Cambridge university

Fame came too late for Nick Drake

A friend suggested I might bring a feminine twist to this review by imagining what it felt like to be Nick Drake’s mother. It was a startling thought. When I read artists’ biographies I tend to stand with them eye-to-eye, rather than conjure the perspective of an older generation. But the further we are distanced in time and age (the singer-songwriter died in 1974, aged 26), the more the picture morphs. Just as we’re supposed to grow out of liking Shelley (I never did) or learn to swap Mozart for Bach, our view of someone who was both an undoubted genius and the definition of callow inevitably matures. The keeper

Jesus College plots overhaul of its China Centre

During the past two years Jesus College has been a regular in the newspaper headlines. The Cambridge University college was last month found to have accepted cash from a ‘very high risk’ Chinese university for research into China’s prime tool of foreign influence. It came after a string of stories which contrasted the willingness of Jesus to accept donations from controversial Chinese sources with its efforts to remove a historic memorial linked to the slave trade from its chapel. Now though, it seems that the college has been moved to act. According to an email seen by The Spectator, ‘following a detailed review by a panel of Fellows, the college has

Revealed: Huawei’s Oxbridge millions

British universities have received twice as much funding from Huawei as previous estimates suggest, according to new figures obtained by The Spectator. Freedom of Information requests sent by Steerpike show that a further £28.7 million has been received from the Chinese tech giant by nine leading UK universities, on top of the sums identified in a landmark report by the China Research Group in June. By far the biggest recipient of donations and research grants is Cambridge University which has taken £25.7 million from Huawei alone since 2016. Huawei has been banned from participating in Britain’s 5G network from 2027 amid security concerns. Last year MPs on the Commons Defence Select Committee claimed in a

Braverman’s brush with the law

Ah student politics: is there anything quite like it? The strange creatures it attracts, the passions it unleashes, the adolescent ambition and the glorious pettiness of it all; so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. Such an ignoble tradition has spawned many of our lords and masters – Boris Johnson was an unabashed Union hack at Oxford while William Hague was ‘convicted of electoral malpractice’ in one election of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA). And having spent some time recently in the Cambridge University archives, Mr S is delighted to see the route from the common room to the Commons is still alive and well. For perusing copies of

Cambridge’s hysterical reaction to a Hitler impression

Last week, the Cambridge Union hosted a debate on the motion ‘This House Believes there is no such thing as good taste.’ During the debate, the prominent and respected art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon made the point that humans have an instinctive feeling for what is beautiful and what is repellent. There are obvious, undeniable examples of good and poor taste. To demonstrate this, he staged a long impersonation of Hitler’s views on ‘degenerate’ modern art. His parody included many offensive and racist comments of the sort you would expect from Der Fuhrer. Graham-Dixon’s argument was clear, even if his impression of Hitler was shaky and his presentation somewhat eccentric. Everyone

National Trust members fight back

At the National Trust’s annual general meeting last week, the voting was much more unusual than the public will have learnt from media reports. In most resolutions, the numbers voting exceeded 100,000. In past years, the figures have been lower than 40,000. The reason for this high turnout was the controversies of the past 18 months. Motions about the erosion of curatorial expertise and the ill treatment of Trust volunteers would have won easily had not the chairman exercised the right to use the discretionary proxy votes which the Trust’s curious governance permits. Without these, the rebel resolutions would have been more than 15,000 votes ahead. In achieving these results,

Why Jesus College shouldn’t have returned its Benin bronze

Jesus College Cambridge can claim a world first. It is the first institution, at least in the twenty-first century, to return a so-called Benin Bronze because it was looted in a British punitive raid in 1897 on the historic Kingdom of Benin, now part of the territory of Nigeria. The College’s Master Sonita Alleyne has today handed over its Okukor – a brass statue of a cockerel that took pride of place in the college’s dining hall peering over generations of students – to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Germany announced in May that its public museums would return their hundreds of Benin artefacts; Dan Hicks — Curator

James Kirkup

The trans debate could cost this Cambridge porter his job

This is a story about a man called Kevin Price, who was until last week a councillor and who is, for now at least, employed as a porter at a Cambridge college. The story illustrates two points. First, political conflict over trans rights and women’s rights is far from over, especially in the Labour Party. Second, people who say the wrong thing in this debate can put their livelihood at risk. Mr Price last week resigned from Cambridge City Council. He had sat as a Labour councillor since 2010 and was once the council’s deputy leader. He resigned rather than follow the Labour Group whip and vote for a motion

Farewell to Cambridge’s disastrous Vice-Chancellor

So farewell then, Stephen Toope. The undistinguished Canadian lawyer who has spent recent years trying to run Cambridge University into the ground has just sent an announcement to all faculty, alumni and students. In it he informs them that he has decided to step down from his position as Vice-Chancellor at the end of this academic year. The reason he gives is that he has decided to spend more time with his family. You do not have to read between the lines to realise that Toope is leaving because his brief tenure at Cambridge has been an unmitigated disaster, a fact that has become increasingly clear. Among the highlights of his career

Cambridge comes unstuck on Winnie the Pooh

Oh dear. Over the weekend, Cambridge University’s Twitter account celebrated the graduation of its most recent cohort with some pearls of wisdom that it attributed to one of its former students – AA Milne, the creator of Winnie Pooh. Milne graduated from Trinity College Cambridge with a B.A. in Mathematics at the beginning of the twentieth century and it was to him that the social media staff turned for inspiration, writing in a now deleted tweet: ‘Congratulations to everyone graduating from #Cambridge in absence today! Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – AA Milne (Trinity, 1900) A nice sentiment

Will social kisses survive Covid?

There is a ‘pervasive presence of Chinese military-linked conglomerates and universities in the sponsorship of high-technology research centres in many leading UK universities’. When the think tank Civitas recently revealed this, Cambridge University denounced the report as misinformation and pushed Civitas to qualify it. Thus, when Civitas had referred to Cambridge’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China’s National University of Defence Technology (NUDT), Cambridge wanted it added that the MoU had been ‘signed in the wake of the UK… government’s encouragement to create a “golden decade” for the UK-China relationship. That MoU produced no research, no collaborations, no funding and has been expired for three years’. Why, then, was it

Will Samuel Pepys be cancelled next?

A seemingly obscure battle in an ecclesiastical court could threaten the security of every historic monument in the care of the Church of England. As reported in this column last year, Jesus College, Cambridge, is trying to extirpate the memorials (while keeping the money) of its greatest historic benefactor, Tobias Rustat. Rustat was a loyal servant of King Charles II who helped him escape from the battle of Worcester, looked after him in exile, and became his Yeoman of the Robes after the Restoration. He also gave huge sums to Jesus (as to St John’s, Oxford, the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, St Paul’s Cathedral and the University of Cambridge). His sin

Jesus College’s China problem

Although Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, is committed to openness, it is a struggle to get information out of him about his university’s dealings with the Chinese Communist party. He has declined an interview, and when I raised questions about Jesus College’s China Centre and other China links, which he has publicly backed, he replied that ‘You cited one very specific initiative, organised by one of our 31 colleges, with a very narrow thematic focus’. I wrote back with further questions, but he says he is ‘not able to add anything to my earlier remark about Jesus College’. I also wrote to Sonita Alleyne, the Master of Jesus, who

Are Hong Kong students safe in British universities?

There are far more Chinese students in British universities than there are from the entire Commonwealth. Many universities have been accused of indulging the Chinese regime in return for the students and the money. Now that Beijing has imposed its draconian security law upon Hong Kong, will Hong Kong students in British universities be safe to return in October? Beijing now seeks to control them. What assurances can British universities give Hong Kong students that it will protect them from intimidation from fellow students acting on the orders of the Chinese embassy in London? The new law claims the right to punish Hong Kong people for offences committed anywhere in

Will Cambridge University finally stand up for free speech?

When Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a University of Cambridge academic, tweeted ‘White lives don’t matter’ and ‘Abolish whiteness’ in response to a banner reading ‘White lives matter Burnley’ being flown over a Premier League match, it certainly provoked a response. Dr Gopal was quickly inundated with horrific personal and racial abuse, but she stuck to her position, arguing that she was appropriately addressing systemic racial inequality. It wasn’t long before the University of Cambridge weighed in with a strong statement defending Gopal, without explicitly mentioning her. ‘The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial, and deplores in the strongest terms abuse and

The grand names on Huawei’s payroll

Why is it wrong, some ask, for senior British businessmen, former civil servants etc to work for Huawei UK? After all, it is a major company which needs business experience and advice here. Even now, despite the government’s apparent U-turn, it is not certain it will be excluded from our 5G contracts. Surely the answer is that if a director were to explain frankly to the public how Huawei works, he would have to admit that — whatever its formal ownership structure — it is controlled by and furthers the aims of the Chinese Communist party regime. He would also have to concede that these aims have now become hostile

What is Dominic Raab not telling us about Hong Kong?

The government’s promised ‘pathway to citizenship’ to Hong Kong people is wonderful, but has the Foreign Office arranged a get-out clause? Last week, Dominic Raab told parliament that ‘if China enacts the [proposed new security] law, we will change the arrangements for British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong’. He added, however, that ‘We do not oppose Hong Kong passing its own national security law’. Behind this lies the fact that the Basic Law of Hong Kong, arising from the Sino-British Agreement of 1984, prescribes that Hong Kong ‘shall enact its own laws to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the Central People’s Government’. So

Cambridge’s ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme was always going to fail

Institutional racism is rife at Cambridge university – that was the assumption behind the university’s ‘reverse-mentoring’ scheme which was launched to much fanfare last summer. The idea was simple enough: senior academics who were white would be educated about racism by their BAME colleagues. But the news that the scheme may be scrapped after its short pilot is hardly a surprise. As I wrote back in July, the singling out of white colleagues for mentoring is flawed on many counts. Worst of all, it embraces the increasingly popular belief that racism is an unconscious state of being that is inexorably inherent in some (but not all) racial groups. This is

No blues, just reds and whites: the Oxford vs Cambridge wine-tasting

The cellar room is almost silent save for the sound of slurping and spitting and the odd gentle sigh. One woman has her head buried in a bucket, while a chap lays his on the desk before raising a hand and asking for a refill. It has the air of a rather polite orgy, only everyone is fully dressed. Welcome to the 67th blind wine-tasting Varsity match. The 14 men and women in the basement of Berry Bros & Rudd in St James’s have the most educated palates in Oxbridge. They know their D’Arsac from their Albariño. Unlike in the Boat Race, there are no blues on offer, just reds,