As I have written on here before, I am asked surprisingly often what Ukip’s higher education policies are. Those working in universities in areas where there is a substantial Ukip presence and / or elected Ukip councillors are especially keen to know.
I never have a very good answer. But, earlier this year, the party adopted an Education Spokesman, who also happens to be Ukip’s Deputy Leader, Paul Nuttal MEP. He delivered a pretty succinct (15 minute) speech covering many education issues at his party’s recent annual conference – available in full here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhesIF8IEks.
Mr Nuttal is no stranger to higher education. Unlike his own party leader, Nigel Farage, he has personal experience of studying at a higher level. Indeed, according to his Wikipedia entry, he has actually studied at four different institutions delivering higher education: he studied for an HND in Sports Science at North Lincolnshire College, a BA in History from Edge Hill University, a Masters from Liverpool Hope University and a Certificate of Education at UCLAN. He has even been a university lecturer. Unlike the leaders of bigger political parties, he did not attend Oxbridge or indeed any Russell Group institutions. So, in one sense, it is a little surprising to find out that he thinks ‘higher education [has been] ridiculously over-expanded’.
As well as opposing mass higher education, Ukip have told Times Higher Education, ‘we believe that students from around the world should be encouraged to come here to study in our first-class facilities. We do not feel the need to add student numbers into the country’s migration figures because they are usually here on student visas, unless they are from within the EU.’
Many people in the higher education sector will welcome that commitment, even if they are worried about what Ukip’s other policies might mean for things like EU-funded academic research.
But surely it leaves a party that aims to put UK citizens first in a rather odd position: wanting to block qualified local people from attending British higher education institutions while encouraging more people from abroad to study here?