The first election in which I could vote was 1983, when I was a student at Sheffield University, living in the only Conservative constituency in the city. At the time there was much talk of tactical voting, asking people to split the anti-Conservative vote. As it happened, the Conservative candidate was re-elected, although the seat more recently has been held by the Lib Dems through Nick Clegg.
In that election, if you wanted to know what the parties were saying, you actually had to buy copies of the manifestos, from WH Smith including the “longest suicide note in history”. Leap forward 32 years, and manifestos are now readily available online, so here is a cut out and keep guide of what the major parties have to say in 2015 about higher education.
Firstly on immigration:
We will reform the student visa system with new measures to tackle abuse and reduce the numbers of students overstaying once their visas expire. Our action will include clamping down on the number of so-called ‘satellite campuses’ opened in London by universities located elsewhere in the UK, and reviewing the highly trusted sponsor system for student visas. And as the introduction of exit checks will allow us to place more responsibility on visa sponsors for migrants who overstay, we will introduce targeted sanctions for those colleges or businesses that fail to ensure that migrants comply with the terms of their visa.
And on universities:
This year, for the first time, over half a million people have been admitted to our universities, including a record proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. From September, we will go even further, abolishing the cap on higher education student numbers and removing an arbitrary ceiling on ambition. Our reforms to university funding mean you do not have to pay anything towards tuition while studying, and only start paying back if you earn over £21,000 per year. We will ensure the continuing success and stability of these reforms, so that the interests of both students and taxpayers are fairly represented. We will also introduce a national postgraduate loan system for taught masters and PhD courses. We will ensure that universities deliver the best possible value for money to students: we will introduce a framework to recognise universities offering the highest teaching quality; encourage universities to offer more two-year courses; and require more data to be openly available to potential students so that they can make decisions informed by the career paths of past graduates. We will ensure that our universities remain world-leading We will maintain our universities’ reputation for world-class research and academic excellence. Through the Nurse Review of research councils, we will seek to ensure that the UK continues to support world-leading science, and invests public money in the best possible way. And we will encourage the development of online education as a tool for students, whether studying independently or in our universities.
So in summary, two year degrees (again), caps on student migration (nothing new) but a welcome commitment to loans for postgraduates.
The key Labour announcement on reducing the fee cap to £6000 came out a while ago, and has been subject to much analysis already. In addition the manifesto says:
We will make sure that apprenticeships can lead to higher level qualifications by creating new Technical Degrees and supporting part-time study. They will be co-funded, co-designed and co-delivered by employers and they will be the priority for expansion within our university system.
Reduce tuition fees to £6,000 a year
Our economy and our society benefit from the talent and investment of people who come here, including university students coming to study.
So happy for international students to come to the UK, and some ideas about Technical Degrees. Are these going to be the new Foundation Degrees? A surprisingly short amount on HE, unlike our next candidate…..
The Green Party actually have a whole section on HE:
Higher education is in crisis. The fundamental purpose of universities should be to promote critical enquiry, social innovation and cultural renewal. But these aims have been sidelined in an atmosphere of increasing managerialism and commercialisation.
Higher education is vital to our cultural health. It should be concerned with public engagement and increasing social participation, not considered merely a production line for enhancing the earning power of individuals. The current focus on research ‘outputs’ – in the narrow definition used by the Research Excellence Framework – means that the crucial role of lecturers as teachers has been denigrated. This emphasis needs to be reversed.
The Conservative-led Coalition and the Labour Party bear responsibility for the current system of university funding, which is largely dependent on tuition fees that now stand at £9,000 a year for undergraduates. This was a betrayal of a promise and has blighted the future of thousands of young people who now graduate with a debt of at least £45,000. With the removal of public funding from most undergraduate and all postgraduate courses, UK universities are now all but privatised. The only people to benefit from the current system are university Vice-Chancellors and senior bureaucrats, who award themselves massive pay rises, while those on the ground who carry out teaching and research face ever more punishing terms and conditions of employment. In practice, this severely compromises the quality of education through reduced student-contact hours with overstretched staff.
Zero-hours contracts are now commonplace and shocking disparities in pay characterise every campus, especially among service workers, who are commonly denied a living wage. Conversely, university administrative departments continue to swell as money is routinely wasted on copying expensive private sector practices – including ludicrous rebranding exercises – in search of ‘market share’. The future of the arts and the humanities has been endangered by a systematic denigration by the dominant political parties and university administrations alike, who create a perception of such courses as an expensive luxury without the vocational ‘usevalue’ that renders them worth the financial risk. The Green Party believes that the arts and humanities have an essential part to play in creating a more democratic, sane and participatory society.
The situation for mature students is even more dire. Over the past five years, every continuing education department in the UK has been scaled back or closed down altogether, often as a managerial response to caps on students numbers and diminished funding for the sector as a whole. Adults wishing to return to education are faced with a situation where short courses and part-time study are considered not cost-effective in market terms.
In December 2010, just after the trebling of tuition fees, Caroline Lucas MP argued that the costs of a free higher education could be met by increasing corporation tax for larger companies to the level paid in other G7 countries and ring-fencing some of that money. Businesses depend enormously on graduates’ skills and knowledge, so it’s only fair that they invest in the higher education system from which they benefit. Allied to this, the cost of studying the qualifications that universities stipulate as entry requirements is prohibitive. An ‘A’ level for those who are not registered as school or college students attracts a fee of several hundred pounds. Access to education diplomas are also meshed within a loan system for those over the age of 24, and uniformly cost in excess of £3,000. The part-time and short courses for which non-traditional applicants can enrol are often hugely expensive, especially when measured against the contact-time with lecturers.
‘Lifelong Learning’ is a phrase that is much used by politicians and education professionals. Giving people the opportunity to be ‘second chance’ learners should be a crucial part of what universities offer to wider society. Countering the monetisation of higher
education across the entire sector is vital to reverse the destructive and wasteful market model of university education.
The Green Party would address this through:
• Ending undergraduate tuition fees. We appreciate that the current level of applications to study at university reflects the paucity of other opportunities available to young people. This is part of a wider social problem that must be tackled. To be saddled with a huge debt for the right to access higher education at the beginning or middle of adulthood is neither ethical nor sustainable. Because of the way the student loans system works this would cost about £4.5 billion over this Parliament, and in the long run around £8 billion a year.
• Cancelling student debt issued by the Student Loans Company and held by the government. Taking account of the loans that it is expected would never be re-paid, the total value of these loans is estimated to be around £30 billion. Assuming that these loans would be paid off over the next 25 years, and taking account of interest, this amounts to around £2.2 billion a year in revenue that the government would not receive.
• Reintroducing student grants costing £2.2 billion over the Parliament. In the longer run we would support student living costs through the Basic Income.
• In the longer term, considering scrapping fees for academic postgraduate courses.
• Restoring access to lifelong learning by supporting mature students and their families. We will reverse the 20-year programme of dismantling the lifelong learning sector.
• Reintroducing the block grant to universities. It is essential that teaching and learning can be supported effectively across the sciences and the humanities.
• Encouraging universities and pension funds such as the Universities Superannuation Scheme to divest from fossil fuel companies. This would follow the example of the University of Glasgow.
• Supporting the 10:1 ‘fair pay campus’ campaign. We are committed to ending the scandal of Vice Chancellors paying themselves £300,000 a year while cleaners on the national minimum wage have to resort to food banks.
Plenty in here to cheer those who lament the rise of the neo-liberal revolution in universities (it’s almost like reading one of my more ranty blogs, or a piece by Henry Giroux), however, will this remain empty rhetoric?
Always worth a look at the new kids on the block:
Previous government policies of pursuing higher education targets and introducing tuition fees have had a crippling effect on our young people’s finances and job prospects. The average student now leaves university with a debt of £44,000, yet students are less likely to find a graduate-level job than ever before. 47 per cent of recent graduates were ‘under-employed’ in 2013, as opposed to just 37 per cent in 2001. This marks a 27 per cent increase in the inability of graduates to get a job utilising or requiring their degree qualification.
The taxpayer fares little better: 45 per cent of all student loans have to be written-off.
To combat this growing problem, UKIP will drop the arbitrary 50 per cent target for school leavers going to university. We will not increase the current level of undergraduate courses until we can be sure there are sufficient vacancies in the economy to provide at least two-thirds of students with skilled graduate jobs. We will also encourage students to choose careers that will help fill the current skills’ gap, to both benefit Britain and set them on the path to a solid, prosperous career. UK students taking approved degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM), mainly at universities funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will not have to repay their tuition fees. This is on condition that they work in their discipline and pay tax in the UK for at least five years, after they complete their degrees. Accordingly, UKIP will adjust the number of STEMM subjects funded to allow for a greater uptake of these subjects.
Student visas The international student community makes an important contribution to the UK. Because students are in Britain only on a temporary basis, we will categorise them separately in immigration figures. All non-UK undergraduate and post-graduate students will be required to maintain private health insurance for the period of their study.
Where do you start……..The level or number of undergraduate courses is not actually set by government currently, so difficult to see how UKIP think that they won’t increase it. Who will “approve” degrees in STEMM subjects? Many graduates are successful in careers not related to their discipline. However, an interesting commitment to removing tuition fee debt for students of STEMM subjects (notice that medicine has crept in there), although this fails to recognise the importance of the humanities and social sciences. And to note that students would not be included in net migration targets.
I’ve not looked at Plaid Cymru or the SNP, since I am mainly interested in HE in England, although the views of these and other minority parties will become relevant if the outcome is a coalition or minority government.
The final word should go to Nick Clegg, seeking re-election in Sheffield Hallam, and where I voted in my first general election.
Liberal Democrats have ensured that no undergraduate student in England has to pay a penny up front of their tuition fees. Students in England do not have to pay anything until they are earning over £21,000 per year – a figure which will increase in line with earnings – and over that income, monthly repayments are linked to earnings.
This means only high-earning graduates pay their tuition fees in full.
We now have the highest university application rates ever, including from disadvantaged students. But we need to ensure higher education is accessible to all those
who can benefit, including at postgraduate level. Liberal Democrats in government secured the first ever income-contingent loans scheme for graduate degrees, which we will protect and seek to extend.
Ensure that all universities work to widen participation across the sector, prioritising early intervention in schools and colleges. This will include running summer schools and setting up mentoring programmes between students or alumni and school pupils.
Require universities to be transparent about their selection
Work with university ‘mission groups’ to develop a comprehensive credit accumulation and transfer framework to help students transfer between and within institutions, enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications.
Improve the Key Information Set and explore the option of
a standardised student contract. We will legislate to reform
regulation of the higher education sector, improving student protection.
Establish a review of higher education finance within the next Parliament to consider any necessary reforms, in the light of the latest evidence of the impact of the existing financing system on access, participation (including of low-income groups) and quality. The review will cover undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with an emphasis on support for living costs for students, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds.
They would appear to have been influenced by the recent publications from Which? and CMA, in terms of student contracts and student protection. Any review of HE finance will have to look at the costs of the current system o floans, where the RAB charge appears to making it more not less expensive than previous funding systems.
So you pays your money, and you takes your choice. The big issues for HE in future will be about regulation of the variety of providers, long term sustainable funding and support for stdnets other than full time undergraduates. However, for thjsoe waiting to plan for teh future, the most significant change already happened in the Autumn statement in 2013. The removal of the student number controls for entry to awards this summer will have significant impact on the sector. The removal of SNC is effectively the removal of market protection or a “safety net” for low performing institutions. This could have more immediate impact than much of what we might be waiting for in May.