Higher Education Power List - 2016

The 2016 Higher Education Power List represents the top 50 movers and shakers in UK higher education today.

Who has the most influence over the sector? Who will be instrumental in shaping its future? Now for the second year running, the HE Power List brings you the top 50 names that set the agenda – often behind the scenes, sometimes in full view, inside and outside universities and across the world of politics and policy. Catch up with the 2015 list here.

Editor: Mark Leach

#HEPowerList

  • 1.
    1 (was 2)

    Theresa MayPrime Minister

    Few commentators would have expected the Conservative Party to rally so quickly behind a new leader in the aftermath of the EU referendum campaign, but Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister now looks exceptionally strong, with Labour offering little electoral challenge and Number 10 looking determined to manage policy firmly from the centre. It’s already clear that May will not take the ‘chairman’ approach to leadership preferred by her predecessor.

    As Home Secretary May was feared and loathed by universities thanks to her dogged determination to restrict international student recruitment and her zealous implementation of anti-terror legislation. Her new government shows every indication of going even further than she was able under the last and May has previously declared her pride in standing up to university lobbyists on these matters. The PM and her team are also leading on fresh policy that could have far-reaching consequences for the sector such as the reintroduction of grammar schools. The new Prime Minister’s leadership will define the terms of Brexit and by extension the climate in which higher education institutions will have to learn to operate. The decisions required of her during the coming years will dominate the nation’s and the sector’s agenda in a way that few of her predecessors have had the reach or capital to influence.

    Last year’s number one has fallen off the Power List completely. Find out why.

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  • 2.
    NEW

    Angela MerkelChancellor of Germany

    No sector is an island, as the saying doesn’t go. There’s no way in which the UK’s higher education story can be written without reference to the major forces of policy and politics of an inter-connected world. And so as one of the most powerful and influential people on the planet, with a particularly dominant role in shaping Europe’s politics and economics, Angela Merkel scores very highly on this year’s list.

    The terms of the UK’s exit will have to be approved by the EU’s member states in some way, but nothing will be agreed without consent of Germany. We should expect the major negotiating lines for the UK’s exit of the EU, and subsequent deal-making, to be agreed with the Bundeskanzlerin. The Bundestag elections will next take place in 2017 and Merkel is said to be politically vulnerable. And so this could be a make or break year for the quantum chemist turned politician.

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  • 3.
    NEW

    David Davis and Oliver RobbinsSecretary of State and Permanent Secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union

    The men tasked with negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union (also running the first ever UK government department to include a present continuous verb) hold the keys to the kingdom in their hands. It’s a vastly complicated task, and the highly-regarded Oliver Robbins will play a critical role in every twist and turn that will follow.

    The sector has already been in to see them to state their case, but David Davis has never showed a great deal of interest in universities in the past, outside of the regular noises off from the Tory right. Davis hasn’t given much away yet about his approach to Brexit and it’s likely that the strategy for negotiations is not yet fully formed. But it is in his power to either ensure that universities and science remain front and centre of a lasting and sustainable deal, or set up a post-Brexit horror show for a sector that would be greatly diminished if Brexit ends up meaning something approximating the vision espoused by Davis’ former Vote Leave comrades.

    How has Brexit influenced this year’s Power List? Read more here.

    read more...
  • 4.
    NEW

    Carlos MoedasEU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

    2015 saw Commission President Jean-Claude Junker ranked at number 7, thanks to the EU’s considerable power and influence over UK higher education. However, this year, Junker is replaced by his fellow Commissioner Carlos Moedas. Moedas, will have considerable influence over the finer points of higher education policy during Brexit, and the sector will need to make considerable representations to him in order to get a good post-Brexit deal with the European research community.

    By all accounts, Carlos Moedas has already been in close communication with Jo Johnson about the ongoing status of Horizon 2020 projects, and although he’s offered some reassurance, little action has been taken so far. During the Brexit negotiations, the numerous important issues impacting UK universities and science will be crossing his desk and many will be pinning hopes on his ability to navigate a fair settlement for the sector.

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  • 5.
    NEW

    Philip HammondChancellor of the Exchequer

    The Treasury is, has been, and probably always will be dominant in Whitehall, and Philip Hammond has inherited its leadership at a crucial moment for the UK economy and public finances. A sober public image has led to the new chancellor frequently being mistakenly for being an ‘accountant’, but his background is actually in entrepreneurial business, where Hammond was not shy of taking risks.

    A post-Brexit ‘reset’ of UK fiscal policy will have a massive impact on the UK economy and public services, especially higher education. Hammond has hinted that austerity and his predecessor’s fiscal targets may be tweaked or abandoned, and his upcoming Autumn Statement is hotly anticipated by the sector. After guaranteeing EU funding for science and research up to 2020, pressure will come from the sector to look beyond, as well as underwrite structural funding and other sources of universities’ EU income.

    However, a post-Brexit recession may require further spending cuts which could fall on HE. That said, Hammond is thought to be arguing for a Brexit settlement that maintains as much of the single market as is possible, which should make him a key ally for the HE sector’s broader interests.

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  • 6.
    =

    Xi JinpingPresident of the People’s Republic of China

    The growing importance of China to UK higher education (and indeed the wider economy) will be accelerated by Brexit, particularly if there is a decline in EU student numbers. Several UK universities now have relationships in China, including campuses run by Liverpool and Nottingham. In 2008-9 one in five new international students came from China, in 2012-13 it was one in three, and around a quarter of postgraduate taught students are Chinese.

    The growing success of China’s own universities in global rankings is also a significant competition area for UK universities, and the growing number of Chinese graduates represents a paradigm shift in the global labour market. Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK last year saw the red carpet enthusiastically rolled out by UK universities who were desperate to impress the Chinese premier. Amidst the pomp and ceremony, it was excruciatingly clear that the Chinese felt that they represented the stronger side of a global partnership.

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  • 7.
    NEW

    Jo JohnsonMinister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation

    Jo Johnson is a new entrant this year having been propelled into the limelight as Universities and Science Minister after last year’s General Election. On his appointment, the sector was initially pleased that a well-connected and wonkish politician was chosen to represent them in government. Johnson is a former journalist and spent much of the Cameron years in the No. 10 policy unit. However, few anticipated the zeal to which he would take forward a series of reforms to universities that are still now only in their early stages. University leaders were hoping (and lobbying) for some regulatory reform and the government to tie up the loose ends from the Coalition. What they got was a root and branch review of the system, including the introduction of the paradigm-shifting TEF (and it’s much maligned link to tuition fees) which has been dominating the policy debate since the Green Paper landed a year ago.

    Clearly ambitious, but now cutting a slightly lonelier figure in Whitehall having to divide his time between two departments and having been stripped of his own Special Adviser in the reshuffle, his legacy will take many years to adequately assess. In the mean-time, he will be judged on his ability to resist Theresa May and Amber Rudd’s mindless assault on universities’ ability to recruit international students and to ensure the government delivers the best possible deal for universities and science in the Brexit negotiations.

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  • 8.
    NEW

    Justine GreeningSecretary of State for Education

    The first openly LGBT woman to serve in the cabinet, and the first Education Secretary to attend a comprehensive school, Greening’s appointment was welcomed by many as a safe pair of hands after the more provocative approach of Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan. The reabsorbing of higher and further education policy by the Department for Education puts her in perhaps an even more powerful position than previous BIS or DfE Secretaries of State. She will now be the arbiter in fights for funding between schools, universities and colleges, particularly if the Treasury begins trimming the department’s budget.

    Plain speaking and direct, Greening is a close ally of the Prime Minister and is tasked with planning the reintroduction of grammar schools and delivery of the PM’s stated plans for social mobility and opportunity, and we can expect further government activity in widening participation and fair access as she attempts to piece higher education policy back together with the rest of the education system. Incidentally, Greening’s partner is a lecturer in teacher training at the UCL Institute of Education – at the very heart of what Michael Gove once labelled the ‘blob’ – perhaps an indication of how far things have moved on from the Gove era.

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  • 9.
    4 (was 5)

    John KingmanChair of UK Research and Innovation

    Recently appointed as the inaugural chair of UK Research and Innovation, Sir John Kingman’s already high stock in the sector is rising further. He will lead UKRI in its shadow form before it is fully established. When fully operational, the organisation will have a budget of over £6bn per year. He has been a longstanding mover-and-shaker in science, funding and regional devolution.

    The son of a former Bristol vice chancellor and a former banker, Kingman helped to orchestrate the government’s bailout of the banks. Before taking up the UKRI role, Kingman was Second Permanent Secretary, and sometime Acting Permanent Secretary, at the Treasury. He’ll be combining his UKRI role with that of Chairman of Legal & General Group, an investment business with over $1tn under its management. He falls a few places this year through no fault of his own – Brexit and a new government saw to that. But his place in the top 10 doesn’t seem in any immediate jeopardy.

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  • 10.
    8 (was 18)

    Greg ClarkSecretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

    When the last edition of the Power List was announced a few months before the 2015 general election, there were few readers who might have anticipated that Clark – the then ‘stop-gap’ Universities Minister – would be making a return to the List for 2016. But Clark finds himself even higher up this year’s list thanks to his wide-ranging new role as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

    It’s not only the research and science policy buck that stops at his desk – his mandate to create a new industrial strategy for the UK could have far reaching consequences for universities. Expectations have been raised that the strategy might mitigate some of the worst effects of Brexit and so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

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  • 11.
    NEW

    Mark CarneyGovernor of the Bank of England

    Perhaps the most powerful unelected official in the UK, the Governor of the Bank of England will be more important than ever as the UK navigates Brexit and fights to avoid a new recession. Whether the Bank is successful at combating Brexit’s negative economic effects will determine Philip Hammond’s capacity to fund UK universities and to include them in his new plans for borrowing to invest. Carney had clearly prepared the Bank for a Leave vote and was quick to reassure financial markets on the morning of June 24th, being far more visible than the now former Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Bank’s decision to cut interest rates to a new record low has also shaken global finance and there are rumours abound of taking the remarkable step of zero or negative interest rates in order to stimulate spending.

    Carney’s place on our list is also representative of how more and more universities are putting their fate in the hands of financial markets. Eight had their credit ratings cut after Brexit, and institutions are increasingly leveraging their assets in order to generate capital for ongoing investment. Whether this has created undue risk or is simply an intelligent use of financial muscle remains to be seen.

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  • 12.
    8 (was 20)

    Nicola DandridgeChief Executive, Universities UK

    The world of higher education may need Universities UK more than ever as it battles for the best possible settlement in the Brexit negotiations and beyond. Nicola Dandridge is the longstanding Chief Executive of the representative body and she forms a key bridge between policy makers, politicians, business groups and vice chancellors. She is well respected, but will need to build strong forward momentum to help pick the sector up from the referendum result. Her stock remains high among vice chancellors and she’s viewed as a credible voice with policy makers, hence this year’s rise.

    But Dandridge will need to continue to assert the leadership of UUK in an increasingly fragmented sector and some believe the organisation’s review of sector agencies holds the key to cementing UUK’s dominant position. However keeping the peace inside the sector pales in comparison to the task ahead with Brexit and fighting the government’s renewed crackdown on international students. Many are pinning hopes on this one-time trade union negotiator to hold it all together in another make or break year for UK HE.

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  • 13.
    NEW

    Nicholas SternPresident, British Academy

    The recently-published Stern Review of the Research Excellence Framework is likely to be a document of significant influence given the sums of money riding on exercise, and the role that it plays in shaping institutional behaviour and strategy. The development of the next REF will likely be heavily informed by Nick Stern’s work on the review, and although he’s not won unanimous praise for the report, he has received significant kudos for moving on the conversation without pouring too much gas on the fires of research policy.

    As an LSE Professor, expert on climate change economics, President of the British Academy and a peer, Stern has significant personal influence and high-level connections. He’s not known for having an easy manner, but he’s clearly a force to be reckoned with.

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  • 14.
    NEW

    Philippa LloydDirector General of Higher and Further Education, Department for Education

    Several civil servants responsible for overseeing higher education were on our list in 2015, but there are more this year and they are higher up in 2016 to reflect the more active role the government is taking in HE policy. Philippa Lloyd is a member of the Department for Education Board and reports directly to Jo Johnson, Justine Greening, and the DfE Permanent Secretary. Overseeing all HE and FE work in the department, she will currently have her hands extremely full with the HE Bill, Skills White Paper, postgraduate loans, and of course the TEF all on her to-do list.

    Lloyd is a long-standing civil servant who previously held the same role in BIS and has been Principal Private Secretary to three different secretaries of state. She also has a DPhil in Atmospheric Physics from the University of Oxford. For those seeking to gain access to the minister or to influence the implementation of the government’s HE reforms, Lloyd is the person whose ear you need.

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  • 15.
    =

    Leszek BorysiewiczVice Chancellor, University of Cambridge

    Holding steady at 15 this year is Leszek Borysiewicz – or Borys to his friends. Although he’s standing down from his role leading the University of Cambridge, his wide personal connections and platform as Cambridge VC give him inbuilt clout in the sector and with policymakers. If that wasn’t enough, he’s widely thought to be the front-runner for the job leading the new UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) – a critical role that demands someone of his experience and calibre, and someone that can command the respect of the sector. Needless to say, it’s not a long list. Whether or not that works out, it’s unlikely that the HE and science community will have seen the last of Borys when he leaves Cambridge next year.

  • 16.
    9 (was 25)

    Polly Payne & Ruth HannantDirector, Higher Education Reform, Department for Education

    Polly Payne and Ruth Hannant job share the role of Director of Higher Education Reform at the Department for Education. Previously leading HE policy at BIS, they have now moved over to DfE and risen up the Power List ranking this year thanks to the major series of HE reforms that the government has introduced and that they are now responsible for. Both formerly of HM Treasury, they know their way around spending negotiations as well. With lots of reform to higher education already being proposed, and with more seemingly to follow, thanks to the new integration of universities in the Department for Education, Payne and Hannant sit in a critical role at a moment of high stakes for UK universities.

  • 17.
    NEW

    Kirsty WilliamsCabinet Secretary for Education, Welsh Government

    Kirsty Williams is the lone Liberal Democrat in the new Welsh Government. She will need to make a splash to gain real political footing and it seems that higher education may be set firmly in her sights as a policy agenda to seriously tackle. The far-reaching Diamond Review of Welsh HE is about to issue its final report, and it’s expected to make sweeping recommendations that could reshape the Welsh HE system and potentially move it further away from the the rest of UK HE.

    The decisions Williams will take about the Diamond Review’s recommendations will likely dominate the agenda for universities in Wales for years to come, and so the sector is braced for yet another period of turbulence.

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  • 18.
    7 (was 11)

    Madeleine AtkinsChief Executive, HEFCE

    Madeleine Atkins has been one of the most controversial leaders of HEFCE in recent times. With HEFCE’s funding diminishing following the rise of fees, Atkins and her board took the decision to find a new role for the funding council come what may. Repeated battles for territory inside the sector and tension with the government has taken its toll on the beleaguered organisation which, having lost more battles than it won, will now be folded into the Office for Students. Last year we called it the ‘go hard or go home’ approach – admirable in some ways, but the task may have been simply impossible from the start with political and funding realities stacked up against forthright leader.

    HEFCE won’t disappear altogether though – the best organisational memory and policy expertise is expected to be retained in the new system, and Atkins, although falling several places this year, will play a critical role in managing the transition in the coming period.

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  • 19.
    2 (was 17)

    Paul NurseChief Executive, Francis Crick Institute

    A Nobel Prize winner and former President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse is Director and Chief Executive of the Francis Crick Institute. Science research has some of the most to lose from a less open Britain post-Brexit and so the sector will need to make its case forcefully. Nurse will be at the forefront of the science lobby given his high personal standing and wide connections. His review of the Research Councils was one of the key building blocks for the government’s Higher Education & Research Bill and reforms to the research landscape now on the horizon, and although controversial in some quarters, the review only enhanced the reputation of this classic big hitter.

  • 20.
    NEW

    Ian DiamondVice Chancellor, University of Aberdeen

    Ian Diamond is one of those vice chancellors that seems to spend as much time on the policy scene as inside his own institution. Although he’s been involved in many substantial reviews in the past, it is his eponymous Diamond Review of Welsh Higher Education which he is polishing off right now on behalf of the Welsh Government that will probably make the biggest splash of all. Hotly anticipated, the Diamond Review is likely to shape the future of Welsh higher education policy for years to come and a new Education Secretary appears ready pick up the challenge of reform. From tuition fees to sector agencies, nothing appears off the table.

    And it’s not just being watched carefully in Wales – if the HE systems in the UK were to pull further apart, there could be numerous implications for policy in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as the relationships between institutions and students across increasingly visible borders get every more complicated.

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  • 21.
    NEW

    Anton MuscatelliPrincipal, University of Glasgow

    Hugely influential in Scotland as leader of one of the ancient universities, and a member of the Scottish Funding Council, Anton Muscatelli is a shrewd operator and widely respected inside and outside the sector. He has experience with Westminster too, having been a special adviser on monetary policy to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee and was recently a member of the influential Stern Review of the REF.

    Widely liked among vice chancellors, Muscatelli was a strong advocate for Remain and has been a public commentator on the constitutional settlement for Scotland within the UK. He will have to use his political nous to navigate Brexit, renewed calls for Scottish independence and the policies of the SNP government in Holyrood which seem to keep universities perennially high up the political and policy agenda.

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  • 22.
    NEW

    Louise RichardsonVice Chancellor, University of Oxford

    The recently-installed Vice Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson came from the top role at St Andrews. Known for a merciless management style north of the border, she may have to refine the soft management skills at the notoriously complicated ancient university. Already gaining a reputation for defending Oxford’s traditions of isolationaism in the sector, the TEF may prove to be a challenge for the university’s reputation as the pinnacle of excellence. Richardson is the first woman vice chancellor at Oxford, an historical gender ratio of around 1:300.

  • 23.
    NEW

    Douglas BlackstockChief Executive, QAA

    In a phoenix-from-the-ashes turnaround, the Quality Assurance Agency appears to have been saved from anticipated dissolution following a concerted effort from HEFCE which had hoped to out-manoeuvre the agency in its quest to secure its own future. However, QAA won major parts of the quality assessment tender and will implement large parts of the TEF. Blackstock has steered the ship through the choppiest of waters with a friendly personal style which certainly helped to endear him to civil servants during the quality wars of the last 18 months.

    But all’s not well in Gloucester as a brutal restructuring programme will likely mean the loss of significant expertise from the agency. And the quality wars are not over yet: when the dust settles on the Higher Education and Research Bill and UUK’s sector agency review, the final settlement agreed with the government and the sector may still not be wholly favourable for QAA. But being the likely recipient of a formal role in the new system, the QAA will almost certainly live to fight another day – something that looked unlikely at several points over the past months.

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  • 24.
    NEW

    The statue of Cecil John RhodesOriel College, Oxford

    One of the most high profile and emotive higher education stories over the past year has been the furore over whether to tear down the statue of mining magnate and arch-imperialist Cecil John Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford.

    The row over whether ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ has been inspired by the movement of the same name in South Africa, as well as Black Lives Matter campaigners in the United States, and has shown that a new global wave of identity politics and cultural conflict has arrived on UK campuses. Arguments over statues, ‘safe spaces’, no-platform, and the content of university curricula have become intensified by news organisations lust for clickbait and controversy. Yet as universities become less mono-gendered and mono-cultural, the discomfort at higher education’s continued dominance by white men will only increase. Rhodes, of course, did not fall, and the minuscule size of the black professoriate (85 at the last count) is an embarrassment to the sector. Rows over identity and power will be at the heart of higher education policy in the years to come, as Rhodes’s looming presence over the quad at Oriel only serves to remind us.

    A new wave of student activism is shaking up higher education. Read more here.

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  • 25.
    9 (was 16)

    David EastwoodVice Chancellor, University of Birmingham

    David Eastwood remains high on the Power List this year although has fallen a bit thanks to some of the flashier risers on the scene, and having relinquished the Chair of the Russell Group in the last year. Although it should be noted that his successor at the Russell Group does not make it on this year’s top 50 – something that says more about Eastwood’s clout regardless of his formal roles. However, the old school HE heavyweight remains at the heart of the sector’s leadership and decision-making structure and so is one of the highest-ranking vice chancellors on this year’s list.

    Much of Eastwood’s authority comes from his CV: Chief Executive of HEFCE, Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. He was also one of two vice chancellors on the Browne Review. More junior vice chancellors still look to take his lead, and the intentionally-designed leadership powerhouse of his senior team at Birmingham has seen him recently place protégés as new vice chancellors at Manchester Met, Nottingham Trent, the University of Sussex, Heriot Watt and Liverpool John Moores.

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  • 26.
    4 (was 22)

    Steve SmithVice Chancellor, University of Exeter

    Steve Smith is one of the big beasts of HE. A former Universities UK President, current Chair of UCAS and something of an ambassador-at-large for the sector, Smith enjoys navigating the worlds of policy and politics and is better connected than most vice chancellors. The University of Exeter has come on in leaps and bounds under his tenure, though he has a reputation for being ruthlessness in management.

    Although Exeter may not be in the top part of the Russell Group, Smith’s personal leadership allows it to punch above its weight in the sector. He’s tipped to be the next Chair of the Russell Group itself – something that would be quite an achievement given Exeter is one of the recent joiners (sniffed at by some), but it’s about the last job he hasn’t held and his connections and political nous would make him a compelling candidate to steer the Group to badly-needed fresh waters.

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  • 27.
    NEW

    Iain MansfieldDeputy Director, Higher Education, Department for Education

    As the Deputy Director for Higher Education in the Department for Education, and responsible for the delivery of the Teaching Excellence Framework, Iain Mansfield has significant influence over one of the sector’s most important and controversial initiatives.

    Mansfield joined the civil service from Cambridge and has also worked in science policy and trade. He is also well known for winning the €100k ‘Brexit Prize’ from the Institute of Economic Affairs in 2014 for his pamphlet A Blueprint for Britain: Openness not Isolation which called for shifting the UK’s trade balance away from Europe and plotted a roadmap for Brexit. Ahead of his time on that particular issue, he should be in much demand in Whitehall which is notable for lacking clear thinking about what Brexit might mean… He has also published a novel, Imperial Visions, as IG Mansfield.

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  • 28.
    NEW

    John SwinneyScottish Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education

    After serving for nine years as Scottish Finance Minister and deputy to both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, Swinney’s move to the education brief was a sign that the SNP wishes to make it a top priority for the coming Parliamentary session. A long-time SNP activist and former leader, Swinney is widely regarded in Hollyrood as a safe pair of hands with few enemies, and is Sturgeon’s closest confidant at the top of the Scottish government.

    The SNP’s continuation of the free-tuition policy is a vital mirror for debates on HE funding across the UK, both for its supporters and opponents. Swinney’s influential place in the UK HE sector recognises the hegemonic position of the SNP in Scotland and the leverage and influence which the Scottish government seeks to wield in Brexit negotiations; a second independence referendum continues to loom. The new Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill received significant criticism from universities wary of government interference, but they were unable to halt it: a further indication of Swinney’s and the SNP’s dominance over politics in Scotland today.

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  • 29.
    8 (was 37)

    David BellVice Chancellor, University of Reading

    With the machinery of government changes, and universities returning to the Department for Education, David Bell is well placed to exert significant influence. Before becoming Reading’s Vice Chancellor, Bell was Permanent Secretary at DfE, an unusual route to university leadership and one that carries particularly useful experience and expertise today. He’s also a former Chief Inspector of Schools. With Bell’s insight and networks, he is a major asset to the sector and could be an interesting future choice for the presidency of Universities UK where he is an already well-liked and respected figure.

  • 30.
    3 (was 27)

    Mary Curnock CookChief Executive, UCAS

    Mary Curnock Cook has been Chief Executive of UCAS since January 2010 and by virtue of the job, is a regular in the media speaking about universities and education more broadly. The platform gives the forthright CEO a uniquely influential place – by talking directly to the future students (as well as their teachers and parents) that universities will be desperate to recruit. The HE sector should, therefore, take careful note of what is said.

    However, Curnock Cook falls a few places this year because the admissions service has been shaken by the new government’s policies which have been far more prescriptive about what UCAS should or shouldn’t do than the organisation might feel comfortable with. How Curnock Cook and UCAS rise to the government’s challenge to drive a “transparency revolution” remains to be seen – as does the shape of the final settlement for the organisation when the uncapped recruitment market starts to bed in, and the dust settles on the Higher Education and Research Bill.

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  • 31.
    4 (was 35)

    Janet BeerVice Chancellor, University of Liverpool

    Having moved from Oxford Brookes to the University of Liverpool in 2015, Janet Beer is injecting significant energy into the red brick university’s teaching offer. And her hands-on style couldn’t be further from past university leadership which was in danger of falling into dangerous levels of complacency. Beer’s national leadership in teaching and learning policy continues following her move from Brookes.

    She chairs the group overseeing the National Student Survey, and is a member of the boards of the British Council and UCAS. She also chairs the Equality Challenge Unit and is a Vice-President of Universities UK. Fortunately for Liverpool, Beer is capable of balancing institutional challenges and time to be an effective operator at a national level. Another contender for the UUK presidency in the future.

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  • 32.
    NEW

    Nick HillmanDirector, Higher Education Policy Institute

    The former Conservative special adviser and parliamentary candidate is now a regular part of the sector establishment’s furniture in his role leading HEPI. The think tank is respected in the media and by policymakers and Hillman wields his political and media skills to gain coverage for HEPI’s work and to influence the debate – much more effectively than any of his predecessors. However, he’s perhaps a little held back by some of the more traditional forces that govern HEPI (and the sector) and it’s probable that Hillman and HEPI unleashed would be able to make an even bigger dent in the policy universe.

  • 33.
    NEW

    Malia BouattiaPresident, NUS

    Malia Bouattia’s rise to the NUS presidency from the political left mirrors Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendency within Labour. Although they are from very different political traditions, they have both been thrust from the fringes of their movement to its leadership by democratic means.

    Her victory over incumbent Megan Dunn at April’s NUS Conference also signalled a marked shift within student politics: no incumbent has lost reelection since Jack Straw was elected on a new wave of activism in 1969. In many ways, Bouattia will be much less influential over ‘hard’ sector policy due the radicalism of her views. And like Corbyn she has been embroiled in highly damaging allegations of anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, her election does represent an emboldened and increasingly angry new generation of student activists angered by fees, racial and gender inequality, and marketisation: ‘Blair’s children’ in more ways than one, though Bouattia herself is the daughter of Algerian refugees. Fronting the why is my curriculum white? campaign, and with a large student demonstration planned for later this year, Bouattia’s NUS will no doubt draw a lot of media attention, even if it engages less with the nuts and bolts of higher education policymaking.

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  • 34.
    NEW

    Alex ProudfootChief Executive, Independent Higher Education

    It was said in 1992 that the Polytechnic Directors sat in Whitehall and drafted the framework and legislation that saw the totemic end to the binary divide. Today it is the group of ‘challenger’ institutions that have been most influential in the development of the reforms on the table.

    Not always pushing at an open door, and with significant resistance from within the traditional sector, Alex Proudfoot’s ‘independent’ universities still face an uphill struggle for an equal footing with the traditional sector. However, following numerous mooted changes to funding and regulation, their oft-repeated dream of a “level playing field” is not all that far off. Proudfoot and his representative body bear significant responsibility in ensuring that new providers play within the rules and that the traditional sector’s worst fears about the excesses and failures of private higher education do not come to pass in a more liberalised system.

    New figures from the alternative HE sector are growing in influence. Read more here.

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  • 35.
    NEW

    Anthony SeldonVice Chancellor, University of Buckingham

    Famous for self-promotion and his political biographies, most recently of David Cameron, Anthony Seldon moved from significant influence in the schools commentariat as Master of Wellington College to take up the post of Vice Chancellor at the University of Buckingham in 2015. He’s widely published and oft-quoted and is seeking to repeat the success he had with Wellington’s Festival of Education with an HE version at Buckingham.

    Seldon is also importing his approach to teaching happiness in schools to the HE sector. Leading a mass-meditation session of vice chancellors recently certainly raised some eyebrows. Well connected and highly visible in the media, Anthony Seldon is also a potentially powerful advocate for the growing ‘challenger’ part of the sector, although Buckingham is the most traditional of that group.

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  • 36.
    NEW

    Alison WolfSir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management, King's College London

    Alison Wolf has been a dominant figure in UK and global education policy for several decades now. Her 2002 book, ‘Does Education Matter?’, was an powerful and persuasive case against the prevailing trends in post-compulsory education policy under New Labour, lamenting the UK’s poor record on vocational training and its obsession with higher education expansion as a means towards economic growth. Wolf argued we’d got it the wrong way around: higher levels of education are a result as much as a cause of economic development.

    Since then, Wolf has been most influential in further education and training policy, including being an integral part of the recent Sainsbury Review of vocational education pathways, accepted by the government in its entirety. Wolf has called current higher and further education funding policies unsustainable, and her views on the imbalance between HE and FE may be back in vogue. Cuts to FE have been stalled, and Theresa May’s cadre of Tory MPs are much more likely to believe that ‘too many people go to university’. If this narrative gains traction, expect Wolf’s influence to extend much further into the HE sphere. A cross-bench peer, she may also be pivotal when the HE Bill makes it to the Lords.

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  • 37.
    6 (was 31)

    Julia GoodfellowVice Chancellor, University of Kent

    The leader of the self-styled UK’s European university, Dame Julia Goodfellow has received significant credit for the way the University of Kent responded to the outcome of the EU referendum. As President of Universities UK, however, her report card is more mixed given the Universities for Europe campaign, which has received some criticism plus she’s not as visible as some former presidents. Goodfellow will remain President of UUK until July 2017, when she will also step down from Kent after ten years in post.

    She is well-networked in Whitehall as a former BBSRC Chief Executive and a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology. The fall in ranking this year represents the fact that she has now begun a long departure from her institution and national sector politics. But the UUK presidency remains a vital link between the sector and the top of government, and so Julia Goodfellow remains a significant player for now.

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  • 38.
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    David WillettsExecutive Chair, Resolution Foundation

    Although David Willetts has seen the biggest fall in places since last year, it’s notable that he should still be on the list at all. Carrying considerable clout in policy circles, Willetts maintains his interest in HE through his think tank roles and teaching at King’s College London. He’s also writing a book about higher education policy.

    Taking the Conservative whip in the House of Lords, he will likely support the Higher Education and Research Bill when it reaches the upper house, but his pronouncements on the Bill will be carefully scrutinised, and many less-knowledgeable peers may look to take his lead, which could make him uniquely influential. It could be argued that these reforms are just an extension of an agenda he began in 2010, even if in private he may be a little critical of some of the harder edges of the new policy proposals. If Theresa May had not been elected leader of the Tory Party, Willetts would likely have a bigger role in today’s Conservative Party. But the new government is now sensationally rolling back the policy of ending grammar schools, which Willetts fronted up and which caused such a fuss in the early Cameron years as the Tory modernisers had their fleeting ‘Clause IV’ moment.

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  • 39.
    NEW

    Colin RiordanVice Chancellor, Cardiff University

    As the leader of Wales’s only Russell Group university, Colin Riordan has significant influence in Welsh higher education policy: in fact Cardiff is sometimes thought to have overbearing power within the Welsh sector. Riordan has also been an active VC within Universities UK and as he’s been on the circuit since 2007, when he became VC at Essex. He is well known and respected across vice chancellors and often a go-to person to take part in the sector’s many ongoing reviews and reports.

  • 40.
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    Phil Baty and Ben SowterThe Rankers

    Phil Baty is editor of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and Ben Sowter is head of the team produces the QS World University Rankings. These two league tables have a massive influence on institutions’ strategy, and are also regularly quoted in national policy making. Quirks of methodology in either can be the difference between a vice chancellor being deemed a success or a failure, banks deciding whether to lend universities money, students deciding where to study, and more besides. Some suggest all that points to their excessive influence, but either way, there’s no hiding from them.

  • 41.
    NEW

    Jeremy CorbynLeader of the Labour Party

    Corbyn finds himself significantly lower down our list this year than his predecessor Ed Miliband, who at the time was a good bet to be the next Prime Minister. Widely expected to fend off the leadership challenge by Owen Smith, Corbyn’s position as Labour leader may be secure for now, but few informed commentators expect him to have much of a chance of winning a general election. Nonetheless, Corbyn has significant influence over higher education because universities are home to many of his core constituency, among both students and staff.

    Corbyn’s belief in abolishing tuition fees is not yet official Labour Party policy, but a fight on the topic at some point in the future seems likely to challenge the prevailing consensus on fees. Corbyn also represents an increasingly vocal radicalism that thrives on university campuses, as an angry generation of students and academics let their frustration at continued Tory hegemony be known.

    Labour figures are much further down our list than in 2015. Read more here.

    read more...
  • 42.
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    Sally HuntGeneral Secretary, UCU

    Sally Hunt is General Secretary of the highest-profile trade union in higher education, representing approximately one-third of academic and academic-related staff. However, UCU has not been particularly successful at defying the general trajectory of government and sector policy. Nonetheless the union continues to be both an effective bargaining force on several issues that affect its members, such as casualised contracts and gender iniquity, on which quite a bit of progress has been made in recent years.

    University staff continue to be relatively well paid compared to other sectors, and the union’s ability to disrupt university life through strike action and marking boycotts is still significant; an ongoing dispute this year has once again drawn much attention to matters of pay, equity and employment rights within the sector.

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  • 43.
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    Emran MianDirector, Social Market Foundation

    Director of the influential Social Market Foundation think tank and former civil servant; Emran Mian was also a key author of the 2010 Browne Review. Although he works across the gamut of public policy issues that the SMF is concerned with, the think tank continues to produce important work on higher education, and Mian is a respected authority on HE policy among senior politicians and policymakers who are never shy about tapping his significant intellect to aid their work. Novelist, a member of more boards than we can count (including Wonkhe’s own Editorial Group), and all round polymath, it seems highly probable that there is at least one other copy of the uber-wonk currently at large.

  • 44.
    =

    Chris CookPolicy Editor, BBC Newsnight

    It’s often said that no-one watches BBC’s Newsnight. It’s half true: the programme has a small but hardcore audience of key influencers and decision-makers which is why its investigations into policy issues always matter. A former education correspondent for the FT, Chris Cook is well-versed in HE debates, and his well-informed, even wonky work on Newsnight and for the BBC website has an ability to make a real splash. It’s only a shame that more people aren’t watching – the mainstream media needs more wonks.

  • 45.
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    David SweeneyDirector (Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange), HEFCE

    One of the classic wheeler-dealers in the world of higher education policy, David Sweeney has been a major player in most policy questions over the last few years. Most importantly, he has led research policy for HEFCE and was the pioneer of the impact agenda for the Research Excellence Framework – but that’s merely the tip of the iceberg as this consummate operator has had fingers in a lot of pies.

    Often called a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, his transition from university leadership to civil service delivery and policy appeared seamless and he has always been able to defend the REF in most robust terms against its critics. Sweeney falls some places this year thanks to the Brexit/new government squeeze, and the fact that his team at HEFCE is about to be packed off to UKRI. However, how he manages the transition of the REF to the new research funding structure, and exactly how he will land at UKRI will be watched with interest by many.

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  • 46.
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    Sean CoughlanEducation Correspondent, BBC

    Sean Coughlan is the prolific education correspondent for the BBC, working across all BBC platforms and covering all education policy, including higher education. However it is his articles on the BBC News website that get serious attention. Read by millions, including of course parents and students, this highly trusted source of news about universities has the ability to shape opinion like few comparable outlets.

  • 47.
    NEW

    Wes StreetingMP for Ilford North

    The new MP for Illford North and former NUS President has impressed in his short time in Parliament by taking a proactive interest in higher education policy. The Labour backbencher beat his own front bench to the punch in tabling far reaching and interesting amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill, on which he is campaigning vigorously in Parliament. A moderate voice, but with strong convictions, Streeting is well-known and liked in the media and the higher education sector, making him one of the most important parliamentarians of the moment for universities today. It’s notable that the proto-wonk politician beats Labour’s official HE spokesman who does not feature on this top 50 – perhaps an indication of Labour’s ongoing internal troubles as much as Streeting’s successes.

  • 48.
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    Peter HorrocksVice Chancellor, Open University

    Taking on this challenging role after a long career at the BBC, Peter Horrocks has been shaking up the OU since he arrived, reorganising the institution following numerous external challenges, not least the recruitment of part-time students. Closing regional centres has been the most controversial part of the reforms and it’s likely that it will take some time for all the pieces in this mammoth institution to settle down.

    OU’s external influence continues unabated however: their fingerprints could be seen all over the in the parliamentary debate for the second reading of the HE Bill and Horrocks himself is personally more visible than most VCs in the sector. But this well-connected choral singer has his work cut out for him if he is to secure the future of the Open University in a landscape that has changed around the university in dramatic and unexpected ways in recent years.

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  • 49.
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    Andrew McGettiganFreelance journalist

    Andrew McGettigan occupies a unique role in higher education. Through his forensic reporting and research, he particularly tracks the finances of the university system and explains it so that lay-wonks can understand what on earth is going on. Feared by civil servants across the land, his writing across newspapers, Wonkhe, his own blog and the trade press makes him one of the best known and respected commentators around.

  • 50.
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    Nancy RothwellVice Chancellor, University of Manchester

    It’s an interesting time for the Manchester region with the waning of the Northern Powerhouse but with opportunities waxing as a cradle of devolved government. The University of Manchester is a big beast in its region, and nationally amongst universities.

    As the co-chair of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science & Technology, Nancy Rothwell has had significant high-level access alongside her institutional role. She’s an accomplished academic and well respected – also far more visible in public than the majority of university leaders with appearances on popular programmes such as Desert Island Discs. If Rothwell were to turn more attention to sector politics and policy, it’s likely that she’d rise up this list quickly.

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