Calls by a Conservative peer and former government adviser to tie higher education funding to students’ performance in “national tests for tolerance of other viewpoints”, providing “a strong reason” for them to “vote Conservative and help tackle out of control wokery in tertiary education”, are “truly galaxy brain”, according to critics.
Lord Wei, a co-founder of the social enterprise Teach First who was appointed a peer by former prime minister David Cameron to advise on his roundly ridiculed Big Society vision, makes the comments in a ConservativeHome article outlining five groups for the party to target at the next election.
Positing students and graduates as one of those groups, he writes: “Any support given must be linked with tackling the high levels of woke indoctrination they face at university.”
Lord Wei continues: “One approach might be to offer debt relief or forgiveness as prizes for those students and graduates who can pass national tests in which they achieve the highest scores for tolerance of other viewpoints, lateral thinking, and critical thinking.
“Students could have their debts paid off based on their ranking in such awards, both at the level of the university and nationally, and institutions could themselves have their funding increased or decreased based on how many prize winners they have as students or alumni (with funds saved from institutions shut or trimmed down recycled into the funding of more prizes).
“Employers might also find it useful to help them identify the best talent. The funds required to do this would be much lower than instigating more universal debt forgiveness à la Joe Biden, but if communicated correctly could give a strong reason for students and graduates to vote Conservative, and help tackle out of control wokery in tertiary education.”
For critics, the comments illustrated the position on higher education into which the right of the Conservative party – where ideas of left-liberal “indoctrination” in universities are commonplace – has moved.
Will Jennings, politics professor at the University of Southampton, tweeted in response to Lord Wei’s comments on students and graduates: “This is insane. Taxation based on beliefs. The person proposing this sits in our legislature.”
He added: “Parts of the Conservative party have gone stark raving mad.”
Professor Jennings also tweeted: “It’s genuinely fascinating how prevalent the idea of ‘woke indoctrination’ by universities is on the right now. Certainly academics tend to be left-liberal, and there is correlational evidence that education is linked to more liberal values, but causation is much more murky.”
He added: “There seems to be a belief that all that academics do is deliver social justice lectures to students aimed solely at ideologically brainwashing them. But anyone who has spent any time in a university as a student or a teacher knows that reality is so much more prosaic.”
Sam Freedman, the political commentator and former Department for Education adviser, tweeted: “This is obviously ludicrous but more broadly it’s amazing the extent to which they [the Conservatives] think their problem with young people is ‘indoctrination’ rather than them reacting to the context of the country in which they are living.
“I guess it’s easier to blame indoctrination than acknowledge that younger people have been absolutely screwed by government policy.
“But we should take the opportunity to dwell on the idea that differential tax rates for giving acceptable answers to a state mandated test would reduce indoctrination. Truly galaxy brain.”