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UK: New ministers for the Department for Education

As Boris Johnson took over as UK Prime Minister in July 2019, new ministers were appointed in different departments. In the Department for Education, Gavin Williamson, formerly Defence Secretary and Chief Whip, became the new Secretary of State, taking over from Damian Hinds. Boris’ brother, Jo Johnson, returned to his former post as Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, thus replacing Chris Skidmore who had served under Theresa May’s government since 2018. Concerning Jo Johnson’s positions on higher education, he has always been a firm opponent of the Augar review of post-18 education, a major reform of tertiary education announced in early 2018 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2018), and published on 30 May 2019 under the title of Independent panel report to the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding. The Augar review mainly focuses on the costs, funding and values of higher education and puts forward a series of recommendations, including:

  • the reduction of higher education tuition fees to GBP 7 500 per year;
  • Government to replace lost fee income by increasing teaching grant;
  • extending the student loan repayment period from 30 years to 40 years.

Jo Johnson is, instead, strongly in favour of the return of post-study work visas, a provision that will probably be positively welcomed by universities.

Boris Johnson’s pro-no-deal-Brexit Cabinet has recently been the object of serious concerns among the Scottish and Welsh Governments over the future of Erasmus+ after the EU exit. In a letter to the Education Secretary, Williamson, Scottish Further and Higher Education Minister, Richard Lochhead, and Welsh Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, argue that the UK Department for Education could be considering an Erasmus+ replacement programme for England only, “with potentially no consequential funding for Devolved Administrations (DAs) to put in place their own arrangement”. This would thus be detrimental to the hundreds of students and staff who could neither participate in the last year of the Erasmus+ programme in 2020 nor in any alternative exchange schemes (according to the Scottish Government, between 2014 and 2018, more than 15 000 students and staff from Scotland participated in Erasmus+).

Times Higher Education