Higher Education has lost the trust of society…

…and those in higher education need to work hard to regain that trust – according to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir Lescek Borysciewicz

The Vice Chancellor spoke at the first Kate Pretty Lecture at Homerton College

Homerton College is a place I first found out about when I was at primary school – a short walk from our school, we’d often play sports on their wide open grounds (which we didn’t have) as well as taking part in local history, music and gymnastics classes throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Inevitably there was a strong Cambridge University element to what the VC said in his remarks – though I had to remind myself of this that ‘his’ Cambridge is a university, whereas ‘my’ Cambridge isn’t. I’m not and have never been a member, so don’t have the rights to the perks that members do.

His opening remarks regarding Brexit were in the very long term historical context, talking about surviving the Reformation, The Plague, WWI and WWII. Jack Overhill’s diaries show just how much life in Cambridge the town was disrupted by WWII.

But the statistic that struck the VC was this:

This helped frame some of his remarks about higher education losing the trust of the society that it serves. He said that there is an unwritten contract between The People and Higher Education: The latter exists to benefit the former. Given the split in the vote between towns/cities with universities and those without, did the vote show that the trust that binds this unwritten contract is breaking down?

Such sentiment is not new for those of us that live in Cambridge. I mentioned in the King’s Politics Hustings in 2014, that I grew up in Cambridge where, bar Homerton College (which wasn’t a full member college at the time), I, like many other children in Cambridge had barely noticed the benefit of Cambridge University. What we did notice was where we were not allowed to go – hardly a benefit. Going back further, in Josiah Chater’s diaries of Victorian Cambridge, he made the same observation regarding workmen in Cambridge. The opening up of Cambridge University – through the various festivals and science outreach, has been a very, very recent phenomenon.

That, perhaps was the VC’s historical blind spot. He spoke about the efforts Cambridge University had made in outreach, perhaps not aware of the historical millstone that hung around the neck of the institution in the mind of many townsfolk (if I can call us that).

“How should the higher education sector deal with the trust issue?”

Good question. Actually, this is something the University of Cambridge could pilot – starting with asking the communities that people in university circles might deem to be ‘hard to reach’ but that are on its doorstep. (In which case the only thing that makes them ‘hard to reach’ are the cultures, systems and processes created by the institutions (& those inside them) as opposed to people who live in the communities concerned).

I didn’t get nearly as much from the VC’s speech on specific actions people in higher education institutes should do. Perhaps that was not the purpose of that part of his speech – rather being to raise the issue and challenge those in public policy roles to start discussing the problem. I noted that this was the first time I had heard a public figure talking about Brexit being a sign that public trust between this sector we call ‘higher education’ and the general public was, if not broken, under severe strain. Imagine if we were talking about trust between the public and the entire health and social care sector has been broken. We may despise the ministers and the politicians, but I don’t get the sense that people are abandoning GPs, hospitals and specialists in their tens of millions and heading to non-expert soothsayers, charlatans and purveyors of false hope.

On Cambridge town & gown – and ‘surrounding towns and gown’.

When his remarks moved towards Cambridge the town, and surrounding towns and villages, there were a few things I noted:

…to which I remarked to fellow Cambridge blogger Phil Rodgers seated next to me:

“Yeah – what about that City Deal?”

The Greater Cambridge City Deal (on which Cambridge University has an advisory seat on the Board) has come under pressure from campaign groups in villages that border the edge of Cambridge – especially those on the southern and north-west fringes of the city. Transparency has been an issue that campaigners have repeatedly raised. *Transparency Note – Representatives of some of the campaign groups have commissioned me to film public meetings and to publish videos of the meetings on Youtube. My channel is at https://www.youtube.com/antonycarpen).

The VC also gave us an insight into the new advertising/public information campaign being run by Cambridge University.

Dear World,
You sent us Newton. We sent you gravity.
You sent us Darwin. We sent you evolution. You sent us William and Samuel. We sent you Wordsworth and Coleridge.”

See more here as the University attempts to raise £2billion.

In the Q&A session, I challenged both Homerton College to open up its doors to the local community like it used to, and also invited the VC to reflect on what the whole of Cambridge would be like if Cambridge University and its colleges adopted a culture where the whole of the city (rather than just the interests of the institutions and their members) mattered.

I also specified two specific project ideas

The first is a shared (between town & gown) large concert hall and conferencing venue in the centre of Cambridge (based on this blogpost – with identified site that, as it turns out is owned by the University of Cambridge).

The second is on the UL – Cambridge University’s Library working with our local civic archives and museums (running on a shoestring) to help digitise our shared history.

Apart from my own self-publicity for ‘pet projects’, the more important thing for me from a civic perspective is that we the people start putting pressure on our institutions on specifics. I’ve lost too many hours of my life in meetings where people say “We need to…” and nothing gets followed up.

For me though, money itself is not the central issue. It’s the culture of our institutions. If we get a much more open, transparent and co-operative culture between our institutions, the financial decisions to support our civic institutions will flow from them – as will a culture of scrutiny to ensure that the money is not wasted.

I could not go without mentioning Cambridge Hero, Cllr Florence Ada Keynes

florence-ada-keynes-portrait

Cambridge Hero Cllr Florence Ada Keynes – more than just John Maynard’s mum.

It was her I mentioned first as an example of one of our city’s great figures who transcended town and gown. One of the earliest graduates from Newnham College, she was our first elected woman councillor at the then Cambridge Town Council, and was one of our earliest civic mayors in 1932. My challenge to the VC and to everyone in the room was who was going to follow her splendid example.

Which reminded me – where are we going to put these memorial statues of Florence and Eva Hartree?

Also a Newnham College graduate, Cllr Eva Hartree was our first woman mayor of Cambridge.

NPG x17439; Eva Hartree (nÈe Rayner) by (Mary) Olive Edis (Mrs Galsworthy)
by (Mary) Olive Edis (Mrs Galsworthy), platinotype, 1924-1925

Cambridge Hero Cllr Eva Hartree – our first woman mayor of Cambridge

Cllr Hartree was also a hero for other reasons – have a read here.

Earlier today I was filming a protest outside The Guildhall, and was reminded of the two plinths next to the entrance of the big doors.

img_6125

Above: It needs a bit of a clean – one of the two plinths on both sides of the main entrance to Cambridge Guildhall.

Given that we have paintings and statues of the men of Cambridge’s history dotted all over the city, isn’t it time that we rebalanced things and had memorial statues of Cllrs Florence Ada Keynes and Eva Hartree on either side of the entrance of The Guildhall?

 

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