Entertainer, prat, free thinker... or all three?

October 13, 2006

Boris Johnson wins kudos for forthrightness. But do academics like him enough to see him as Higher Education Minister?

I don't know a lot about politics, but I do know that Boris Johnson was supportive of our campaign against the closure of the chemistry department here at Sussex. He spoke to parents and to students who contacted him - in fact he told one mother, "Don't worry, I'm on the case", which she found most amusing. Two of my colleagues tell me that he has some really good ideas such as paying for people to do subjects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and also rewarding smart students at university (though he does have some really bad ideas, too). Overall, I think he would probably do quite a good job as Higher Education Minister.


Boris the buffoon is a bit of a joke and would not be taken very seriously as Higher Education Minister. His background places him at a distance from the real issues of higher education today - the complexities of which, I am sure, would elude him.


He's a prat - but so are most vice-chancellors, so he will probably get on quite well. But I have grave doubts about his ability to work with academics or to appreciate the issues that are relevant to world-class research and teaching.


He would make a good Higher Education Minister. He's the nearest to a freethinker we're likely to see in a politician, and he believes in the life of the mind.


Boris Johnson has an almost unique ability to offend people that would do serious harm to higher education. Either he just speaks before he thinks, or he genuinely believes he is right - I don't know which is more alarming. He is more like a clumsy puppy than a potential minister, bumping around and causing apparently accidental chaos everywhere he goes. I am sure this is partly deliberate, and it works well in Opposition. The problem is that his timing and phrasing are invariably inflammatory. For example, he describes Scottish higher education as being "subsidised by us in England". Sorry, Boris, but the politics of "us" and "them" are desperately inappropriate to higher education.

Stuart Watt
Reader in the School of Computing
Robert Gordon University

I'm not sure it is up to his ambitions, but the post would fit. Boris has a reputation for "winging it", and that is what higher education does best.

Brandon Dotson
Lecturer in Tibetan
School of Oriental and African Studies

I am sceptical. He has a very sharp mind and welcome enthusiasm - but would he be able to resist the temptation to play the class clown? He is much more suited to the culture portfolio.


Boris Johnson as minister would improve the profile and newsworthiness of higher education. I would be less confident if he were left to make decisions about details of funding and quality. He too often gives the impression of frivolity rather than gravitas.

Allen Fisher
Professor of poetry and art
Manchester Metropolitan University

In my opinion, Boris Johnson should not be an active politician in any democratic country because of his attitude, inflated ego and vacuous nature. He is an embodiment of the worst of post-imperial class society. He is in love with himself. Some of his exhibitionist actions remind me of Nero, although if he became the Minister for Higher Education, his time might be more devastating for universities than the emperor's rule was for Rome. He needs the stage, but his lack of content makes him look like a third-rate clown. If this Little Britain character is the person who is to shape educational policy, then God save British education.


Boris Johnson is a personable individual with tendency for gaffes, but I cannot seriously see him as somebody who really understands or cares about the most important issue of higher education - that it is being badly interfered with by meaningless rankings such as the research assessment exercise. If he has something to say about that, I would like to hear it.


Many academics, whatever our political affiliations, would enjoy communicating with such a bright, cultured and usually entertaining man. But charm itself won't be enough. Many of us feel profoundly stressed, unappreciated and demoralised. We want real dialogue and substance as well as entertainment.

Angie Hobbs
Associate professor of philosophy
Warwick University

I had never heard of Boris Johnson before your e-mail. Highly embarrassed, I proceeded to research into him. The man is an interesting character. Anyone who has been on Top Gear has to have some credibility as well as stupidity. I like the fact that he isn't afraid to say what he thinks, though doubtless this probably gets him into frequent trouble. Despite these attributes, I'm really not sure why he would be any different from any other government minister. What impact would Johnson have on higher education? Not a lot, I would suggest. If the Tories do get in, he can have the job as far as I am concerned.


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