Kingston University’s new chancellor sets out her aims

Bonnie Greer pledges to champion entrepreneurs and tackle race and gender inequality. Matthew Reisz writes

March 21, 2013

Source: Rex Features

Unfazed: Bonnie Greer gives BNP leader Nick Griffin the cold shoulder during his infamous Question Time appearance

The newly appointed chancellor of Kingston University has called for more women in science, a return to the spirit of Victorian small businesses and a fresh look at the term “ethnic minority”.

Playwright and commentator Bonnie Greer - well known for her encounter with British National Party leader Nick Griffin on BBC One’s Question Time in 2009 - will be replacing Sir Peter Hall over the summer. Although she has not spent time on campus, she has been involved with the university for several months as visiting associate professor in the Writing School.

Among Ms Greer’s key goals is to be “a champion of entrepreneurship” at what she claims is “the leading university in the country for developing entrepreneurs”.

“Unless we keep that spirit going,” she said, “we won’t be able to compete in the world, because government is shrinking - we’re never going to have big government at the scale we’ve had it again.”

This perspective leads Ms Greer to worry that £9,000 tuition fees may “damage a growing entrepreneurial spirit” in young people by deterring them from going somewhere they “can test out their ideas and develop them within an academic setting”.

“We need to go back to [the spirit of] British small business[es] of the Victorian age - minus all the bad stuff like [poor] employment relations. We can really be at the forefront of the 21st century, but we’ve got to let kids get this exposure,” she said.

At a time when “science is one tranche of a new industrial revolution”, Ms Greer believes it is essential for Britain to get away from the stereotype of the male “mad scientist” and to “have more women in science, and particularly in theoretical sciences such as maths and physics, and to see them in positions of authority within those fields”.

New definitions

It would also be helpful, in Ms Greer’s view, to “move away” from the notion of people being from an “ethnic minority”.

“We know what we mean when we say it but it doesn’t reflect the reality of second-, third- and fourth-generation people in their twenties and thirties. It’s not complicated enough, fluid enough, realistic enough,” she argued.

Instead, she said, Britain is full of people with connections to the Bric nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China and other emerging economies, who are “creating something entirely new, and doing it faster than in any other country in the world”.

Ms Greer is unconcerned that her job as chancellor may prevent her speaking out in the media, since she is just coming to the end of a term as deputy chair of the British Museum which, she said, had given her “eight years’ training in impartiality”.

“On political questions, I would make it clear I wasn’t speaking on behalf of the university. If I was asked to comment on something deeply controversial, I would clear it with the university first,” she explained.

As for the more ceremonial elements of her new role, Ms Greer joked she had told Kingston they could “forgo the Popemobile, but I can come in a Rolls and give out the diplomas”.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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