It has been 21 years since Tony Blair threw education to the forefront of British politics. Since then, four PMs and eight ministries from across the House have altered and tested the country’s education system.
So where, after a turbulent 20 years of political unrest, do the main parties stand on higher and further education now?
The Prime Minister’s policy does not stray too far from her predecessor’s. Since the Cameron years, the Tories have discouraged university from being the natural ‘next step’ to further education.
Most notably, this was represented by a tripling of university tuition fees. The 2010 coalition government boosted fees from £3000 per year to £9000. This essentially meant that the price of a single year of undergraduate study became what used to be enough for an entire three-year degree. Alongside this boost in costs, they also scrapped maintenance grants for disadvantaged students.
The Tories under Mrs May have furthered Cameron’s changes.
To encourage vocational and skills careers, May pledged to raise the UK’s technical education standards to those found in universities. New T-Levels help young starters in a variety of skilled areas, providing an alternative path to a successful career away from university.
May has put business at the heart of this change. Her government issued an apprenticeships levy, persuading corporations to invest in a new generation of workers. She has also pledged a UCAS-style admissions system for technical education.
In Spring 2018 the Conservatives launched a review into higher education, the results have not yet been published.
Freebies for all!
Jeremy Corbyn is immensely popular among young people. University students are his feeding ground and to have anything but a student-focussed approach would likely bring about his demise.
Labour’s pledge in its latest manifesto was free university education for all.
Alongside scrapping tuition fees, they would bring back maintenance grants for disadvantaged students, believing no one should be put off university from ‘lack of money or through fear of debt’.
On technical education, Labour would keep the T-Level system but reform it by building new, state-funded further education colleges. Taxpayers would not only fund the construction of these new institutions, but also a maintenance allowance for selected applicants.
Apprenticeships are also mentioned in Labour’s pledge. While Corbyn avoided criticising the Tory’s initiative too much, he did advocate new targets for ethnic minorities and LGBT admissions. Labour would also secure union rights for apprentices, and offer businesses more flexibility on how they use the government’s levy.
Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.
Following Nick Clegg’s immediate fall from grace in 2010, the Lib Dems have been reluctant to make any great pledges on higher education.
After 2017, new leader Sir Vince Cable showed little interest in diverging from his predecessor’s position.
Like most of their other policy areas, the Lib Dems’ view centres entirely on Brexit. While they do pledge to bring back maintenance grants for disadvantaged students and encourage universities to be transparent in their admissions criteria, their position mainly centres on stopping our withdrawal from the EU.
Brexit, they believe, is detrimental to our world-class reputation in higher education. They encourage the country to recognise the fantastic input of European nationals on higher education, whether students themselves or academics.
If the Lib Dems are to be elected into power on anything in the near future however, memories of 2010 will make it very unlikely to be education.
A prototype for Corbyn’s Labour?
With only one MP, the Greens know they have very little potential of ever being a governing party. In fact, their share of the vote decreased even further in 2017. But what this gives them is a freedom to pledge great change on areas like education.
What they suggest is a complete overhaul of the national higher and further education systems, seeming to be the source of inspiration for Corbyn’s Labour. The Greens too want to scrap tuition fees, and fund full students grants. They also pledged to increase public investment in further and higher education.
No party’s view on education is static. If there are changes in a party’s perspective, whether in power or during an election campaign, SOUK will report accordingly.
If you want more information on each party’s position on education, go to their websites and manifestos below:
Liberal Democrats: https://www.libdems.org.uk/education