'You're fired' – Edinburgh University is panned after Apprentice's error

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IT IS a ruthlessly successful reality show in which boardroom bosses never hide their disdain for hapless contestants.

But not even the finest minds of Edinburgh University have escaped the scathing criticism that peppers The Apprentice.

The university's academic standards were called into question in front of about seven million viewers in the wake of a major error by one of the show's competitors, an Edinburgh graduate.

The insult came after Michael Sophocles, a history and classics graduate, was shown to believe that poultry he bought in a Moroccan market was kosher because it had been blessed by a Muslim shopkeeper.

The embarrassing moment was seized upon by Sir Alan Sugar and Margaret Mountford, one of his advisers, who declared that Edinburgh University had clearly lost some of its academic lustre.

The remark was a hot topic of debate among students of the institution yesterday, while staff mounted a defence of the university's academic credentials.

Mr Sophocles, 25, a telesales executive from London, claims on his CV to be a "good Jewish boy". His poultry error was seized on by Ms Mountford, a non-executive director of Amstrad, and Nick Hewer, a veteran PR executive, who act as Sir Alan's confidantes on the show.

Mr Hewer said: "I'm a Catholic, you're a Protestant, we know what kosher means, but he doesn't know what kosher means. It defies belief. He did classics at Edinburgh. He's a bright boy, how could he make such a mess of it?"

"I think Edinburgh isn't what it used to be," suggested Ms Mountford, who is currently working towards a PhD in papyrology – the study of Egyptian papyrus texts. "Clearly," added Mr Hewer.

Professor Douglas Cairns, head of Edinburgh University's school of history, classics and archaeology, said: "Classics has been transformed at Edinburgh University over the past three years.

"Back in 2003, we had nine staff, but now we have 15.

"What's more, the number of students we have studying classics and linguistics has gone through the roof.

"Some of my colleagues have been giving a lot of exposure to the Muslim world recently, with trips to Iran and North Africa. If Mr Sophocles had been a student now at Edinburgh, I guarantee you he would have been better informed about this."

A spokesman for the university also defended its reputation, pointing out it is regularly ranked among the top 50 institutions worldwide.

And Josh MacAlister, president of Edinburgh's students' association, said: "Every generation tends to have its own views, and remarks on how things are not what they used to be, whether it is schools, hospitals, or universities, so I don't believe this comment could be applied just to Edinburgh."

In the footsteps of giants

MICHAEL Sophocles may not be the most gifted graduate to emerge from Edinburgh University, but the institution has educated some of Scotland's most esteemed sons since its formation in 1582.

The most notable include Adam Smith, David Hume, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Graham Bell, and not forgetting our current prime minister, Gordon Brown. Charles Darwin studied there for two years.

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