Following government reshuffle speculation, a letter to the sector has confirmed Michelle Donelan is now the minister for higher and further education.
Donelan, who was made minister for universities on 13 February 2020, was handed responsibility for further education at the reshuffle in mid-September.
But she won’t be handling the briefs alone: Alex Burghart, given the more junior role of undersecretary of state for apprenticeships and skills, will share the portfolio for post-16 education.
By bringing together these two sectors we want to break down any barriers and work in sync
– Michelle Donelan, Alex Burghart
In a joint letter to the sectors, published in full below, Donelan and Burghart described post-16 education as “disjointed and confusing”, expressing hope their job share would “help encourage closer working between colleges, universities, employers and apprenticeship providers”.
Donelan was the only minister to remain in the Department for Education team after Boris Johnson reshuffled the government. Donelan now attends cabinet meetings, only the second time a university minister has had this privilege since 2010.
Burghart was elected MP for Brentwood and Ongar in 2017. The role of the skills minister is his first in government.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), came out against the move in a blog for the think tank last week.
He argued that while uniting the portfolios seemed “logical”, it risked detailed policymaking and encouraged the Treasury to trade one sector against the other in fights for funding.
A message from Minister Donelan and Minister Burghart
“It is with great pleasure that we are writing to you to introduce ourselves.
As we are sure you will have seen, together we will be representing both higher and further education and we are truly honoured to take on these roles and to be able to work with you all.
It has long been said that the skills system has been disjointed and confusing which ultimately can affect the experiences and opportunities available to young people and adults. By bringing together these two sectors we want to break down any barriers and work in sync to help encourage closer working between colleges, universities, employers and apprenticeship providers so that ultimately, everyone can gain the skills they need to get great jobs.
As Minister for State for Higher Education and Further Education Michelle Donelan will also attend Cabinet to ensure these important briefs are represented at the most senior level.
It is an incredibly exciting time for further education, with transformational reforms and our Skills for Jobs White Paper offering us the opportunity to level up and make sure that together we can deliver the skills that our country needs for the future. This work to help people reskill and provide the employees that businesses need, has never been more important as we move out of Covid restrictions and look to rebuild our economy.
We know that up and down the country colleges and providers are doing fantastic work delivering innovative and high-quality training and that, in the face of a global pandemic you have all gone above and beyond to support your learners and staff and remain pillars of your local communities. We would like to thank you for your continued dedication and we cannot wait to get out and about on visits to see more of the innovative work you do and to meet with staff and students.
We have a great journey ahead of us and we can promise that together, we will champion further education with the energy and passion that it deserves.
Rt Hon. Michelle Donelan MP and Alex Burghart MP