There has been a mixed response from across the Loughborough Bubble as Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited campus yesterday to meet with University and Student Union staff, in what has been called a “questionable PR move”.
Boris Johnson visited campus during a tour through Leicestershire which also included a trip to visit a school in nearby Coalville in preparation for the opening of schools next week, setting out that pupils had “lost too much time” from their education due to the pandemic.
He was invited by the University and Students’ Union to take a look at the coronavirus safety measures being put in place on campus, as well as to visit the research taking place at the National Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine, keeping his promise from earlier in the year when he vouched to work with the University to help re-open campuses across the country before the next academic year.
— Loughborough SU (@LoughboroughSU) August 26, 2020
The visit to Loughborough came on the same day that he sacked the Department for Education’s permanent secretary after the exam grades chaos, and blamed a “mutant algorithm” for the fiasco.
Reaction on social media to the visit has been heated, with many students unhappy about Mr Johnson’s visit. One student wrote that they were “angry they invited/let [him]on campus”, another asking the Students’ Union to “read the room”.
Much of the anger towards the Prime Minister amongst students descends from his Government’s handling of this year’s A-Level results, which were initially calculated using an algorithm that some claim disproportionally downgraded students from disadvantaged backgrounds and low-performing schools.
One student told Label that “Loughborough should be ashamed that he’s been able to visit the campus before students who actually deserve a place, yet were rejected due to the government’s failings.” Another wrote on Twitter that it was “embarrassing that Loughborough University gave him a media opportunity”, and one argued that LSU had made a “shameful” and “massively misjudged endorsement” of the Prime Minister.
However, other students were pleased that the Prime Minister had come to Loughborough and visited its top-5 university, reacting with enthusiasm by welcoming him to campus and calling him “the boss”.
One student said it was “nice to see the people’s champion on campus”, and others commended the “professionalism” of LSU and the Exec in hosting him, one adding they “bet Boris was impressed”. Another thanked the PM for ‘showing LSU his support’.
The Union President said that it “speaks volumes” of the national reputation of LSU and its volunteers that the Prime Minister “specifically requested” to meet him and his team – but many didn’t agree, one saying that “as a keen volunteer at LSU, I am actually appalled that the Union would agree to Boris visiting”.
Much of the anger stemmed from the photo op conducted with the Union Executive, with one Welfare and Diversity volunteer saying she was “genuinely mortified”, questioning how LSU could stand for both welfare and diversity whilst welcoming him to campus. A former LSU VP Welfare echoed the sentiment, saying the photo op was “embarrassing and gross”.
As a result of the backlash, the University’s COO Richard Taylor clarified the reason for the visit. He said that it “was an opportunity (which was taken) for the VC to raise Brexit impact, international mobility, research funding and widening participation directly with the PM”, and wasn’t just a visit to the Students’ Union – which has taken the brunt of the criticism.
The Uni (and LSU) showed the PM work underway to make the campus as safe as possible. We showed him world leading research in the NCSEM. Whether anything comes of the VC's comments, who knows? Thank you to LSU for supporting and putting their own views to the PM.
— Richard Taylor (@RichardTaylor_) August 27, 2020
He also thanked LSU for showing their support to the University with the visit. Vice Chancellor Robert Allison said he “was pleased to be able to show the Prime Minister the incredible research that takes place” at Loughborough, as well as providing “an opportunity to remind those in Government how policy impacts on us here at Loughborough.”
LSU President Matt Youngs has issued a further statement this evening (27th August), responding to student concerns and highlighting his reasoning for meeting with the Prime Minister. He said, “I believe, that the opportunity for elected officers to engage with the highest officials within the UK Government, to start formal discussions … that will improve the student experience is not one that should be turned down.”
Other students joked about Boris Johnson’s use of the Rugby Pitch for a publicity shoot whilst on campus, where Mr Johnson appeared to find it difficult to convert a penalty kick after multiple attempts.
— LSU Media (@lsumedia) August 26, 2020
The Prime Minister and the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, have come under intense scrutiny over their handling of the A-Level results. Today, the National Education Union called his comments “brazen”, and accused Mr Johnson of attempting to “idly shrug away a disaster that his own government created”.
Speaking in Coalville, the Prime Minister sympathised with students, and said that he was “very, very glad that it has finally been sorted out”.
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Cover photo by Loughborough Students’ Union / Ryan Onions
Updated at 20:00 on Thursday 27th to include statements from the University’s COO, Vice Chancellor & LSU President Matt Youngs.