Michelle Donelan new universities minister

The 37-year-old MP for Chippenham has been made minister of state in the department for education

Michelle Donelan has been appointed minister of state in the Department of Education (DfE), following Boris Johnson’s government reshuffle.

Her predecessor, Chris Skidmore, was fired from his role as minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation yesterday. Mr Skidmore’s junior government role straddled remits at two Westminster departments, and divided his time between the DfE and department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS).

In an indication that the role may be divided up, Ms Donelan’s appointment appears to only be to the DfE at Great Smith Street. According to FE Week, the MP for Chippenham confirmed she had been handed the role of minister for universities, further indicating her predecessor’s responsibility for science and research may be handed to a separate minister.

The Wiltshire parliamentarian has been working at DfE since September 2019, when she was appointed to cover for Kemi Badenoch as undersecretary of state for children and families, while Ms Badenoch took maternity leave.

Ms Donelan becomes the fifth appointment to the university brief in two years. Since 2010, the position has been held by David Willetts, Jo Johnson, Sam Gyimah and Mr Skidmore. Ms Donelan studied history and politics at the University of York and hails from Cheshire. The 37-year-old was elected to parliament in 2015 and supported Remain in the 2016 referendum.

Donelan’s opinions on education

Given that these outrageous salaries are paid in even the poorest performing universities, will the prime minister confirm that this situation will be looked at in the post-18 education review?
– Michelle Donelan on vice-chancellor pay

She has previously sat on the education select committee and has engaged frequently with debates on higher education in parliament. She has criticised the increase of unconditional offers and called for greater transparency in university spending, adding: “it is imperative not only that university students get value for money but that they are able to see where their money goes”.

In 2017, Ms Donelan called on prime minister Theresa May to include vice-chancellor pay in the then forthcoming Augar review. “[The vice-chancellors] failed to recognise that their salaries are outrageous, being twice that of the prime minister and mainly funded by the taxpayer and student debt. Given that these outrageous salaries are paid in even the poorest performing universities, will the prime minister confirm that this situation will be looked at in the post-18 education review?”

In February 2020, Ms Donelan praised the Office for Students for “bringing in greater competition and choice and promoting higher-quality education for all”.

In 2015, six months after her election, Ms Donelan criticised Labour MPs during a debate on further education. “No one would oppose more investment in our further education system, but the question the Opposition have yet to answer is, ‘Where will we get the money from?’ Will we get it from the NHS, secondary or primary education, or the police? We cannot ‘magic’ money, and we need to stop using the education system as a political football.”

She added: “Simply pumping money into a system is a very simplistic answer to a complex question. If we are to improve and better fund our education system, it is vital for us to improve the link with business and the stake that business has in the system, and we need to look for new ways to boost funding from that link.”

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