David Willetts

As longstanding higher education and science minister David Willetts steps down from his government post, and from politics in general, Andy Westwood looks back at his time with the brief – from 2005 when in opposition to today. What will be his legacy? Is it too soon to judge? With mixed feelings in the sector, the ultimate legacy of David Willetts may take quite some time to fully understand. In the mean time, there’s much to learn from the last nine years with David Willetts.

Willetts’ long march

by Jim Dickinson May 9, 2014

Ahead of a likely Government reshuffle, Jim Dickinson looks back a key speech made by David Willetts in 2007. An important moment, he used the opportunity to heal the Conservative Party’s fractured relationship with students’ unions and set out some big ambitions for the sector, particularly around teaching. Jim reflects on the progress made since 2007 and looks ahead to what might be needed now, as we head in to the final days of this Parliament.

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Change at the top

by Alistair Jarvis July 29, 2013

In the short lull between the buzz of graduation ceremonies in July and the (likely to be manic) clearing week in mid-August, speculation on university campuses has focussed on the runners and riders for arguably the two most influential jobs in UK Higher Education. Alistair Jarvis assesses the prospect of a new dynamic at the top of the sector as David Willetts faces the axe, and Madeline Atkins arrives at the helm of HEFCE.

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Between Public and Private

by Newell September 7, 2011

Yesterday saw BPP University College announced their 2012 fees are set at £5,000. This could be a game changer. It is the first announcement from the David Willetts-endorsed ‘new wave’ of private providers, putting BPP under a considerable amount of scrutiny.

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Globalisation: Where on earth does HE start?

by Martin Hughes June 27, 2011

Universities Minister, David Willetts, recently said that the HE sector is only at the beginning of globalisation.

Willetts, speaking at the launch of the book “Blue Skies”, assured that change will happen as the sector focuses more on globalisation. He suggested that previously small players may be growing massively, but the balance hasn’t yet set in. The UK and other players have yet to play their cards in a big way.

Does this mean that Willetts is banking on an easy — or, at least, steady — overtaking shot at an opportune time?

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Freeing-up student numbers: the implications

by Richard Brabner May 20, 2011

The opprobrium from parts of the sector and the Westminster Village as a result of David Willetts (either intentionally or being forced to by a ‘leak) exploring the idea of off-quota places meant that the idea was quickly watered-down, to only include business and charity-sponsored off-quota places.

Nevertheless, the Government is clearly looking for more ways to open up the student numbers cap, but in a way that would result in evolutionary rather than revolutionary change. Cameron insider Benedict Brogan in his Telegraph Blog suggested that the White Paper will include ways to let universities recruit more AAB students outside of their cap, whilst also allowing cheaper charging courses to expand outside of student number controls.

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What did we learn from the BIS Business Plan?

by Mark Leach May 17, 2011

The answer is; not a great deal, but some useful morsels of information can be found with a bit of digging. One of the transparency initiatives of this Government has been to make Departmental business plans publicly accessible. They have all just been updated for May 2011 and the BIS plan is certainly worth a scan from an HE perspective, even though it’s not setting the world alight.

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Off-quota places – another unforced HE policy error?

by Mark Leach May 10, 2011

This morning David Willetts took the airwaves to float the idea of ‘off-quota’ places at university. Not a new idea by any means, but an interesting indication of the direction of travel for the HE White Paper which most now expect in the first half of June. On the one hand, there is a sound political argument for leaking out policy initiatives in this way; it can have the effect of softening up the ground for when the big one drops later on.

But David Willetts has underestimated the toxicity of a policy like this which touches a very raw nerve indeed. Still wounded by the fees and funding settlement, this policy will feel like a kick in the teeth to those still clinging on to the idea that access to HE should never depend on the ability to pay. The ‘free at the point of use’ principle, still hanging on by its finger-nails, ensured that there was always going to be the greatest strength of feeling against the deep cuts to the teaching grant. The ensuing high fees for many felt like the sad, but necessary consequence of this – softened by continued commitment not to charge up-front fees.

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How do you solve a problem like Vince Cable?

by Mark Leach May 4, 2011

Vince Cable’s journey from opposition darling to spent political force embodies the story of his party over the past two years. In the run-up to the election, and failing to predict ‘Cleggmania’, he was given equal footing with the party leader in the election campaign. He was seen to be an essential electoral asset – trusted, well-liked, credible (even witty as his devastating ‘Stalin to Mr Bean’ jibe showed). But as Secretary of State, he failed so completely to negotiate a settlement for higher education funding that wouldn’t enrage, divide and aliente everyone – not least his own conscience, better judgement and previous political promises.

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