What next for fees after Sam Gyimah quits?
Sam Gyimah’s resignation as universities minister removes a likely opponent of a reduction in funding arising from England’s Augar review – but could add another vote to a potential Conservative rebellion should such a plan ever make it to Parliament.
Mr Gyimah (pictured) announced his resignation on 30 November, saying that the UK’s exclusion from the European Union’s Galileo satellite system exposed Theresa May’s Brexit deal as “naive”.
His resignation came as the UK started work on negotiating access to the EU’s research programme post-Brexit – Mr Gyimah had been scheduled to be in Brussels on the day that he stepped down – and with the government’s review of post-18 education in England, led by Philip Augar, ongoing.
An early draft of the review, ordered by Ms May amid concerns over the electoral impact of the £9,250 tuition fee cap, suggests cutting tuition fees to between £6,500 and £7,500 a year, The Times has reported.
The Department for Education is arguing the case in talks with the Treasury that there should be no cut to the unit of resource, the level of funding per student, Times Higher Education understands. Mr Gyimah is also said to have been pushing to maintain the unit of resource – a demand that, in the event of a cut in fees, would require a significant increase in public spending on higher education.
Damian Hinds, the education secretary, is seen as likely to be loyal to Ms May on the review.
The new universities minister – who had not yet been announced as THE went to press – will be expected to vote for Ms May’s proposed EU withdrawal agreement and to support the Augar review, said Andy Westwood, professor of government practice at the University of Manchester.
Others suggest that Mr Gyimah’s exit from government will add another probable vote in the Commons against any government plan to implement any fees and funding cut recommended by the Augar review – should the government survive long enough to introduce such a plan to Parliament.
Mr Gyimah joins on the back benches pro-Remain Tories such as Jo Johnson and Justine Greening, the former universities minister and education secretary, respectively. Both Mr Johnson and Ms Greening were removed from their posts at the Department for Education after opposing Ms May’s plan to hold a review, and they could be vocal opponents of any plans to cut the level of funding for students and universities.
But Professor Westwood questioned how influential a figure Mr Gyimah would have been in shaping the government response to the review.
He was “quite a long way down the pecking order on any decisions, in contrast to Johnson who got to lead big reforms [like the creation of the Office for Students and the teaching excellence framework] while everyone else was looking the other way”, Professor Westwood said.
He added: “Despite the controversy in the sector, I suspect May is much less worried about the maths of any HE votes than she is about the EU ones.”