New Universities Minister Appointed

In Theresa May’s January reshuffle of the Cabinet, Universities minister Jo Johnson has been replaced by Sam Gyimah.

Taking a look at what plans Gyimah has for higher education, his appointment could signal, most prominently, a move to reduce tuition fees – a policy which both Johnson and the former education secretary Justine Greening were opposed to.

Since his appointment, Gyimah has confirmed he will oversee a review of the current system.

Speaking at Queen Mary University of London, he said: “If you look back at the 2012 reforms when this current fee regime was introduced, I think it is right that we go back and see how it works across the system.”

The government think that reform of the fees system can help them win over younger voters, who overwhelmingly backed Labour at last year’s general election.

However, Gyimah has ruled out a total abolition of fees as promised by Labour.

“Whatever Comrade Corbyn says, I don’t think we will go back to an era where students do not contribute in any way to their fees.”

The role of Universities Minister is generally considered relatively straightforward. However, the debates over tuition fees, vice chancellor’s pay, no-platforming policies and the recent controversy surrounding Toby Young mean that Gyimah’s job will be anything but simple.

Gyimah has also been criticised for his role in obstructing the passage of a law intended to pardon gay men and women convicted before the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967.

The bill, named after the mathematician Alan Turing who was charged with ‘gross indecency’ in 1952, was being debated in parliament back in 2016. However, Gyimah spoke for over 25 minutes so that the time limit for a vote on the Turing Bill expired. The proposed law would have automatically pardoned all individuals convicted under obsolete laws relating to so-called ‘sexual indecency’.

The government has since passed a similar law, but those convicted can only be pardoned if they apply to the Home Office. In practice very few pardons have been issued.

It is still early days for the new Universities Minister, too early to say with any confidence what his approach might be. But it’s safe to say that the task facing Gyimah will be a challenging one, and his central role in blocking the passage of the Turing Bill could come back to haunt him.

Ian White

(Image: The Independent)