As part of last week’s cabinet re-shuffle, the department responsible for the UK’s skills was once again re-shuffled. As Number 10 put it:
The Government has today created a new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills whose key role will be to build Britain’s capabilities to compete in the global economy. The Department will be created by merging BERR and DIUS.
Hhm … that will be the same government that created DIUS (the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills) two years ago at a reported cost of £7m.
Nobody’s fooled by the ‘merger’ talk. BERR is the dominant party here. The result: universities in particular are up in arms about the supposed subsidiary role that universities are now supposed to play to business. At least, that’s the view of the Guardian’s excellent Polly Curtis, according to her minute-by-minute posting of the day’s events last Friday.
Actually this is both a good move and a bad move, but not for the reasons that universities are apparently complaining about.
It’s a good move because:
- Lord Mandelson (heading up DBIS), like him or loathe him, gets things done, especially in the current government
- Including only ‘Universities’ in the title of DIUS was a slap in the face for Further Education and workplace learning
- It associates skills directly with business and innovation
But it’s a bad move because:
- Departmental changes take time and money and disrupt policy implementation
- There will be an election within a year, and we could face another new department then
So what about the universities? Here’s what Polly Curtis said:
My inbox is filling up with complaints about the fact there’s now no government department with education, universities or colleges in its title.
There’s only one response to that: ‘That’s because universities and colleges are delivery mechanisms. Skills is the destination.’ At least the new department puts that foremost. Whether workplace learning and development will now get a higher profile at the DBIS remains to be seen.
Is further and higher education only about skills? No, but you have to choose. Do you want FE/HE in the department for culture, where it could justifiably belong? Probably not. Should FE/HE be in its own department? Possibly, but I would still vote for skills being associated with business, not under the purview of FE/HE, and it would make no sense to have FE/HE in one department and skills in another. Result: put skills and business together, and delivery mechanisms under them. Job done.
Footnote: It is said that a DIUS employee put out this tweet on Friday:
Don’t know: you can’t go for a coffee and blueberry muffin without your department being abolished
I am sure that Steph Gray would never say such a thing, and if you search @lesteph you will find no such tweet. And the idea that anyone would delete a tweet to avoid a ‘Muffingate’ scandal is beyond the pale.