Gove backs new universities in northern towns to level up

New higher education institutions in ‘cold spots’ of the country are part of the government’s “medium-term” strategy for levelling up, minister confirms

Michael Gove, the secretary of state for levelling up, says he supports the creation of new universities in northern towns like Doncaster, Wigan, and Grimsby.

Mr Gove, who last month fronted the publication of the government’s levelling up white paper, was speaking at a panel event hosted by the ResPublica think tank.

He told delegates that the government had plans in the “medium-term” to open new universities in higher education ‘cold spots’.

The levelling-up agenda, a plan described as the cornerstone of the Boris Johnson premiership, aspires to reduce the economic, social, and cultural disparities between London, the south-east and the rest of the UK.

Asked by the panel host Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP and former universities minister, whether he wanted new universities, in places like Doncaster, Wigan, and Grimsby, Gove replied: “Yes, I would.” He described himself as “one of those people who believes we can still further expand the number of students in higher education”, adding that the government was considering “in the medium-term about the creation of new universities”.

Gove said he sought “a better appreciation…of the sorts of courses which guarantee students greater chances of employment and also, by definition, are more in demand across the economy”.

The levelling-up white paper spoke of the government’s desire to “reform barriers for entry to the English higher education sector”, to make it easier to establish new providers. Incentivising alternative providers to enter the HE market was an intended goal of the 2017 Higher Education and Research Act (Hera), but the goal of reaching 555 registered HE providers by 2021/22 was missed, with current numbers standing at 418.

A report last year from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change called for 46 new universities to ‘level-up’ England.

The towns of Hartlepool, Doncaster, Batley, and Blackpool were just the sorts of localities that could benefit from a new university, the report said, noting that, at present, 46 towns in England with populaces over 80,000 have no university. The report said Swindon, Grimsby, Chesterfield, Burton, Blackburn, and Wakefield should make such a speculative list, boasting FE colleges with HE provision but no institutions with degree-awarding powers.

Read more: Research metrics must encourage levelling up in action, says vice-chancellor

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