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Comment on the Prime Minister’s speech

  • 19 February 2018

Responding to the Prime Minister’s speech on education, Nick Hillman, the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

On funding

The review team start with enormous expectations on their shoulders. People want them to reduce tuition fees for some or all courses, lower the interest on student loans, bring back maintenance grants, help part-time and mature learners and bolster Further Education colleges.

The Government has encouraged this speculation but it will be hard to satisfy all the expectations, especially if the Treasury is not willing to allow additional public spending on post-compulsory education. So the review team have a big job to do.

On student numbers

The most important recent change to higher education was not the increase in fees to £9,000 but the removal of student number controls. Imposing greater costs on taxpayers would make the re-imposition of student number controls much more likely. That would be really bad news for social mobility.

When places are rationed, the middle classes win the race for higher education and the poorest and most under-represented groups lose out. Many of our schools are full to bursting and it is vitally important that we do not re-impose student number controls just as the number of 18-year olds starts growing again early in the next decade.

On parity between academic and technical education

It is hard to disagree with the Prime Minister’s ambition of first-class technical education to match our first-class universities. Many of her predecessors have expressed the same ambition, but it is nonetheless undeniably a good thing that further education is to be included in the review.

There are two important caveats, however. First, 97 per cent of mothers want their children to go to university and we should respect their aspirations. Secondly, the best technical education is often delivered in universities, particularly the modern and less prestigious universities that are sometimes thought to be in the Government’s sights.

Currently, half of young people enter higher education, which still leaves half that do not. So we actually need to extend access to higher education and access to other opportunities. But we should avoid doing one at the expense of the other.


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