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Given the troubled political waters in the UK, with the MPs expenses scandal and the results of local government and European Parliament elections rocking Gordon Brown’s administration, the Prime Minister’s government reshuffle and the axing of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) did not come as a great surprise. Still, it does not mean the change was welcomed by all higher education stakeholders.
DIUS became one of the shortest-lived Whitehall ministries ever. Brown’s own creation, two years ago, DIUS was scored poorly on several areas by the Cabinet Office Capability Review early this year. Subsequently, DIUS was merged with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform at the beginning of June, to form a new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), headed by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson. This mega-ministry would take responsibilities for higher and further education, alike. The changes were justified as an attempt to put universities “closer to the heart of government thinking about building now for the upturn”.
While some stakeholders welcome the creation of the new department, claiming that it will help build Britain’s resources of skills, knowledge and creativity – all drivers of competitiveness – others are far from enthusiastic. They generally criticise the dissolution of DIUS, which gave for the first time a separate voice to universities at the Cabinet’s table.
At a time of such political unrest in Britain, the lifetime of the newly born department – BIS - remains as uncertain as that of its predecessor.