Memories of Man High with Anushka Asthana at the 2021 Founders' Lecture
At Manchester High School for Girls’ first ever virtual Founders’ Lecture this week journalist Anushka Asthana (Class of 1998) spoke to an audience of almost 200 people, about her memories of Manchester High, reflected on her career to date and answered questions from the audience.
Hosted by Head Mistress Mrs Helen Jeys, this event would normally be a formal lecture in School, however, this year, Anushka joined us virtually from her London home. She delivered an inspiring lecture to an audience of pupils, alumnae and the wider community, including students from local schools interested in journalism.
Anushka is Editor-at-Large at The Guardian, where she also broadcasts a daily podcast ‘Today in Focus’, as well as co-presenting ‘Peston’ on ITV with Robert Peston.
Growing up in Stalybridge, Anushka remembered catching the 691 bus each day to MHSG. She fondly recalled her MHSG days - chanting in Latin, learning the value of discussing, debating and arguing in her History lessons and her Young Enterprise experience with friends in Sixth Form. Talking to MHSG pupils today, she said, “Those friendships are going to be the most enduring and important part of your experience at this school”.
She joined MHSG at age four, in Reception. After completing her A-levels in Sciences and Economics, Anushka read Economics at Cambridge University, then studied Periodical Journalism at City University of London, before breaking into the world of regional and then national media.
In the lecture, Anushka talked about some of her early career highlights and set-backs. She flew on Air Force One with George W Bush and interviewed Barack Obama, when he was a rising star in the Senate. Taking every opportunity open to her, she worked her way up, becoming the first female Political Editor at The Guardian, a role she undertook with Heather Stewart as a job share. Her advice to those starting out in the workplace was clear – aim high, take opportunities, specialise. To pupils, she said “Do not be put off by your skills as a teenager”, emphasising “you can learn to do anything”.
Anushka was asked about the impact of MHSG. She reflected on the School’s ethos and its suffragette heritage, which instilled the idea that “as a girl – and as a woman - we can do whatever we want to do.” During the evening, she spoke about the gender pay gap, privilege and opportunity, and responded to questions on topics from the rise of fake news to racial equality. Thinking about the changing media landscape, she reflected on the enduring aspects of journalism: the importance of telling a story, whatever the platform.
Like many parents, Anushka is currently facing the challenge of home schooling her three young boys whilst working from her DIY studio at home, so she knows about the difficulties of work-life balance. She asserted that there are “so many solutions”, as long as we are creative and open-minded. “We need to talk about men and work-life balance” she stressed, reflecting on how to balance success and ambition with seeing enough of her children. For her, this is not just an elusive dream - women can achieve both - and she now looks forward to new career opportunities, when they come.
Each year, the Founders' Lecture brings distinguished alumnae speakers to Manchester High to engage in topical debates and broaden our perspectives. 2021, although virtual, was no different, in essence.
You can view Anushka's Founders' Lecture here.
We would like to thank everyone who joined us.
Thanks also to those who made donations to MHSG Bursary Fund, whilst booking your tickets.