Wednesday, 27 July 2011

David Willetts at the Westminster Education Forum

I heard David Willetts speak - briefly - at the Westminster Education Forum yesterday afternoon. He set out quite clearly the three issues currently at the top of his agenda:
  1. Research. His words were "I fully recognise that we have to set out the Government's thinking on research and innovation". He later clarified in response to a question that this would include a statement about Research degree Awarding Powers 
  2. Arts and Humanities. Not so much a policy objective here as a desire to communicate to the Arts and Humanities community how much the Government loves it. 
  3. Keeping a close eye on any developing PG issue, as students start to graduate under the new financial arrangements.
This list is chiefly interesting for what it leaves out. Although he later openly confirmed that a chapter on internationalisation was included in earlier drafts of the White Paper, there was nothing about internationalisation here. Nor was there anything about core/margin or AAB. Obviously the Minister knew perfectly well that there were journalists in the audience even if this wasn't a set-piece policy speech, and therefore his words can't be taken simply at face value, but this suggests to me that the Minister has moved on from the implementation issues that will affect so much of the White Paper settlement. I took this to confirm my view that HEFCE are really in the centre of the picture now.

It was also interesting to hear Rajay Naik speak on behalf of the OU (where he is now Director of Government Relations). He gave an impassioned plea for Government to amend its approach to student support in order to fit more easily into the OU's current delivery model. As I've already come to the view that the OU has decided to preserve its existing business model rather than seize the opportunities of the new system, I was obviously pleased to hear this. I didn't hear anything in what David Willetts said that led me to think the OU will be able to achieve the changes to student support Rajay was asking for, but of course that isn't my expertise.

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