The prime minister’s reshuffle of his ministerial team has seen the arrival of a new education secretary, research minister and apprenticeships minister.
Amanda Solloway, MP for Derby North, held the role of parliamentary under-secretary of state for science, research and innovation from February 2020 until Thursday 16 September, with her departure confirmed on the second evening of Boris Johnson’s reshuffle. She is now a junior whip.
She is replaced by George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk. The Telegraph reported in 2012 that Freeman has a background in biomedical venture capital. He chaired the Theresa May’s Policy Board while she was prime minister until his resignation in November 2017.
Elsewhere, Nadhim Zahawi becomes secretary of state for education; Michelle Donelan, who continues as universities minister, is promoted to attending cabinet; and Alex Burghart replaces Gillian Keegan as minister for apprenticeships and skills. Donelan is only the second-ever holder of the HE brief to attend cabinet. Burghart will lead on post-16 education, T-levels and the qualifications review, technical education and Institutes of Technology.
Solloway was the first dedicated minister for science and research for more than a decade: Labour peer Paul Drayson last held the post before it was merged with that of universities minister on the arrival of the coalition government in 2010. During her brief tenure at BEIS, Solloway helped articulate the government’s plans for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) – and, at times, defend it from sustained political criticism. In one of her last appearances before the parliamentary science committee, Solloway said the eventual appointee director for ARIA would be a “visionary” with “a good nose for utter nonsense, even outside [their] field of expertise“.
Solloway also launched an R&D People and Culture Strategy to “create a research environment that attracts and retains people from all backgrounds”. She also announced a root and branch review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the university research support package.
Keegan is promoted to minister of state at the Department of Health and Social Care.
Keegan – who was once an apprentice herself – helped formulate government policies in an area of education policy that appeared a focal point of its levelling up agenda. Keegan told MPs that the government should not directly intervene to increase the number of degree apprenticeships in universities, arguing it should instead focus its attention on employers and improving access for disadvantaged students.
Gavin Williamson has left the Department for Education – and frontline politics, at least for now. His successor, Zahawi, assumes responsibility for the department ahead of a crucial period for HE, as the government prepares its Comprehensive Spending Review and response to the Augar review.