Greg Clark, the new minister for universities and science, has been urged to reassure the sector of his commitment to the brief, after publication of a lengthy list of responsibilities that includes “preventing violent extremism” and “widening participation” to alternative providers.
Mr Clark’s list of responsibilities, published last week, is far longer than the responsibilities listed for his predecessor, David Willetts. But the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has insisted that Mr?Clark’s responsibilities regarding higher education are “unchanged” from the previous minister’s.
Mr Clark is a Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for cities, local growth and constitutional reform, in addition to his universities and science brief.
His universities and science brief includes responsibility for “preventing violent extremism”, “student finance”, the “education exports strategy” and “student experience”.
Another of Mr Clark’s responsibilities is “widening participation – students and providers”.
The term “widening participation” is more usually used in relation to encouraging students from poorer backgrounds to apply to university, rather than opening up provision to “alternative” and private higher education institutions.
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the Million+ group, said that although she thought Mr Clark’s work on the “growth agenda” could help universities to contribute more to local economic growth, he “clearly has a much more extensive list of responsibilities” than Mr Willetts.
“Given the questions about the future funding of higher education and research and the deregulation of student numbers, both vice-chancellors and students will be keen to get assurances that universities and research remain a key focus and priority of the government,” she added. To accommodate his extra role in the Cabinet Office, other parts of Mr Willetts’ portfolio have been transferred to other ministers, a BIS spokesman said. They added that Mr?Willetts had always been responsible for “preventing violent extremism”, but this had not been listed online.
Andy Westwood, chief executive of GuildHE, which represents smaller institutions, said he agreed that although Mr Clark had a “very long list of responsibilities”, there were “obvious” and “very welcome” potential tie-ups between higher education, innovation and local economic growth.