Oxford’s Irish vice-chancellor: I’m embarrassed to confess we educated Michael Gove

Louise Richardson’s comment prompted by minister’s dismissal of experts during Brexit campaign

Louise Richardson, the University of Oxford's Irish vice-chancellor, has said she is "embarrassed" that Michael Gove studied at the institution following his infamous comments during the UK's Brexit referendum campaign that people have "had enough of experts".

Gove, a former UK education secretary who is now a cabinet member as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, was criticised over the remark made three weeks before Britain voted to leave the European Union, in 2016.

Prof Richardson, who grew up in Co Waterford and then went to Trinity College Dublin, said the development of Covid-19 vaccines, such as the one devised by Oxford and now manufactured by AstraZeneca, illustrated the importance of experts.

Speaking on a panel alongside vice-chancellors from across the world at the Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit, Richardson said: “Michael Gove, the British cabinet minister who I am embarrassed to confess we educated, famously said after it was pointed out to him by a journalist that all the experts opposed Brexit, he said: ‘Oh we’ve had enough of experts.’


“With the vaccine, it seems like the public can’t get enough of experts. Many of our scientists have become household names. We have demonstrated through the vaccine work and the development of therapeutics and so on just how much universities can contribute and that’s enormously helpful to our cause.”

Gove studied English at Lady Margaret Hall, one of the university’s 39 colleges, graduating in 1988, and was elected president of the Oxford Union debating society.

‘Ideological diversity’

Richardson, who was previously principal and vice-chancellor of the University of St Andrews, in Scotland, and executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, in the United States, also argued that universities need more controversial debate and "ideological diversity" to garner support from the public. She warned that "culture wars" and the perception that universities were "bastions of snowflakes" were "deliberately being fanned" by populists, sections of the media and some politicians.

The academic added that the so-called “war on wokeness” was a problem for institutions. Richardson said: “Increasingly people are seeing that they haven’t gone to university and yet their taxes are paying for these utterly overprivileged students who want all kinds of protections that they never had, and I think we have to take this seriously.”

She added: “I think we need more ideological diversity. We need to foster more open debate of controversial subjects. We need to teach our students how to engage civilly in reasoned debate with people with whom you disagree because, unless we do that, we are going to lose the public argument.”

Oxford has been approached for comment. – Guardian