The 2024 Portal Trust Education Lecture

The Portal Trust Education Lecture Speakers

The 2024 Portal Trust Education Lecture was delivered by Colleen Harris MVO, DL.

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London’s outstanding education sector has the potential to be an engine for inclusion, integration and opportunity.

That was the message of Colleen Harris MVO DL, as she delivered this year’s Portal Trust Education Lecture on ‘What London can teach the rest of the world.’

Colleen is a Communications and Diversity professional with a wealth of experience in the public and non-profit sector. After starting her career in teaching, Colleen went on to hold a number of high-profile positions in Government, the Royal Household, and international organisations such as the UN. She now works in the consultancy field, and is the Portal Trust’s Diversity and Inclusion Adviser.

Drawing on her personal experiences of growing up in London, Colleen spoke movingly about her parents’ journey as part of the Windrush generation – moving from Guyana to use their skills as a nurse and a pharmacist in the 1950’s.

Colleen’s achievements couldn’t have been predicted by anyone observing the often hostile debate about immigration at the time her parents arrived in London. Having been the first Black press officer to work in Downing Street, and later the first Black member of the Royal Household, Colleen is now a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London, and presides over citizenship ceremonies at which she welcomes new British Citizens.

The Portal Trust Education Lecture Speakers
Image caption: The Portal Trust Education Lecture Speakers
Q&A with Colleen Harris MVO, DL and Denise Jones
Image caption: Q&A with Colleen Harris MVO, DL and Denise Jones
Guest Speaker, Coleen Harris MVO, DL
Image caption: Guest Speaker, Coleen Harris MVO, DL
Chief Executive of The Portal Trust, Richard Foley
Image caption: Chief Executive of The Portal Trust, Richard Foley

While recognising the complexity and nuances in debates about integration and multiculturalism, Colleen advocated for a core set of values centering “democracy, equality, integrity of the person, and freedom of expression”. These shared and non-negotiable values provide a framework in which cultural differences can thrive and enrich the whole of society, while rejecting the simplistic notion that assimilation – in which diverse communities are expected to discard their own heritage to “fit in” – is either desirable or possible.

Colleen pointed to stark statistics which show how ethnicity, social class, disability and other factors can still prevent young Londoners from meeting their full potential or receiving the same opportunities others do. She told us that 'London's allure for the brightest and most talented individuals from across the globe is no accident. It is the result of centuries of history, a commitment to innovation and excellence, and most importantly a spirit of openness and diversity. There is still much that needs to change – but it is precisely London’s willingness to evolve that makes it such a unique place.'

Colleen went on to say that the Education sector is best placed to provide the environment for diversity to flourish in 21st century London. While the workplace may have played a more important role for her parents’ generation, the rise of remote working, technology and specialisation means the opportunities to interact with those different from us are much reduced.

But for Colleen, “it is education – especially schools and universities – where we meet people who don’t have the same background as we do. That makes what the Portal Trust and other educational institutions do not just a good way to help people pass exams – it makes it part of the glue that holds our society together.”

Poetry is loved in Caribbean culture, and Colleen book ended her lecture with witty and gently provocative works by the Jamaican poets Louise Bennett and Dave Neita. Afterwards, our 200 guests enjoyed a lively reception, with people coming together from across London’s educational institutions to network and discuss what had been an absorbing, challenging and personal lecture.

The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024

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We continue to be proud of our long-standing relationship with City, University of London and Bayes Business School, which has enabled many young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access life-changing educational opportunities.

As Colleen highlighted in her lecture, ‘the relationship between academia and industry fosters a culture of innovation and collaboration, ensuring that London remains at the forefront of global trends and developments.’

We look forward to the 2025 Portal Trust Education Lecture, which will be given by Tristram Hunt, the historian, author, former parliamentarian and current director of the V&A.

You can watch the full lecture here.

The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
Image caption: The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
Image caption: The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
Image caption: The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024
Image caption: The Portal Trust Education Lecture 2024