Public policy is Michael Barber’s world. We just live in it. Since his 90’s role in the development of literacy and numeracy policy under David Blunkett, Barber’s espousal of “deliverology” has seen the executive branch of government held accountable to targets and plans for the implementation of the desires of politicians. The model of his Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit has been exported globally, and Barber’s ideas now shape and often define the parameters of policy debate around the world.
Short of brief spells in academia at Keele and the Institute of Education and the damp squib that was 2013’s “An Avalanche is Coming” the ‘Mad Professor’ has had little interaction with higher education policy, focusing on compulsory level education reform in the UK, Pakistan, Africa and the US. But his espousal of “low cost” private providers in place of an under-resourced state sector under projects supported by Pearson’s “Affordable Education Fund” puts him very much in concordance with Jo Johnson’s “Byron Burger” ideas on shaking up the university sector, and his legendary fondness for metrics make him a kindred spirit for the further development of TEF.
After a career intensely focused on implementation he now holds a far more strategic role as Chair of the Office for Students. Early indications suggest a very hands-on involvement in the mechanisms of regulation – unusual for a Chair – and a well-read grasp of contemporary policy issues. In other words, for the first time, the Wonkhe Power List is topped by a bona fide wonk.