Three-D Issue 32: What now Johnson?

Einar Thorsen
Bournemouth University

In his first speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson delivered a rallying cry for Brexit – claiming “the doubters, the doomsters, the gloomsters – they are going to get it wrong again”, and that we should now rejoice as “we level up across Britain”. There was much to celebrate about “the awesome foursome” too (that’s the constituent nations of the UK in Boris-speech), and on three occasions he singled out Higher Education specifically. Firstly noting how “our universities, our scientists” are “loved around the world”, secondly as “the enormous strengths of this economy: in life sciences, in tech, in academia, in music, the arts, culture, financial services”, and thirdly a promise to change tax rules to incentivise research. No doubt the latter will be targeted at STEM and perceived ‘business needs’, rather than the arts and humanities, but we will likely again be looking towards Boris’ brother to figure out what happens next.

Jo Johnson’s return to his former Universities brief, having been appointed Minister of State at the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seems a surprise move. But at least he gets to attend Cabinet this time. Johnson has a formidable legacy for his previous stint in the role, being responsible for the formation of the Office for Students, the Teaching Excellence Framework, and establishing UK Research and Innovation (he was in post less than three years). Expect more of the same then, and student interests (and power) to be at the heart of HE.

It is worth noting that Johnson took a very dim view of the Augar review of Post-18 Education and Funding. Perhaps welcome reading, since media and communication was specifically mentioned in a curious analysis about the value of degrees and predicted graduate earnings. Ironically the report claimed to “make no judgements about the merits or demerits of these disciplines, but question whether this changing pattern of public subsidy is strategically desirable” (p 82) At least Augar did also concede and recognise the value to society of these degrees (p 87 if you’re interested), but it might be a stretch to hope that is the bit Johnson saves before he scraps it.

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