Excellence has become ubiquitous as a popular slogan, indeed the oxymoron ‘excellence comes as standard’ has thrown off its ironic resonance and is now routinely used to promote an astonishing variety of goods. A Google search of the precise phrase (23 May 2006) came up with 513 matches – including an employment agency, mailing machines, caravan parks, Yarra Honda (cars), hookloaders and, perplexingly, ‘naked opera’ (which fortunately applies to attempts to demystify, rather than states of undress). The dictionary definition promises: ‘The state or fact of excelling; the possession chiefly of good qualities in an eminent or unusual degree; surpassing merit, skill, virtue, worth. etc.; dignity, eminence’, and excel is defined as: ‘to rise above others’ with biblical and religious connotations. While some of the examples in this book might fit into this elevated usage, in terms of prizes and in the exceptional characteristics of some scholars, the demotic of excellence sits uneasily alongside these meanings since anything less than excellence could be understood as failure. This is the tone Neave (2005) identifies, commenting from a European perspective on the peculiarities of policy ‘á l’anglaise’, on the recent UK government’s policy statement on The Future of Higher Education (DfES, 2003). In his view the White Paper is linguistically and eschatologically ‘decidedly demotic’ (Neave, 2005: 17). Analysing the language he argues that:

Here is a document closely akin to the sales brochure, drawn up in a curiously foreshorten even staccato language .... As – words – and sentences – become shorter so the vision conveyed is one of dynamism enforced, vigour, vim and fierce resolve injected directly into the hearts of all associated with the higher educational enterprise – which is to say virtually everyone from vice-chancellor to first year student.

(Neave, 2005: 17)