Commons committee rounds on top mandarin for gaps in knowledge

June 25, 2004

The new director-general of higher education has worrying gaps in his knowledge and a lack of awareness of some of the key challenges facing the sector, according to a select committee report published this week.

Following a scrutiny session with Sir Alan Wilson, the government's first DGHE, in March, the House of Commons science and technology committee has raised questions about his role.

Ian Gibson, chair of the committee, told The Times Higher : "Sir Alan was clearly not briefed, and he has not hit the ground running."

In a report released on Monday, the MPs said that Sir Alan, formerly vice-chancellor of Leeds University, was a talented man and well qualified for his new job.

But the report criticises him for failing to take responsibility for the "worrying trend" of science closures across UK universities in recent years. The MPs said: "We are disappointed that Sir Alan does not see a greater role for government intervention to maintain university research and teaching capacity in key disciplines."

The report draws attention to Sir Alan's lack of awareness on key issues, such as the Foreign Office scheme for vetting foreign students and researchers in an attempt to curb terrorism. It criticises him for knowing "so little" about a European initiative to develop a higher education area, including the controversial harmonisation of degree structures.

It says: "The science community is looking for leadership from the Government on this issue and, on the evidence of Sir Alan's comments, it is unlikely to be forthcoming in the near future."

The report also criticises the Department for Education and Skills for appointing its director- general in October last year, which was the best part of a year after the publication of the Higher Education White Paper.

The report says: "It should have been clear before [it] was published in January 2003 that the structures within the DFES were inadequate."

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