Academe in limbo as Morris bows out

October 24, 2002

The shock departure from the cabinet of Estelle Morris barely a month ahead of the planned publication of her plans for higher education brought expressions of regret from senior academics and union leaders.

Ms Morris said the extension of her portfolio beyond responsibility for school standards was among the main factors leading to her resignation. "If I'm really honest with myself, I've not enjoyed it as much and I just don't think I'm as good at it as I was at my other job."

Having specialised in school issues in opposition as well as throughout Labour's period in government, she admitted to lacking confidence in dealing with higher education.

But Diana Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "UUK has been grateful to Estelle Morris for her willingness to listen to us and engage with our concerns for the future of the sector. We wish her well."

A spokesman for the Association of University Teachers said: "Whatever our differences with her over individual policies, she was a good secretary of state. This will almost inevitably put back the review of higher education, which is bad news for the sector."

Tom Wilson, head of universities for lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "It's going to be a real shock to the system, although she was not heavily involved in higher education issues herself. Now that she has gone, things are going to be stalled a bit."

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons' education select committee, said she was an excellent minister and "one of the most decent politicians I have met".

Peter Cotgreave, secretary of the pressure group Save British Science, said he hoped that the forthcoming strategy paper would be left intact. "If the new secretary of state does not understand all the complexities and rushes the white paper, it could put in jeopardy all of the other good things that the government has done for science."

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