Jenkyns’ ‘Harry Potter studies’ jibe at universities ‘appalling’

Claim universities feed students ‘anti-British history’ was ‘cheap wisecrack’ when ‘mature debate’ needed, says ex-No 10 adviser

October 4, 2022

Skills minister Andrea Jenkyns’ accusations that universities feed students “critical race theory and anti-British history” were “appalling” and “cheap wisecracks” must be replaced by “mature debate”, according to a former No 10 adviser on education.

Jonathan Simons, a former head of education in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit when Labour’s Gordon Brown was prime minister, and former head of education at the right-wing Policy Exchange thinktank, made the comments at a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Birmingham.

It came after Ms Jenkyns, responsible for higher education in government, told a fringe event that university courses were offering “critical race theory, anti-British history and sociological Marxism”, and that the “current system would rather our young people get a degree in Harry Potter studies than the apprenticeships shaping construction”.

Mr Simons, now head of the education practice at the Public First political consultancy, said at an event on universities and regional growth hosted by MillionPlus and ConservativeHome: “I’m afraid I think it is at best misguided and at worst appalling that the minister for skills described universities, indirectly, as feeding their students a diet of critical theory, anti-British history and sociological Marxism.

“The fact of the matter is that in Birmingham, in Manchester, in Teesside, Lincoln, Gloucester, London – in any town or city you care to name – there are universities supporting public sector workers, training graduates, doing research, supporting businesses, creating spin-outs, supporting jobs. This country is built on its talents, its businesses and on its research.

“Now I’m not going to claim that everything that happens in every single university is perfect. But a Conservative government that claims to be pro-growth, that claims to be pro-innovation, that claims to want Britain to be an independent nation in the best of the world, should be lauding [the] higher education sector at every stage and every level, whether they are local universities, national universities or global brands.”

Mr Simons added: “It is the role of the Conservative government of course to hold universities to account, of course to stand up in the interests of taxpayers, of course to say when courses are of low quality or outcomes for graduates are not good enough. But to lean into the temptation of cheap wisecracks is below the standard we should all expect – Conservative voters, Labour voters, Liberal Democrat voters.

“We should all expect better, and we should have a mature debate with our higher education sector about how we take things forward, not resort to cheap cracks.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

The alternatives that Mr Simons mentions to "critical race theory, anti-British history and sociological Marxism" are all vocational ("training graduates... supporting jobs"). What alternative is he suggesting for liberal education and the traditional humanities?

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