Former fee sceptic gets top job in rejig

May 13, 2005

Bill Rammell - former tuition fees sceptic, former student union official and now holder of one of Labour's most marginal parliamentary seats - has been appointed Higher Education Minister in Tony Blair's post-election reshuffle.

Mr Rammell made the election headlines last week by holding his Harlow seat after three recounts, with a majority of just 97.

In a swap of ministerial jobs with Kim Howells, who moves to the Foreign Office, Mr Rammell becomes Labour's fifth Higher Education Minister since 1997.

Lord Sainsbury remains Science Minister in the reshuffle in the new Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry, which is headed by Alan Johnson, the former Higher Education Minister.

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, was at the centre of reshuffle controversy - reportedly resisting Downing Street's suggestion of a move to the number two post at the Treasury and then opposing the appointment of key Blair adviser Andrew Adonis as School Standards Minister with a seat in the Lords.

On Tuesday, Ms Kelly denied the press speculation and welcomed the appointment of Lord Adonis - widely regarded as the architect of new Labour's education policies since 1997 - to a more junior role in her department. Conor Ryan, David Blunkett's adviser during Labour's first term, will take Lord Adonis's former post at Downing Street.

Mr Rammell brings his experience of working in higher education to his new ministerial post.

He was born in Harlow, the constituency he represents, and educated at one of the town's comprehensive schools, before taking a degree in French and politics at what was then University College of Wales, Cardiff.

He served as president of Cardiff students' union for a year from 1982, becoming eastern region officer for the National Union of Students in 1984 after taking up a place on British Rail's management training scheme.

He became general manager of the students' union at King's College London in 1990, after a spell as head of youth services at Basildon council.

Mr Rammell first stood as Labour candidate for Harlow in the 1992 general election but failed to take it from the Conservatives. He, instead, became business manager of the University of London Union.

In 1997, he won the seat with a 10,000 majority in the Labour landslide, entering Parliament with a reputation as an opponent of tuition fees and a Europhile.

By 2000, Mr Rammell had admitted in Parliament to overcoming his qualms about tuition fees, describing them as the only realistic way of increasing university funding.

Nevertheless, he argued that allowing universities - particularly those in the Russell Group - to charge differential fees would be "a significant step too far".

* David Cameron, the Tories' policy co-ordinator, has been named Shadow Education Secretary in a post-election reshuffle.

Mr Cameron, who has been tipped as a future Tory leader, replaces Tim Collins, who lost his Westmorland and Lonsdale seat to the Liberal Democrats.

Before being elected to the Oxfordshire seat of Witney in 2001, he was a director of media company Carlton Communications.

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