University" by merging the University of Poppleton with the town's celebrated Gwen Holland School of Dance. These tend to "fall apart" after months of negotiation.
  • Academic departments single-handedly run by secretaries taking over from incompetent academics.
  • Sub-standard academic courses.
  • Plausible internal reviews of doubtful courses.
  • Dubious academic awards.[6]
  • Bureaucracy applied to trivia — in this case sickness leave.[7]
  • Adding the word London to the university name in a way to attract more students, rather than to reflect actual geographic location [8]

See also