HE policy update w/e 5th May

General Election

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, used her dissolution speech to focus on the challenge of Brexit in the face of hard lining from Brussels.  The release dates of the parties’ manifestos have not been officially announced, however they are expected:

  • Conservatives – during week commencing 8 May
  • Labour – Monday 15 May
  • Lib Dems – “within a fortnight” (so by 18 May)
  • Green Party – unconfirmed
  • UKIP – end of May

Conservatives: The Conservatives have closed ranks during the manifesto preparation period with Theresa May directly overseeing manifesto policy whilst on the campaign trail. There has been little in the way of leaked policy and the Conservatives campaigning to date has barely featured the HE agenda (unsurprising given that the Bill has passed and there has been so much discussion in recent months).

  • Conservative manifesto pledges that are already announced focus on foreign aid, an energy price cap, a promise to help ‘ordinary working families’ and leading Britain successfully through Brexit.
  • Also expected are commitments on grammar schools, encouraging a selective stream within comprehensive schools, addressing the social care funding crisis, and Britain’s industrial innovation and competitiveness.
  • It is expected that the manifesto will support apprenticeships aiming to create 3 million apprenticeships funded by benefit cuts and enforce that NEETS (young people out of work, education or training for six months) will have to do unpaid community work to get benefits (this is c.50,000 18 to 21-year-olds).

Jo Johnson has been active and continues to reiterate the key policies from the last Parliament.

  • While the Conservatives continue to include students within net migration figures Johnson informed THE that vice-chancellors should concentrate their attention elsewhere: “I think the sector should focus on selling the positive message, which is that…there is no better country in the world in which to study than the UK… [Otherwise] we risk creating exactly the situation which we’re trying to avoid, which is deterring students from coming to study here – by endlessly saying that we’re closed for business. We’re not. We’re open for business, and there’s no limit on the number who can come and study here.”
  • The THE article also sees Jo Johnson nod to the debate about students as consumers. He states the Office for Students will put “the student interest and the interests of the taxpayer underwriting the system and the interests of employers getting graduates at the other end of it really at the heart of everything that it does… In that sense, we’re moving towards a system in which we have a classic regulated market… since tuition fees replaced direct public funding as the primary source of higher education funding …students are effectively taking on the liabilities as consumers”

Jo Johnson’s response to two parliamentary questions reiterates the already known research commitment:

  • “The Government is fully committed to maintaining the UK’s world-leading science, research and higher education base” (parliamentary question)
  • “The Autumn Statement 2016 announcement of an extra £2 billion a year in research and development by 2020-21 underlines the place of science and innovation at the heart of this Government’s industrial strategy” (parliamentary question)

Labour: Labour have shared more of their forthcoming manifesto than the Conservatives, and education, across all ages, is a central tenet of Labour’s campaigning.

  • Labour has committed to restore university maintenance grants and the FE Educational Maintenance Allowance. However, they have sidestepped recent questions on HE fees prior to their manifesto release.
  • Previously both Corbyn and John McDonnell stated they wished to abolish tuition fees. Interestingly, a recent HEPI poll highlighted only 35% of students believe Labour would follow through on fee abolition and reintroduction of grants if they gained power.
  • Labour have also stated they will refuse to grant business rate relief to independent schools unless they can show a “meaningful impact” on state schools through a new School Partnership Standard, for example by lending teaching staff or assisting in university admissions procedures.
  • Corbyn also focuses on the mental health of young people, social care funding and the NHS.
  • On immigration the BBC report Labour plan ‘smarter targets to reduce low-skilled migration but ensure university students and high-skilled workers are not deterred’. Regarding apprenticeships Labour aim to equal the numbers of young people on apprenticeships as currently go to university, by 2025.

Jeremy Corbyn in a speech to the National Association of Head Teachers:

  • “Labour is making our children’s education one of the cornerstones of our General Election campaign… Labour will introduce a National Education Service, ensuring excellent learning opportunities for all from early years to adult education …we set out in no uncertain terms our opposition to the expansion of grammar schools in this country…The task is clear: we must build an education system that suits the needs of our children and the opportunities they will have in the jobs market of tomorrow…. We are also committed to restoring maintenance grants for university students so that no one is held back from realising their ambitions and so that every schoolchild knows that the options of further and higher Education are available to them. We must not be ashamed to value education, for education’s own sake.”

Lib Dems: The Lib Dems are committed to and push for national debate on the key issues, yet seem to feature less in media coverage. While they have currently not declared their position on students and immigration status they do state: “We reject the isolationist and intolerant policies of the Tory Brexit government, and will fight to make Britain a more open and tolerant player on the global stage.” On apprenticeships they plan to create a million more jobs, with higher pay for the lowest paid apprentices.

UKIP: UKIP policy aims to scrap tuition fees for students from poorer backgrounds who take degree courses in the sciences, technology, maths or engineering. It places greater emphasis on vocational education through a new Apprenticeship Qualification Option. Lastly, they would permit universities to charge same amount for EU students as non-EU students

Green Party: The Green party is expected to campaign for free education, a higher universal living wage and increased investment in mental health services. So far they have declared a student-friendly set of policies including abolishing tuition fees and bringing back maintenance grants.

Brexit: Brexit is the key topic for GE2017. Last week’s Education Select Committee report into Brexit and HE highlights the pivotal issues for HE as:

  • Regional Growth Fund negotiations
  • Horizon 2020 and research frameworks
  • Erasmus+ programme
  • EU staff residency rights and an easier non-Tier 2 route for academics from around the world
  • EU student visa free access

Student voting: In the news this week is HEPI’s poll of 1,000 full time undergraduate students on their voting preferences.

  • The poll demonstrates considerable support for the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn, yet, of those planning to vote, a majority will consider voting tactically
  • 93% of students say they are registered to vote. Most students expect to vote at home rather than at university
  • the most important issues to students are the EU and the NHS
  • students have not forgiven the Liberal Democrats for breaking their promise on tuition fees (in the past Lib Dems were the most popular party for students)
  • students are distrustful of the Labour leadership’s support for abolishing tuition fees and bringing back maintenance grants

“Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments have all backed tuition fees in recent times. The challenge for Labour is whether to include the end of fees and the return of grants in their manifesto when half of students regard such pledges as worthless.” (Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI)

Universities UK have published their priorities for the general election. They ask all political parties to continue to support universities by adopting policies to facilitate and enhance their economic, social and cultural benefits alongside their global competitiveness and post-Brexit impact.  The five priorities are:

  1. Securing an effective post-Brexit settlement for universities
    1. Confirm rights to reside and work for EU national currently within the sector; minimal barriers for EU staff and students in post-Brexit immigration
    2. Horizon 2020 continued participation
    3. Influence and access to 9th Framework Programme
    4. Continued access to Erasmus+ and other mobility programmes
  2. Supporting universities in their role as anchors for growth in local economies
    1. Increase Higher Education Innovation Fund investment to min £250 million pa
    2. Develop collaborative institutes (local collaboration between universities, FE and schools particularly focusing on high-level technical education skills)
    3. Replace the European Structural Investment Funds
    4. Sustainable funding for growing higher-level apprenticeships demand
    5. Improved careers support for young people
  3. Increasing funding for science, research and innovation to match our competitors
    1. Real terms increase in research funding (aim – 3% of GDP), ring fenced.
    2. Enhance support and funding for international research collaboration through a cross-government strategy
    3. Maintain 0.7% commitment for research, innovation and capacity building projects for developing countries
  4. Supporting world-leading teaching, student experience, and improving outcomes
    1. Students access good quality information, including TEF
    2. Maintain real terms funding for high-cost subjects, e.g. STEM
    3. Social mobility supported through data coherence between schools and universities
    4. Funding to improve student mental health
  5. An effective immigration system
    1. Simplified and improved visa regimes
    2. Robust, reliable, published data on the number of international students and overstaying
    3. Reclassify so international students are not considered long-term migrants
    4. Invest in an international student growth strategy supporting international marketing, mobility and partnerships
    5. Enhance opportunities for qualified international graduates to stay in the UK
    6. Consistently communicate a welcoming message to international students and staff

Other policy news

The Lords Science and Technology Committee wrote to Greg Clark to urge for clarity within a strong Industrial Strategy rather than the current green paper, which “resembles a portfolio of tactics rather than a coherent strategy”. The letter frequently references the role of universities in the delivery of a good industrial strategy.

  • “The strategy should set out pathways of practical steps to a more productive, environmentally sustainable, regionally disperse economy in the UK, building on existing research excellence at every opportunity. The Green Paper provides some long term aspirations but lacks detail on how to reach them and on how success will be measured.”
  • The letter continues:
  • “The Committee was particularly surprised to see little emphasis, and no coherent approach, to tax and regulation for industry and science. These dimensions, together with the availability of “patient” finance and appropriate skills, are key elements of the relationship between government, businesses and universities. … The government must create a new partnership with industry and universities in order for the industrial strategy to be effective. This cannot be a partnership with only the usual suspects from industry. This partnership must also include new and emerging sectors.”
  • It also calls on government to address the VAT disincentive which, when universities and business co-locate, leaves the university with a large tax bill.

The Sutton Trust have published their 2017 Mobility Manifesto

Finally, on 27 April the Lords rejected the motion to regret the change to student loans from NHS bursaries for nursing, midwifery and allied health profession students. The motion was disagreed by 38 votes. (Content: 121; Not Content 159)


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