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#RESHUFFLE – The 10 crucial things any new Minister for Universities needs to know

This guest blog has been written in a personal capacity by Dr Diana Beech (Head of Government Affairs at the University of Warwick).

Diana was Policy Adviser for higher education to various Ministers for Universities and Science (Sam Gyimah, Jo Johnson and Chris Skidmore – twice!), a role she fulfilled after a stint as HEPI’s first ever Director of Policy and Advocacy.

So, the promised new world has arrived. The UK now finds itself outside the European Union and Prime Minister Boris Johnson is finally delivering the long-anticipated reshuffle of his ministerial team.

This brings yet more change for UK universities. As well as having to come to terms with significant changes to the Cabinet – and allowing for double counting of both Jo Johnson and Chris Skidmore, who have each done the job twice – the higher education sector will now have to get to know its sixth Universities Minister since 1 January 2018.

Having served as Policy Adviser to so many Ministers for Universities and Science, under two Secretaries of State in two different Departments and two different Prime Ministers, I am no stranger to change. The steady stream of ministerial resignations and reshuffles during my tenure made me a dab hand at thinking about what a new minister needs to know on their first day in office.

So, not wanting to break an old habit, here’s my top ten of things I want our new Minister for Universities to know from the outset:

  • Not all students are ‘young people’. The first point may seem obvious, but it is still one that far too many policymakers get wrong, particularly since much responsibility for higher education was transferred to the Department for Education and universities have come to be regarded by some as ‘big schools’ rather than the vast ecosystems of life-long learning, research and innovation that they are. Although 18-year-olds make up the largest group of higher education entrants, it is folly to assume all students are school-leavers. The range of options available to enable people to enrol on higher education later in life, together with our open and inclusive approach to international students, means higher education students span a wide range of age groups. The latest data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) confirm that there are around half a million higher education students aged 30 and over, so we should not overlook their specific needs and challenges.
  • Postgraduates are students too! In the same vein, not all higher education students are enrolled on undergraduate programmes. Postgraduates studying for both taught and research Master’s degrees, as well as PhDs, are all students too. Yet they have often fallen between the cracks in the current machinery of Government, with more than one Department having responsibility for postgraduate provision. So, we need to ensure postgraduates are not left out of the picture when it comes to designing future student-centred policies.


Fri 14 Feb 2020, 12:00