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Brown 'planning science shake-up'

19 June 07 14:37 GMT
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

There will be a governmental shake-up by Gordon Brown as part of his drive to enhance the profile of science, says Education Secretary Alan Johnson.

The Office of Science and Innovation could be moved from the trade department to education in a tie-up with universities, he said.

Investment in science would be the hallmark of education under Mr Brown.

Extra resourcing "very much stems from Gordon", the deputy Labour leadership contender told a university meeting.


Responding to a question from TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, Mr Johnson suggested that there would be structural changes in how the government backed science.

"Gordon will be looking at some machinery of government changes - and there's talk about the Office of Science and Innovation, which is in the DTI at the moment, perhaps being linked up with higher education and coming into the DfES," said Mr Johnson.

"I think it's almost unimaginable that everything will be exactly the same, two weeks from tomorrow, when he's had the chance to get his feet under the table.

"But in terms of the emphasis on the importance of higher education and the importance of science and innovation, Gordon has already made it clear it's a top priority."

The Office of Science and Innovation, which Mr Johnson suggests could be removed from the DTI, is responsible for UK science policy and allocating funding through the research councils.

There have been suggestions that a separate science ministry could be created, to promote investment in research and to encourage the contribution of science to industry and the "knowledge economy".

'Planet Jupiter'

Mr Johnson warned that the number of unskilled jobs in the UK economy was set to shrink rapidly - and that the demand for graduates would grow.

But he said that for too many working class families, where no-one considered going into higher education, their local university "may as well be on the planet Jupiter".

When he had been working as a postman, Mr Johnson said, he had not heard many of his colleagues in the sorting office talking about their children going to university.

And he said this "social gap", going back to primary and secondary education, needed to be tackled.

In terms of encouraging more young people to stay in education and learn skills, Mr Johnson also indicated that the idea of 14-year-olds attending further education college was under consideration.

He also forecast a higher proportion of overseas students in university - as demographic changes mean there will be fewer teenagers from the UK.

There would be 100,000 fewer 18-year-olds in the next few years, Mr Johnson said, but he anticipated that, rather than shutting university departments, there would be a "big push for more overseas students".

At present, about 330,000 students at UK universities are from overseas, and Mr Johnson said education was becoming an increasingly significant export market.

The University of Westminster's vice-chancellor, Geoffrey Copland, said globalisation was the biggest challenge to the higher education sector.

"We're no longer in a nice little cocoon," said Dr Copland.

Universities in the UK had to be seen in the context of an international market.

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