The man deemed by the coalition government to be best placed to ‘review’ the future of higher education is Lord Browne, John to his friends. This is the fella who was in charge of BP for many years until he got retired by the board.
Fortunately, for those of us who do not follow these matters closely, Tom Bower’s recent book, Squeeze, gives a decent summation of what Lord Browne is all about. He is described as the most rampantly aggressive pursuer of profits, even in the cutthroat world of oil. He’s the sort of neoconservative that makes George W Bush look like the epitome of restraint. And he’s a short man with one of those Napoleon complexes that makes you wonder if the term needs to be renamed. So, just the sort of balanced individual to take an impartial look at higher education.
For those who don’t want to wade through the 500 plus pages of Squeeze, a brief glance at the index of the book to gives a feel for the kind of chap Lord Browne is.
Here is a sample from the Browne, John section:
- Alaskan oil leaks and
- cost cutting at BP
- highlights achievements and buries failures
- limelight, love of
And my personal favourite:
- security of western oil supplies, pays scant attention to
You get the general idea. He is one of those short men for whom the spotlight is the place to be and who will do anything possible to stay there.
He achieved great celebrity while at BP for his aggressive approach to mergers but also for the most audacious attempt at greenwash in the history of corporate social responsibility.
As Squeeze lovingly tells the story, Browne conceived the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ rebrand for two reasons: to burnish his ego; and, a close second, to wind up his climate change-denying rivals over at Exxon.
So when you hear the arguments put forward by the government that the new reality for universities is inevitable in the economic climate, and all about fairness, remember this:
Lord Browne is that terrible combination of the limelight-loving short man, with rather a lot of time on his hands, some hardcore neoconservative ideals, and more to the point, new to government and desperately eager to please.
Let’s just hope Lord Browne’s star in government wanes somewhat because if he starts ‘reviewing’ the NHS or the education system all of us who are not multimillionaires will need to make a dash for the continent.