Edition 226 - February 2020

UK: Another new minister for education and possible split of higher education and research responsibilities

For the first time since 2010, the UK government is likely to split the education and research portfolios. After the sacking of Chris Skidmore, who was the minister for both universities and science, the two portfolios will probably be allocated respectively between two ministers. Former MP Michelle Donelan is to oversee the universities as part of the Department for Education and science, still without the appointed minister, might under the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. As more focus is being put on research and innovation in the post-Brexit agenda, it is also possible that a dedicated department will be formed under the influence of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief advisor.

On his blog, Cummings writes that the government wants to hire “an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads and perhaps some as officials”. These include data scientists and software developers, economists, policy experts, project managers, communication experts, junior researchers one of whom will also be his personal assistant, and “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”.

Michelle Donelan is the fifth minister of education in the last two years. Donelan has a degree in history and politics from the University of York and has worked in marketing before being elected as MP in 2015 and later on became the children and families minister. Her priorities will involve a response to the Augar review of post-18 education, which proposed cuts to tuition fees in England and deciding on the future shape of the teaching excellence framework. The Conservative manifesto promised for action against “low quality” university courses and she will have a key role in formulating the action, which will face strong opposition one way or another.

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