Radicals rule the roost, OK

May 9, 1997

Two former 1960s radicals have been given responsibility for further and higher education in the new Labour government.

The seven-strong Education and Employment team, headed by Secretary of State David Blunkett, includes Baroness Blackstone as minister for education and employment in the Lords and Kim Howells as Parliamentary under-secretary for lifelong learning.

Baroness Blackstone left the Labour party in the late 1960s in a protest against the Commonwealth Immigration Act, while Dr Howells was among the leaders of the Hornsey College of Art student occupation in 1969.

Baroness Blackstone's title reflects her responsibility for the whole range of departmental responsibilities in the Lords. But within the department she will look after lifelong learning issues, including further and higher education.

She refused to commit herself on policy detail: "I need to get my feet under the table and have a great deal of reading to do after spending the past five years on foreign affairs."

But after ten years as master of Birkbeck College, London, and a lifetime as an academic specialising in education and public policy, she brings considerably greater previous knowledge to the post than the average minister. One major issue she will confront is higher education funding. Last year she argued that Labour's policy of funding the system through graduate repayment of maintenance loans, unveiled in its Dearing submission, would not be adequate by itself and would need the addition of a tuition fees element. In 1972 she suggested that universal nursery education might be funded by cutting expenditure on undergraduates.

She expects to spend much of the next few months visiting colleges, while Dr Howells will be seen more in the universities.

Dr Howells's tasks will include handling further and higher education in the Commons. He expects experience from his previous shadow trade and industry role to help. "I was very interested in the interface between education and business".

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