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UK: Willetts resigns as Minister for Universities

After four years serving as the UK’s minister for universities and science, David Willetts has resigned as part of a major government reshuffle.

Willetts is one of several ministers caught up in Prime Minster David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle less than year away from national elections

He is being replaced by Greg Clark, who takes on the Science and Universities brief in addition to his role as Minister in charge of cities and constitution at the Cabinet Office.

Appointed in 2010, Willetts has advocated for more tuition based funding in the university sector and was integral to last year’s education exports strategy.

Increasing outbound mobility also topped Willetts agenda backed by several initiatives to encourage students to study in key trade partners China and India.

“He is widely respected across the sector and has shown a real understanding of the issues facing universities during his time as minister”

In a leaked letter to the Daily Mail in 2012, Willetts also supported taking international students out of national net migration figures.

He also championed the UK MOOC platform FutureLearn as a recruitment pipeline into UK HE.

Speaking with The PIE News, FutureLearn CEO Simon Nelson said the company was “very grateful” to Willetts “for being such a passionate supporter of FutureLearn which has helped us enjoy great success and growth over the last 18 months since we were founded, with learners and partners all over the world”.

“We are very much looking forward to working with Greg Clark as we continue to grow and explore new forms of online and social learning with our university partners,” Nelson addded.

Less popular policy changes were also put into effect under Willett’s watch including introducing a £150 health levy for international students.

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, President of Universities UK, said Willetts had been a strong advocate for UK universities, both at home and internationally.

“He is widely respected across the sector and has shown a real understanding of the issues facing universities during his time as minister. We wish him well for the future,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Alex Proudfoot, manager at Study UK, the organisation representing independent and alternative private FE and HE providers praised Willetts for bringing “real vision and energy to the HE sector”.

“He applied his deep understanding and consideration to the challenges facing the sector and provided invaluable support on many issues to both traditional universities and new providers alike. We wish him well in his future plans”

Proudfoot added however that there is still work to be done in order to ensure equal treatment for all providers.

“In this regard we look forward to working with the new universities and science minister Greg Clark on creating a modern HE sector which meets the needs of students and the country alike and which further strengthens our position internationally,” he commented.

At the British Universities International Liaison Association conference last week, Vivienne Stern, Director, UK HE International Unit  said Willetts was a strong pioneer within government who has supported universities’ work overseas.

Willetts is one of several ministers caught up in Prime Minster David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle less than year away from national elections.

“We look forward to working with the new universities and science minister Greg Clark on creating a modern HE sector which meets the needs of students and the country alike and which further strengthens our position internationally”

Matthew Hancock, former minister for further education has moved to become minister of state for business, enterprise and energy, and will be replaced by Nick Boles.

The University and College Union (UCU) welcomed the new further and higher education ministers. UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “We wish Nick Boles and Greg Clark well in their new roles. The further and higher education sectors have enormous significance for both our economy and our society.

“Public spending cuts have had a profound impact on post-16 education and all parties now need to set out their stall for further and higher education. The introduction of new ministers is an opportunity for government to refocus its education priorities in the run up to the election.

The international education sector is bracing for further change in immigration policy and Tier 4 compliance regulations in the lead up to 2015.

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