Chris Skidmore returns as universities minister in UK government

MP moved back to old brief after less than seven weeks away, replacing Jo Johnson

September 10, 2019
Chris Skidmore

Chris Skidmore has been reappointed universities and science minister in the UK government less than seven weeks after leaving the post.

Mr Skidmore replaces Jo Johnson, who cited an “unresolvable tension” between “family loyalty and the national interest” as he resigned from his brother Boris’ Cabinet on 5 September.

Mr Skidmore previously held the brief between December 2018 and July this year, before being moved to the Department of Health when Boris Johnson become prime minister.

He had made no secret of his desire to retain the post, and his return is likely to be welcomed by universities because he had proven to be a strong champion of their interests during his first tenure.

Mr Skidmore, who backed Remain in the European Union referendum, is the author of several books on the Tudor monarchs and formerly taught history part-time at the University of Bristol.

During his first spell in the universities brief, he strongly criticised over-reliance on graduate earnings data to assess the performance of universities, emphasised the importance of the arts and humanities, and rejected suggestions that there was a “creeping culture of censorship” on UK campuses.

One of his first challenges is likely to be contributing to the government’s response to the Augar review of post-18 education in England, which called for a lower fee cap of £7,500 and full replacement funding so the average unit of resource remains unchanged. Some fear that the Treasury would be unwilling to finance this top-up funding but that the government could go ahead with the fee cut anyway.

However, Mr Skidmore previously said that his personal view was that replacement funding was “absolutely” needed.

He could also play an important role in shaping the UK’s future relationship with the EU in terms of science and research. Mr Skidmore previously said that he hoped that the UK would associate to Horizon Europe, the bloc’s €100 billion (£89 billion) research funding programme, which is due to get under way in 2021. However, the UK is unlikely to have access to the scheme in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

As Mr Skidmore’s appointment was confirmed, the UK government also said that it would reintroduce two-year post-study work visas for international students – a policy promoted particularly strongly by Jo Johnson.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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