The new Conservative Party Higher Education spokesman, Boris Johnson has asked advice on developing his policies. Maybe I should send him a copy of the education chapter from my book when it finally gets done.
I have two initial suggestions:
1. Appoint/retain good people.
2. Get out of their way.
There are way too many government initiatives allegedly aimed at "improving" education. There are a lot of smart, dedicated, hard working, energetic and fantastically competent people in higher education. I'm privileged to work with many here at the Open University and others around the world. Give those kinds of people freedom and resources and you get magic. Give them simplistic targets and unwieldy regulations and you earn their contempt, though in spite of the hurdles they'll still, somehow, manage to make the system work.
There are also major holes in the system which need to be addressed but that won't happen through micro-management by government. A respected colleague has a simple classification system which dictates that people are divided into two categories - 'simplifiers' and 'complicators.' [For 'simplifiers' read 'smart, dedicated, hard working, energetic and fantastically competent people'] The simplifiers get things done whilst the complicators look into and collect and present the multiplicity of reasons why you can't do them. He's way too generous to talk about the other categories you can find in organisations, like parasites, but he has a point. Give his simplifiers their freedom and you'll get positive transformation faster than you can say "another government initiative."