Who is new universities minister Andrea Jenkyns?

Brace, brace, as a new minister takes on universities at the Department for Education.

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

Versatile singer-songwriter Andrea Jenkyns, MP for Morely and Outwood, is to be our new Minister for Skills, Further, and Higher Education.

There’s little of Jenkyns’ music career left on the open web – we managed to track down her 2008 hit single in Pakistan, a collaboration with Fay Khan called “The Beach”:

We’ve been less able to deliver on what is widely regarded as her masterpiece – the “Kate-Bush-esque” Crazy World – but we did manage to find a still image from what looks like a truly epic video.

If any readers (or indeed the minister herself) has a copy, we would love to see it. Meanwhile, you can entertain yourself with her 2006 album Ilys on Spotify.

Vocally, Jenkyns is listed on Wikipedia as having a four octave range as an operatic soprano – an astonishingly rare achievement (though not one that is documented clearly) that puts her in a bracket alongside Julie Andrews and Whitney Houston. There’s a fair amount of video of her singing patriotic songs on YouTube – here, for instance, is her take on Jerusalem with a brass band in Morley.

The digital agenda

A first-in-family 2015 graduate of both International Relations and Politics at Lincoln, impressively gaining a diploma in Economics from the Open University at the same time, her undergraduate dissertation examined investment per capita against healthcare outcomes.

Prior to studying (while campaigning to unseat Ed Balls, no less) she has worked in retail, as a management consultant, and as a music teacher. Her father (according to The Times) sent her photo into Miss UK when she was 18 – she reached the final, alongside Melanie Sykes.

Jenkyns is probably best known in the sector for her association with the University of Bolton – she was director of the decidedly moribund National Centre for Higher Education Policy from 1 July 2019 to 18 September 2021 (nine months ahead of her planned departure date). This role appeared to end up in the thinktank RISE, co-chaired by one David Willetts, which published two reports in September 2020 – one of which (Enhancing social mobility in the digital age) had an HE focus, but did not have a Jenkyns authorship.

As far as her own activities at RISE are concerned, she wrote an article about digital skills for the Spectator, gave a keynote at NEON in 2021 (alongside Matt Western, no less), and appeared with her team at one of those Westminster Forum events (on Future rollout of digital provision in higher education).

In the Commons she has asked a written question on non-disclosure agreements, and participated in an opposition day debate on the Higher Education and Research Act, noting her experience as a mature student.

What should we expect?

With two complex bills in train – including the detailed technical underpinnings of the lifelong loan entitlement – it is likely a new Prime Minister will want to have their own choice of higher education minister in place to deal with the complex political and practical fallout. Though Jenkyns is a Johnson loyalist and Brexiteer it is not clear that she is well suited to this role – any hope she has in staying into the new term depends on her handling of this year’s A level results day.

In August she will become the first minister in a decade to preside over scenes where qualified candidates are unable to get the places they want, where attainment at L3 drops (by design) and where the cost of living may become a fundamental deterrent to participation for the least advantaged. Recent performances suggest that tact and consideration are not really her strengths, but there is a chance she could pleasantly surprise us – if only because the bar is so low.

4 responses to “Who is new universities minister Andrea Jenkyns?

  1. Strange world we live in where you can feel deeply nostalgic for the time when David Willets was minister for HE. Disagreed with his politics and the 2012 reforms, but he understood the sector, thought about its future and cared about it (in his own way). He had read Robbins. Safe bet the present incumbent and her predecessor haven’t.

  2. She’ll fit right in with many students just for her way of signalling her contempt for the main stream main sewer media, as for everyone else, we will have to wait and see. At least she’s not another stale, pale, male like so many of the VC’s…

  3. Given the dearth of talent in the Tory party, made so apparent by the leadership debates, her lack of depth of experience, knowledge and suitable personal qualities is hardly surprising, if frightening.

  4. Worth noting that Andrea Jenkyns left school to go into work rather than proceeding directly to University, although as David Kernohan points out she subsequently entered higher education and performed impressively as a mature student (in her mid-30s) at the same time as gaining the nomination to contest the Parliamentary constituency of Morley and Outwood, resulting in the defeat of Ed Balls in the 2015 general election). The retail work referred to was a stint in Greggs the Bakers (popular with students!). The music teaching referred to was gained in three state schools. Musical interests have also meshed with significant charitable fundraising for Save the Children, Home Start, and Help for Heroes among others.

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