Interview with Lord Hastings

We talk mind-shaping, global citizenship and racial tolerance with the former BBC senior manager

June 1, 2017
Lord Hastings
Source: Paul Grover

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick is the global head of corporate citizenship at professional services firm KPMG. He began his career as a teacher before moving into journalism, later becoming head of political and public affairs at the BBC and its first head of corporate responsibility. He served on the Commission for Racial Equality and was made a crossbench peer in 2005. In February, he became the new chancellor of Regent’s University London.

Where and when were you born?
Whiston, Lancashire, 1958. When I was eight, we moved lock, stock and barrel to Jamaica. First, we went to Kingston, then to Lucy (where my father worked for a year in a hospital), then on to Montego Bay where we made our home. We returned to the UK when I was a teenager.

How has this shaped you?
All the pictures that my mother and father took in England show my brother and I – two black boys – with an all-white friendship group. I think that did something very important for both of us. We did not grow up in the subculture of African-Caribbean communities, which I suppose were more dominant in Manchester, Birmingham and London. We grew up in the culture of mainstream English communities and that gave both of us a real sense of confidence and co-relationship. We never became fearful of what our position in the world was. The period of time in Jamaica was initially fantastic. Jamaica was very embracing and open and the physical warmth matched the warm culture. However, in 1970 there was the election of a pro-Cuban government, which meant being pro-Russian at the time. That led the island into a quick economic decline. American tourism wrapped up, people left, poverty became endemic; and [with] the rapid growth of the aggressive…drug subculture, Jamaica became quite a violent place. After a few years, our parents decided to move us back [to the UK].

What role did higher education play in bringing you to this point in your career?
My father was born in Angola but studied medicine in Edinburgh and then became a dental surgeon. As a child, I was very conscious that my father was a dental surgeon, his brother was a surgeon and his sister was a GP. This was a very science-oriented family. The pull towards further learning was extremely important. For me, it was a very important thing to do the best that I possibly could do. I’ve always believed in the necessity for mind-shaping – whether the discipline you study at university has anything to do with your subsequent career is beside the point.

You have extolled the importance of universities promoting ‘global citizenship’ to students. Do you worry about the threats that Brexit and the current global political upheaval present to this ideal?
First, what both major election events [the UK’s European Union referendum and the election of Donald Trump as US president] represented was an uncomfortable denigration of the pursuit of information, a denial of expertise and experts and a mockery of intelligence, detail and factual analysis. Universities are about those issues. Brexit was more than just a salutary moment, that was a very sad moment. It’s beyond sadness, it’s destructive and takes us back into a different kind of dark ages. Borders are closing because people are fearful of “the other”. Minds don’t have to close, however. The world of the internet represents the reality of the open-mindedness of the world that’s beyond ourselves.

How important is higher education in promoting racial tolerance?
If we want a citizen world where there is justice for the most impoverished, education for the least-enabled [and] opportunity for those in the least-developed [countries] to gain the types of employment that we’ve taken for granted, we do need a much more intelligently oriented leadership. If you believe in justice, you can’t disconnect justice from intelligence. And intelligence is nothing to do with where people are born.

How do you feel to be in the higher education sphere where racial discrimination is still regarded as a major problem?
Every time I go on campus, the sea of multicoloured faces is abundantly more obvious [at Regent’s] than at any other university – maybe with the exception of Soas, University of London. [But] it would not be unfair to say that if you’re looking back across a generation of African and Caribbean people coming to the UK, going through schooling, going into higher education, to then enter [academia] themselves, people [in higher education] are behind the curve. I don’t see any issue with that at Regent’s, our board of governors is fully diverse. I wish there were as many black economists able to teach business as there are black psychologists able to teach cultural studies. I hope, in due course, for universities in both the UK and the US, that we get away from the assumption that someone who comes to participate in the life of a university comes with a diversity hat first, rather than an academic one. We should be in the logical pursuit of the best possible teaching capability.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Do it all again.

If you were universities minister for a day, what policy would you introduce?
I would tell the prime minister that overseas students [should not be] part of immigration numbers. They have come here to study and return. A few may remain, and we may benefit rapidly and wonderfully from their lives, and we should be grateful for that. But this issue of locking students up into the immigration numbers and putting pressure on student visas is completely beyond logic.

What would you like to be remembered for?
That he gave himself away and others pursued the same path.

john.elmes@timeshighereducation.com

 

Appointments

Philip Plowden has been appointed vice-chancellor of Birmingham City University. Professor Plowden, who has served as deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Derby for the past four years, will join Birmingham City in September. A qualified solicitor and barrister, he previously served as dean of Northumbria University’s law school. Professor Plowden said that he was “delighted” to join Birmingham City at “such an incredibly exciting stage in its history”. “It is a university that has a world-class campus at the very heart of one of the country’s great cities, while its Edgbaston campus is about to open superb new sport and life sciences facilities,” he said.

L. Song Richardson has been appointed interim dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine. Professor Richardson, who has served as senior associate dean for academic affairs at UC Irvine since 2016, takes up her position in July. She will succeed founding dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who is taking over as dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Richardson has previously held positions at the University of Iowa, Boston College and DePaul University. “We have created an extraordinary law school that fosters innovation and promotes excellence in legal education,” Professor Richardson said. “Through our collective leadership, I look forward to an exciting future for UCI Law and to more continued success.”

The National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science in Canada has announced three new appointments on its council. Ishwar K. Puri, dean of engineering at McMaster University, was elected as chair of the council; Jim Nicell, dean of engineering at McGill University, has become vice-chair, and previous chair; Greg Naterer, dean of engineering at Memorial University, has assumed the position of past chair, as per the council’s practice. They will hold their positions for two years.

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