Rector interview and analysis: Lady Hazel Cosgrove

Published

Selena Jackson
Features Editor
Interview

Firstly, why do you believe that you would be a good fit for the role of Glasgow University Rector?
My roots are in Glasgow where I was born and brought up. I came here to the Law Faculty straight from school. The teaching was excellent and I have always felt a debt of gratitude to this university as the place where the career that has given me so much satisfaction all began. I also have the happiest memories of my time at Gilmorehill. I made friendships that have lasted a lifetime and even met my husband, John, who was a dental student.

In the years since I graduated I have always been keen to maintain my links with the University. I was very happy to be able to serve for several years on the Chancellor’s Fund Advisory Committee. I have watched with pride as this university has gone from strength to strength and has succeeded in enhancing its reputation for the quality and breadth of its teaching, research in many varied and important areas, and for student satisfaction.

What is your understanding of the role, and what would your main aims be throughout your three year term if you were elected?
If I were elected, I would hope to establish a close relationship with the SRC and to hear from them and from other contact with students on campus, of their concerns. My main aim would be not only to make university managers aware of these concerns but to follow them up so as to ensure, so far as is within my power, that they are fairly and promptly dealt with.

So far as my specific pledges are concerned, I believe that it is very important for students to have sufficient and suitable spaces for study. I know from the plans for the new development that individual study pods are proposed. These are very welcome. I pledge to look at the provision which exists and to advocate for any necessary improvement. When I studied at this university, there were only a handful of women students in my class. The professions and most areas of work were male dominated and controlled. Much has changed since those days but there are unfortunately still areas of inequality. It will come as no surprise that I am totally committed to promoting gender equality on campus.

The current Rector, Edward Snowden, has been criticised by some for holding a somewhat “symbolic” position, without having effected any real changes. Would you be able to dedicate a suitable amount of time to this role, given your other commitments within the legal profession?
In recent months, I have been excited to hear of the plans for the extensive new development at the Byres Road site. As I have now retired from full time judicial duties, I feel that this is an ideal time for me to try to give back something of the debt I owe to this university. To be able to do so at this time would be a real privilege.

If elected as Rector, I would be a visible and active presence rather than an absentee figurehead.

Within your pledges, you have mentioned your enthusiasm for increased use of sustainable fuels and materials across campus. With Glasgow University having divested from the use of fossil fuels within the last few years, how would you promote the use of sustainable energy, particularly in light of the newly approved campus redevelopment?
I was very pleased to hear that the University was the first academic institution in Europe to commit to divest from fossil fuels. However, I understand that divestment is not an instantaneous process. As Rector, I would seek to ensure that the University adheres to its promise to fully divest, and to catalyse this process by exerting pressure where appropriate.

You have a vast amount of experience from working on the Scottish Mental Welfare Commission – how has this experience shaped your understanding of mental health today, and in particular, how would you be keen to apply your interest in this cause in order to assist students at Glasgow University?
I was Chair of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland for several years. During that time I learned a lot about mental illness and gained an understanding of the issues and difficulties faced by sufferers. Provision for those suffering mental health problems has always been the Cinderella of health service provision and, sadly, sufferers face stigma on account of their illness. These were problems the Commission worked hard to address and with that as part of my background, I would be anxious to find out what support and services are available to students at the University with mental health issues. I would hope to be able to see that any gaps in provision are filled and, so far as possible, effect any necessary improvements in this important area.

How would you plan to represent students coming from the EU and further afield, given the uncertainty of their future in the UK post-Brexit?
Students coming from the EU and further afield currently face uncertainty as to their future. My own grandparents on both my sides of the family were immigrants to Scotland around 1900 when they sought refuge from persecution. So, as a grandchild of immigrants, I feel a particular empathy with student refugees and asylum seekers. I believe that the University must do all in its power to ensure that good quality advice, support and guidance are available for all these students. One of my pledges is to advocate for their rights.

Finally, with a recent study showing that students can expect to spend upwards of £20,000 per year at Glasgow University, how would you propose making further education more accessible to a broader range of people, and encourage prospective students who think that going to university is now perhaps more of a gamble than it is worth?
I understand very well how the cost of a university education impacts heavily on students nowadays. My own grandchildren are approaching university age and I know that it is tempting for their generation to feel that going to university may not be economically worthwhile.

I believe that the opportunity to spend a period devoted to study in an academic environment prior to joining the workplace is an immensely valuable and irreplaceable once in a lifetime experience. If the University provides a fulfilling and enjoyable experience for its students, they are the people best placed to convey their enthusiasm and to influence prospective students. I also believe in this connection that it is important for the University to do all that it can to increase the employability chances for its students. I know that this university has many placement and other schemes to connect students with prospective employers.

It also has a huge number of alumni working in all parts of the United Kingdom and indeed all over the world. I pledge to attempt to improve employability by mobilising that alumni network.

Analysis

On first glance, Lady Hazel Cosgrove’s manifesto promises reliable action, tackling issues ranging from employability, to student refugees, to the use of sustainable fuels on campus. She has already garnered public endorsement from the QMU (of which she is a lifetime member), the GUU, and both the Law and Psychology societies.

A Glasgow University graduate who went on to become the first female appointed to the Inner House of the Court of Session, Scotland’s Supreme Civil Court, who spent much of her career chairing the Mental Welfare Commission and the Expert Panel on Sex Offending, she emphasised her love of Glasgow University and the indebtedness she feels towards her tutors who allowed her to excel in her career. There is no denying that she has been extremely committed to her career as a judge, as for that she can only be commended, dedication we would hope to see mirrored at Glasgow, if she were elected.

It comes as no surprise that gender equality places highly on her list of priorities, and she states she is committed to improving employability prospects by nurturing the Glasgow alumni network across the UK. Additionally, she would be keen to engage the experience she gained from her time on the Mental Welfare Commission to “see that any gaps in provision are filled and, so far as possible, effect any necessary improvements”.

Lady Cosgrove’s manifesto is full of promise, however she fails to lay out any durable strategies to give voters an idea of exactly how she intends to go about implementing her pledges. Perhaps this is the sort of proposal a short interview simply cannot do justice to, however her presence on campus thus far has been underwhelming. Despite a “long-standing commitment” being cited as the reason for her physical absence both from the campaign trail and from the Rectorial hustings on March 16th, not a lot has been done to alleviate concerns that, if elected, she may well serve as yet another absentee figurehead. When questioned on her dedication to the role, she assured that she would indeed be an active working Rector, but as is, this is an unconvincing promise. It appears that her candidacy may sadly materialise as no more than that: promise without any real substance.

A development to have materialised over the last few days of campaigning concerns Lady Cosgrove’s involvement with the Jewish National Fund UK (JNF-UK), of which she is an Honorary Patron. When questioned about the extent of her participation with this group she said that the JNF-UK is “a charity registered with the Charity Commission. It is a non political organisation with no connection to the Government of Israel”. She continued by saying that JNF-UK aims to “relieve poverty and advance health and education by supporting schools and hospitals”.

JNF-UK was formerly affiliated with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), established in 1901 to buy and develop land from the Ottoman Palestine. On further reading, the JNF’s website describes “philanthropic Zionism” as central to its aims, and stipulates that its reclaimed land must only be leased, mortgaged, or bought by Jews. The relationship between JNF-UK and the JNF broke down in 1999, and it was acknowledged that JNF-UK was an independent UK charity. In 2005, JNF-UK stopped sending funds to the JNF, and their independence from the JNF was re-affirmed.

Whilst Lady Cosgrove’s association specifically with the JNF-UK does not suggest any affiliation with the JNF, there remains some confusion amongst the student body over the history of JNF-UK’s previous links to such an organisation. The JNF has been criticised for its lack of transparency relating to its ultimate political objectives. This will need to be publicly clarified, in order to dispel any confusion surrounding the two organisations.

[Edit: This piece has been amended to clarify Cosgrove’s associations are purely with the JNF-UK, not with the JNF, and we apologise for any confusion caused. We would urge readers to look further into the complicated history of the two separate organisations.]