Chalk Talk: The green chancellor who's planning to make his voice heard

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Porritt is determined to put his time as Chancellor of Keele University to good use. After all, he could be some time in the post – the university has only had three Chancellors since it was granted university status in 1962.

The leading environmental campaigner and former government adviser on green issues believes the economic turmoil facing higher education presents it with an ideal opportunity to grapple with issues of sustainability and energy conservation.

"It's a pretty critical time for higher education," he tells me. "There won't be much money for capital spending, so universities need to take a serious look at energy efficiency and carbon reduction – even if it is just to save money."

He would hope the policy of sustainability would be more embedded in the institution – and, indeed, in others – as befits someone who has stayed true to his environmentalist principles since the 1970s, when he joined the Green party when it was thought of as a "fundamentally small band of rather eccentric extremists".

At Keele, the policy will go further than just money-saving. The university has already invested in a sustainability hub – for use by the whole community – designed to promote innovation and implementation of a sustainable lifestyle.

Porritt would like to see the Government abandoning its fees policy. "I just think that it is fundamentally wrong to dump a burden of debt on any undergraduate, which will then be with them for a significant part of their life," he explains. "I don't think it is a moral approach to higher education – that debt is an acceptable way of building a new career."

He is realistic enough, though, to realise that his chances of making away headway with this argument are stymied for the time being.

Some university chancellors just take the job for the ceremonial parts of the job – presiding over graduation day, etcetera. Others – notably Lord (Christopher) Patten at Oxford University – use it to put their weight behind policy issues.

Nice to see that Keele will have a campaigning chancellor, and probably not just for the foreseeable future.