Nick Tate was ushered into perhaps the most powerful job in British education this week. With an ominous flutter of red tape, Dr Tate was offered the role as chief executive of the new all-encompassing qualifications super quango, Quanca, with no outside competition at all. His only opponent for the job, John Hillier, National Council of Vocational Qualification's chief executive, had already said that Dr Tate was the best man for the job and has applied for early retirement.
"The Qualifications and National Curriculum Authority is a very special body with enormous responsibility," says Dr Tate. "We have vital responsibility for the strategic oversight for the needs of the national community." Given such statements it is not surprising that a lot of people, not least the universities, fear that they might have their toes trodden on.
An early draft remit reassured that Quanca's responsibilities would "exclude higher education". This has since disappeared. Quanca's remit will now include responsibility for higher-level vocational qualifications, as well as A levels, General NVQs and NVQs.
So are vice chancellors to have their autonomy challenged by Dr Tate? "The wording in the Education Bill is clear," he says. "Although courses accredited by universities will not come under my authority, higher level vocational qualifications will."
The exact relationship between universities and Quanca in providing vocational qualifications at higher level is still unclear. The issue was effectively put on hold by the Government until Sir Ron Dearing reports in summer. "We have very clear powers in relation to higher education," he added. "But the full implications are not clear until after Dearing."
Dr Tate is keen to point out that universities and Quanca will be expected to be close bedfellows regardless. "I'm very clear that higher education input is going to be very important," he says. "It is vital to know that we're developing the qualifications that are appropriate to higher education. But higher education is not my only consideration. Qualifications must ultimately lead to employment, and that might not always be through higher education. The employers' view will also be vital."