Nusrat Ghani named UK science minister

Strong critic of Chinese human rights abuses takes on brief after hiatus of several months

October 3, 2022

Nusrat Ghani has been confirmed as the UK government’s new science minister after her appointment was revealed by one of her predecessors at the Conservative Party conference.

Speaking at a fringe event in Birmingham on 3 October, Lord Willetts said he welcomed the decision to give Ms Ghani, a junior minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS), responsibility for science and investment security.

Her appointment comes amid growing unease about the lack of a dedicated science minister since June, when George Freeman stepped down after criticising Boris Johnson, who was then prime minister.

Last week, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, who chairs the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee, wrote to Liz Truss highlighting the delay in appointing a new science minister, who should also sit in Cabinet, she said. Her open letter also criticised the government’s decision to disband the National Science and Technology Council, a Cabinet subcommittee designed to encourage more science investment across Whitehall.

Ms Ghani, who supported the prime minister in the Conservative leadership election, was appointed a minister at BEIS on 7 September, but her brief took several weeks to be confirmed.

However, the MP for Wealden answered questions in Parliament on science and research on behalf of BEIS last week, including on the level of Innovate UK funding that would go to universities in future years.

Ms Ghani was a junior transport minister under Theresa May, becoming the first Muslim female minister to speak at the Dispatch Box. However, she was sacked in Mr Johnson’s first reshuffle – a move made, she claimed, because her “Muslimness was an issue”.

The first member of her family to enter higher education, she studied politics at Birmingham City University and later gained a master’s degree in international relations at the University of Leeds.

Since becoming an MP in 2015, she has mentioned science on only a few occasions in the House of Commons, but she served as a rapporteur for the Nato Parliamentary Assembly’s subcommittee on science and technology.

In August 2021, she authored a paper for the committee that called on Nato members to enhance their science and technology links with Japan, South Korea and Singapore, stating that the “rise of China” was a “central driver” of security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region.

Her appointment may lead to a tougher line on academic collaborations between Chinese and UK academics, several of which have already been cancelled amid growing security concerns.

In Parliament, Ms Ghani has been one of China’s strongest critics. In March 2021, she was one of five MPs sanctioned by China for spreading what it called “lies and disinformation” about the country after condemning what she has called the “absolute of the genocide of the Uighur people” at the hands of the Chinese state. The sanctions, she said, were a “badge of honour”.

The following month, Ms Ghani proposed a motion to Parliament stating that China was perpetrating genocide on the Muslim minority group, which was passed unanimously.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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