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UK: May takes office, moves HE to Dept for Ed

The UK’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has dismantled the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and moved oversight of the higher education sector to the Department for Education in a sweeping cabinet reshuffle that was completed at the end of last week.

Prime Minister Theresa May (right) has appointed Justine Greening (left) as education minister. Photo: Russell Watkins/DfID.

The Department for Education will have a major role to play in implementing the upcoming Higher Education Bill

The universities minister, Jo Johnson, will stay in place, but BIS, which previously had responsibility for universities, has been replaced by a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and its briefs split between other departments.

The DfE is now being overseen by the new education minister, Justine Greening, who replaced Nicky Morgan.

The department will have a major role to play in implementing the upcoming Higher Education Bill, which includes measures to increase access to degree-granting powers for private higher education institutions and establish a new Office for Students.

There had been some uncertainty over whether the bill would be shelved when a new prime minister came to power, but it has been confirmed that the second reading will go ahead on Tuesday.

The new appointments came as part of a wide-ranging reshuffle by Prime Minister May, who came into post last week to replace David Cameron, who resigned following the Brexit referendum.

It’s as yet unclear how the changes will impact the international education sector.

As home secretary, May was tough on immigration and spoke out on multiple occasions against abuse of the student visa system.

She has strongly opposed taking international students out of net migration figures, something her predecessor David Cameron is reported to have considered doing. As recently as last month, Lord Bilimoria, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Students, said Cameron had expressed willingness to exclude international students from net migration targets.

She also previously announced that non-EU students would be made to return home immediately after graduating to apply for a visa even if they have a job offer, rather than switching in-country – plans which were overridden by the party leadership shortly thereafter.

Last October she ruffled feathers among HE stakeholders by suggesting “too many [students] are not returning home as soon as their visa runs out”.

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