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Matt Western named shadow universities minister

Image: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Warwick and Leamington MP takes over after surprise resignation of Emma Hardy

Labour has appointed Matt Western as shadow minister for universities after Emma Hardy unexpectedly announced she was standing down to spend more time on her constituency work.

In her 8 March resignation letter, Hardy, who is a regular columnist for Research Professional News, said the “austerity and cuts” imposed by the Conservatives and “government indecisiveness and delay” in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic meant she needed to focus on mounting challenges in her Hull West and Hessle constituency.

“In the past year, the number of residents contacting me needing help and support has risen dramatically. I was elected as their representative and their needs will always come first,” said Hardy, who stands down after 14 months in the shadow role. “I will no longer be able to give the role of shadow minister the time it deserves.”

But Hardy told Research Professional News that she still believes higher education is “crucially important to the recovery of our country” and the brief would be in good hands.

“Matt Western has the knowledge and experience to be an excellent shadow minister,” she said.

Western (pictured), who is MP for Warwick and Leamington, tweeted that he was “proud to have been appointed shadow universities minister”.

“Looking forward to tackling the new brief and working with students, staff and universities,” he said. “But first and foremost will always be my constituents.”

Western has made several contributions to debates on higher education since becoming an MP in 2017. “As far as I am concerned, education is probably the greatest gift from one generation to the next, and it always has been,” he said in July 2019.

“But all that is changing, and it is changing incredibly quickly. From the wholesale closure of children’s centres to the pressures on higher education, every facet and every sector of education is in, or potentially faces, a funding crisis.”

Several months earlier, Western raised the issue of the impact of Brexit on student recruitment, citing figures from his local institution.

“Our higher education sector has been one of the great success stories of recent years, and we have seen huge expansion, which has been predicated on our being part of the European Union and attracting the best international students,” he said in April 2019.

“[The] reality is that universities such as Warwick, which is part of the Russell Group, have lost 3 per cent of undergraduate applications from the EU and 9 per cent of postgraduate applications.”