AN INTERVIEW WITH

Dame Minouche Shafik

LSE’s incoming Director sets out
her priorities and discusses what
makes the School unique.

“People have stopped me in the street to comment on how LSE has changed their life,” notes the School’s incoming Director Dame Minouche Shafik. As the first LSE alumna to become the School’s Director, that’s certainly something to which Minouche can testify. Following an MSc in Economics in 1986 and a DPhil at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, Minouche went on to work for the World Bank, the Department for International Development (DFID), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, most recently, the Bank of England, where she served as Deputy Governor.

Minouche at LSE

Her LSE training was dominated by two themes – intellectual rigour and a global outlook – which stayed with her throughout her professional life. “The MSc here was incredibly tough – I had never worked so hard in my life as I did that year!” But that course provided a strong foundation for her later successes. “The tradition of getting to ‘the causes of things’ at LSE is about seeking evidence in order to improve the world. It’s a principle that has guided me since. In every job I’ve done, at the very core it has been about using knowledge of the social sciences and analytical skills to find evidence to improve things. That was something I learned at LSE.”

As well as the School’s focus on intellectual rigour and evidence, Minouche believes that LSE’s global outlook was another important factor in her career choices. “At LSE, I became part of something much more global,” reflects Minouche, who was born in Egypt and spent part of her childhood in the US. “My class had students from around the world and I discovered the joys of being a part of an internationally diverse community.”

But it’s the “community of ideas” and public purpose embodied by LSE that Minouche feels really united her and her fellow students. “At LSE, it doesn’t matter where you come from – it is the coming together around learning and ideas that brings people together,” she says. “By its nature,
the School’s sense of community is not about rolling lawns and college balls, it is about foundational intellectual experiences with kindred spirits that transcend geography.”

“I love the fact that the School was set up with the explicit purpose of not being an ivory tower. It is in the heart of London, one of the most global cities in the world, and our faculty and students are from everywhere and actively engaged in the issues of the day. Our public events programme is the best in the world and everyone who comes to London wants to speak here because they know it matters.”

Priorities

So, as a former student and someone who has engaged with the School in her professional life, what are Minouche’s priorities for the School as incoming Director?

“There is a big part of the job which is about stewardship. Preserving LSE’s intellectual excellence and its truly global perspective and nature are a priority,” she says.

Minouche concedes the School also faces many challenges and one of the most prominent of these is Brexit. The incoming Director says she will do everything in her power to ensure the School remains global both in terms of resolving practical issues around visas and funding and by sending out signals that the School is open and continues to be engaged with the world. “Intellectual life and the life of ideas can only thrive in open societies. I think we have to make sure that every day, in everything we do, we reinforce the importance of this being a place that is open to people and ideas from all over the world.”

A second priority for Minouche is teaching and the student experience. “There is excellent teaching going on everywhere in the School but I think students’ expectations have shifted and we haven’t kept up,” she reflects. “I think aspects of the student experience, particularly the kind of feedback they get, the way they are assessed and their opportunities to interact with faculty are all things we could do more on and I will place a huge priority on this.”

Another important area, and a particularly prominent one given today’s rapidly changing world, is the School’s role as a public intellectual. “Across the world we see societies divided by many things including inequality, social and political conflict, intergenerational issues around wealth and the environment, as well as huge challenges created by technology and changes in the balance of power around the world. I think LSE has a lot to say about those issues and, over the coming years, we need to engage and help to come up with solutions to the biggest issues the world faces.”

The importance of evidence

One of LSE’s founders, Beatrice Webb, wrote in her diaries that “reform will not be brought about by shouting”. She went on to argue that what was needed was careful gathering of evidence and analysis and debate. “I think one of the problems with the modern world is that people often hear views that reinforce their prejudices rather than challenge them,” Minouche argues. “We can be the place that shows that engaging with ideas that differ from your own is the way we make intellectual progress. But it is crucial that debate is grounded in evidence if we are going to understand the true causes of things.”
The role of AlumiIt’s through that focus on evidence that Minouche believes makes LSE students and alumni unique. “LSE creates citizens of the world who, because of the rigour of their training, will be good citizens wherever they live. They will make choices based on evidence; they will want to see policies that improve the world based on facts and good research.” That also means the School needs to engage with its alumni differently. Recalling a conversation with an LSE alumna, Minouche says: “She said to me that her undergraduate university engaged with her as a nostalgic 19 year old whereas LSE connected with her as an adult citizen of the world engaged with the issues of the day. She clearly preferred the latter.”
The School has an exceptional track record in placing its graduates in great jobs. “We often cite the 37 world leaders and 18 Nobel laureates associated with the School. But equally important are the thousands of alumni doing important jobs in areas such as government, finance, industry, teaching, and civil society,” Minouche notes. Recent research has shown that LSE graduates are the highest paid five years after graduation in the UK.

The networks built as a student can also be a powerful force in later life. Minouche reflects on her own experience: “The relationships I built with faculty and fellow students at LSE stayed with me throughout my career. Many became future colleagues and life long friends. What we shared was a commitment to intellectual rigour and openness to the world.

Minouche feels alumni have an important role to play not just in the wider world but in the future of the School and its mission going forward. “I want to ensure that our alumni can continue to be part of the LSE community by engaging with us through our research and public events programme. We can do this digitally, through events and alumni networks around the world, as well as by creating a space for them on campus when they visit London.

I would also encourage them to remember that if they themselves were transformed by their time here, that by giving back to the school, they can extend that opportunity to others.”

Dame Minouche Shafik, LSE’s incoming Director, was talking to Adrian Thomas, Director of Communications.