What trader cares about other people?
What banker cares about guilt or sadness?
Emmm… Maybe she does!?
A peal of laughter and rapturous applause echoed around the University of Leicester’s Ken Edwards Lecture Theatre on Wednesday night, as world acclaimed Latin-Amercian author Laura Esquivel made a remark about bankers, remembered that a representative from event sponsor Santander was present, and hastily excused herself.
The author of the 1990 prize-winning novel, Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate), was giving the university’s second Annual Creative Writing Lecture during her first ever visit to the UK. Her speech, delivered in Spanish, pointed to the power of the individual and suggested how creative dynamism could inspire change.
Like Water for Chocolate became a screenplay in 1992, claiming 11 Ariel Awards (Mexican Oscars). Powerfully evocative to the senses, the novel integrates Mexican cooking into a narrative about the Mexican revolution.
She has also published The Law of Love (1996), Swift as Desire (2002) and Malinche (2006), alongside two books that combine cooking and personal philosophy. The author said that her passion for dramatic structure drove this unusual combination.
The event, which attracted 250 staff and students across all faculties of the university alongside members of the public, is also a subdued success for the much-maligned Spanish bank, Santander.
Santander Global Universities has donated the equivalent of half a billion pounds to the global higher education sector since 1997, with more than 60 UK institutions joining the scheme since 2007. The project provides funding towards scholarships, at undergraduate and postgraduate level; projects such as the featured lecture; and entrepreneurial activities.
Santander Universities’ considerable nexus of co-operation agreements, including Central and Latin American nations, made the event possible. Dr Harry Whitehead, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, shared his appreciation of the bank’s efforts:
The School of English is very excited to have the opportunity to bring Laura Esquivel from Mexico to deliver the Annual Creative Writing Lecture. Our thanks go to Santander Universities for making this financially possible. The Lecture’s ethos is to try to invigorate creative writing by hearing from leading voices outside the white, English speaking tradition.
Dr. Harry Whitehead, School of English, University of Leicester
Santander has featured often across our blog as a bank whose innovative personal finance products are too often let down by poor service and reputation. The bank is now in a bit of a mess as the Spanish economy continues to deteriorate. It defended itself against a report by Barclays that questioned the legitimacy of the capital-loss buffer stated on its accounts, but it has since announced a 90% fall in profits between July and September owing to bad property loans in Spanish territory.
In the UK, Santander has hiked its standard variable mortgage rate by a whole half-percentage point while other lenders have offered reductions. Gross mortgage lending is substantially down in the third quarter on previous years as the bank attempts to sure up the overall average quality of its loan book (read more).
It’s easy to argue that the bank is at odds with customer needs right now, and it’s simply not able to play a part in helping to consolidate a sustainable level of growth following the UK’s re-emergence out of recession. But universities are worrying about investment too. The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, believes that we could soon become less competitive against overseas universities. That’s less income arriving here; less talent; and a weaker workforce.
The pressure has hiked on students as well following the escalation of tuition fees up to £9,000. Future doctors, vets, engineers, and business leaders are embarking on a debt-funded mission that is far more costly than any UK students have experienced before – and all without the guarantee of jobs at the end of it.
Whilst only a drop in the water, Santander’s cash, scholarships and willingness to engage are a considerable boost for a shivering higher education network. And many will (perhaps unfairly) overlook this philanthropic endeavour which serves to plaster over a few of the cracks in social and economic efficacy that have formed elsewhere.